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Youssef Zalal Has A Statement To Make

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It wasn’t a scolding from Montoya. Instead, it was a fight offer. Two weeks to fight for the third time in 2020 against Peter Barrett, replacing Steve Garcia.

“They know I’m not saying no,” said Zalal, who took the fight, which takes place tomorrow night in Las Vegas. It’s been quite a year for the 23-year-old to say the least, no matter what happens at the Apex.

“I thought maybe two fights this year,” he laughed. “I never thought we’re fighting three times in six months. It’s crazy how your life can change.”

Truer words have never been spoken. At this time a year ago, Zalal was at a crossroads in his career. A perfect 6-0 record turned into a 6-2 slate in the space of four months thanks to losses against Jose Mariscal and Matt Jones, and Zalal wondered if he would ever get his career to where he wanted it to go.

“I thought, oh my God, I’m not even gonna make it to the UFC,” he said. “I lost my biggest fight in a main event in LFA. And then I lost my second fight that was supposed to get me to the Contender Series. It was a ‘I don’t know what to do with my life’ type of deal. I’m not even in the UFC. I can’t even pass the regional level. And all of a sudden, my life has changed completely in the worst time. That’s the crazy part. The worst year the world can have, and I’m having the best year.”

Zalal is one of a select few who would probably not put a big X over 2020 on the calendar, and with wins over Austin Lingo and Griffin thus far, he feels like he’s just getting warmed up in the midst of the madness the world is experiencing.

MORE UFC VEGAS 6: Oleinik Will Never Give Up | Fight by Fight Preview | Fighters On The Rise | Significant Stats 

“Down at Factory X we train like we have a fight every week and you’ve got to be ready,” he said. “That’s our mentality. I might fight in three weeks, might fight in two weeks, might fight in five days. The last fight was seven days’ notice. I love the challenge and I feel like I do a lot better with the challenge of this than a full camp, which is weird.”

Not that he’s going to be approaching Harry Greb’s mark anytime soon, but that one may be safe forever. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a fight, just dial his number.

“For this fight, I really want to make a statement,” Zalal said. “I want to show that you want to bring me this guy that was on the Contender Series, he had a tough fight and is a very exciting fighter, but he’s not on my level. I’m about to make a statement. I feel like the last two fights, the first fight I had a lot of fun and that was one of the best experiences I had to go out there and really show all my skills. Now people are talking about me that I’m not just a striker but a real well-rounded fighter. I love to hear that. But this fight, I want to put out a statement and put a stamp on the UFC cage.”

Derrick Lewis At Full Strength

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He’s challenged for the heavyweight title, scored a handful of dramatic come-from-behind knockouts, and has maintained a place of residence in the Top 10 for the last five years. Since the start of 2018, the 35-year-old Houston resident has gone 5-2 with victories over Francis Ngannou, Alexander Volkov, and Blagoy Ivanov, and his losses coming to Daniel Cormier in a championship main event at UFC 230 and Junior Dos Santos four months later in a bout that earned Fight of the Night honors.

The quiet, yet charismatic heavyweight has done all of this while never really competing at full strength, but as he readies to return to the cage this weekend in another headlining assignment opposite Aleksei Oleinik, “The Black Beast” is feeling better than ever.

“I’ve never felt this good before,” Lewis said in his deep baritone. “I know you hear fighters say that all the time, but I really do. I’m feeling good. I feel like a new person

“Even when I was younger, I never worked out every day. Even when I was lean and mean and whatever, way back in my career, I never worked out and took it as serious as I have these last two months.”

While Lewis has been a must-follow on Instagram thanks to his affinity for memes, self-deprecation, and all things NSFW over the years, anyone who has been checking his timeline lately has seen how the heavyweight’s commitment to a healthier lifestyle resulted in a slimmed down and tucked up Texan turning up in Las Vegas to compete this weekend.

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It’s a process that began following his loss to Dos Santos, when Lewis opted to finally have surgery to repair the mangled knee ligaments he’d been fighting with for several years. Moving around the cage on a bad knee contributed to the chronic back issues that plagued him during that time as well, and with both cleared up, the veteran was looking forward to finally operating at 100 percent for the first time in his career.

But following his last victory over Ilir Latifi, Lewis let it be known that he was dealing with additional health issues, though he refused to go into detail about what was ailing him.

He described the situation as “life and death” and noted that he dealt with a flare up of the mysterious condition during his bout with the Swedish veteran at home in Houston in February, though now it’s under control and not an issue that will affect his fighting career.

“I still can’t talk about it, but that’s one of the reasons why I’m trying to stay as healthy as possible and trying to get my weight lower — my walking around weight — and I have, and I’ve been feeling better,” Lewis said when asked about the ailment. “I haven’t had any issues with it lately.

“I kind of figured the reason it was happening was because usually big guys like myself, after I weigh in, I get up to around 290 (pounds) and that’s not good on my body,” he added. “That’s one of the reasons I felt like it was affecting me and why I was having those issues.”

Watching the video of him hitting mitts in his garage with Kru Bob Perez a couple weeks back, Lewis looks noticeably thinner and far more fluid on his feet than in prior bouts, which is a scary proposition for Oleinik and anyone else in the heavyweight division who might have to share the Octagon with the slimmed-down powerhouse in the future.

“I told y’all — I’ve just been comfortable,” he said with a cackle. “I ain’t been lying when I told y’all my knees was bothering me, my back was bothering me; all those things bother me whenever I was fighting. I’m more comfortable now.

“We don’t throw kicks because my coach thinks it’s going to hurt my back in training and that’s just going to slow us down,” Lewis said, explaining some of the limitations he’s dealt with in the past because of his various health challenges. “We don’t even practice kicks — we just focus on cardio and technique and some type of game plan we’re going to use.”

Lewis is fully aware that everything he’s saying sounds like “fighter-speak” — the kind of responses competitors give whenever they’re asked about changes to their training routine or how their preparations for their upcoming fight have gone.

He knows that none of the words mean anything if he doesn’t go out and back them up on Saturday night, and he’s hoping that he gets that opportunity, though he’s admittedly skeptical about Oleinik’s willingness to let him deploy his standard “swangin’ and bangin’” style this weekend.

“I know these guys,” began Lewis, who has earned consecutive decision wins heading into his main event pairing with the highly experienced Russian grappling ace. “They come in and just try to hold on to me for dear life, wait for the time to run out. They don’t try to advance positions or look for the finish; they just want to hold me and waste time.

“If I get the chance to fight Curtis Blaydes, he’ll be the same way. No matter how much he says he’s going to stand up with me, he’s just going to try to hold me the whole fight and then think he really beat my *** or something like that.

Free Fight: Derrick Lewis vs Marcin Tybura

Free Fight: Derrick Lewis vs Marcin Tybura

“That’s what’s going to happen with Oleinik too — he’s going to try to hold me; ain’t no way that guy is going to try to stand up.”

So Lewis has some alternative ideas for how to try to win the fight on Saturday night.

“We’re gonna take him down,” he deadpanned. “We’re going to do a lot of takedowns. I’m going to wrestle him. Finish him with a flying armbar.”

The line is silent for a beat.

“I’ll tell you what’s going to happen,” he said in his husky drawl. “He’s going to try to take me down and I’m going to end up on top in some way, and if I end up on top, the fight is over with.

If he clinches up with me, just know that I’m going to push him off of me and start swinging like I always do.”

Except it won’t quite be “like always” because for the first time in his UFC career, “The Black Beast” has slimmed down, tightened up, and is in a position to use the full complement of his skills on Saturday night.

And you’re not going to want to miss it.

How to Watch and Stream UFC 252: Miocic vs Cormier

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In 2018, light heavyweight champion Cormier shocked the world when he stopped Miocic to become a two-division titlist. But Miocic evened the score with „DC“ in emphatic fashion a year later, setting the stage for what promises to be an epic showdown to determine the greatest heavyweight of all-time. Plus, former heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos battles feared knockout artist Jairzinho Rozenstruik, and „Sugar“ Sean O’Malley looks to keep his finishing streak intact against Marlon Vera.

Brazil

Main Card: 11pm BRT on Combate

Prelims: 7:30pm BRT on Combate

Maki Pitolo Can Enjoy The Ride Again

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A move back up to middleweight was in order, and it was the division in which Pitolo earned his contract in the first place. While Pitolo mostly competed at 170 pounds throughout his career, and Dana White mentioned his preference to see the Hawaiian at that weight, “Coconut Bombz” knew what was best for his body. He reaffirmed that at UFC 250, where he earned a second-round stoppage over Charles Byrd to secure his first win in the Octagon.

“To be honest, 170 was taking a real bad toll on my body and my health,” Pitolo told UFC.com. “It was making me hate the game because I was just cutting a hell of a lot of weight, so 185 lit a new fire under my butt, and we’re here now. We’re dancing, and I love it. Thankfully, I’m blessed with a solid team, solid management around me, and these guys put me right where I need to be. Right in the perfect spot.”

Pitolo stayed in shape after that win and now has a bout set with Darren Stewart on August 8. Competing for the second time during the coronavirus pandemic has its advantages, such as already feeling acclimated to the new normal with which everyone finds themselves working. 

Even though Pitolo said he was able to bring training partners on the west side of Hawaii to help him prepare on a daily basis, there were the occasional days where he had to adapt during “quarantine camp 2.0.”

“Some days, it was just me getting that work in shadowboxing and moving around,” Pitolo said. “It’s a bit difficult when people aren’t open to coming in whenever you got training going on. They’re skeptical or maybe they’re busy, but I just made do with what I could get.”

Whereas his win over Byrd was his self-described “welcoming party,” Pitolo thinks this matchup with Stewart is his chance to announce himself as a real problem at 185 pounds. Stewart holds four UFC wins over the likes of Deron Winn and Eric Spicely, and even shares a commonality with Pitolo as he also finished Byrd in the second round in 2018.

There is a reignited sense of swagger to Pitolo ahead of this bout. Part of it surely stems from getting that inaugural victory out of the way, but it’s hard not to ignore how much better Pitolo says he feels as a middleweight. He admits that he was a bit of a “monster” when cutting to the welterweight limit, and moreover, he feels like the most dangerous version of himself without having to worry about shedding weight.

“I feel like I’m the total package at 185,” Pitolo said. “Number one, my thinking aspect of the game is all there. I can think way better, way clearer. My mindset is not all foggy. Two, I feel like I’m 100 percent. Even though you never go into a fight 100 percent, I feel like I’m at the best of my game at that certain time.”

Pitolo is hoping Stewart will stand and trade when they enter the cage, but he is well-aware of Stewart’s grappling and strong ground-and-pound attack, as well. In Pitolo’s two UFC bouts, his opponents have opened with grappling in hopes of negating the Hawaiian’s attack. 

Against Byrd, Pitolo showed that he isn’t physically overmatched in the division, engaging in competitive wrestling exchanges before finding a home for the “pair of bombs” he carries in his 4-oz gloves.

Feeling much more established on the roster and at home in 185 pounds, Pitolo hopes his third bout in the UFC Apex is the one that turns heads to his credentials as a fighter and shows he is much, much more than a scrappy guy with a memorable nickname.

“I’m just looking to go out there to win and be dominant and play my cards right,” Pitolo said. “I’m always looking for the opening and looking for the finish, so I’m looking to do it in devastating fashion this time around and really wake up the middleweight division and let them know that I’m here.”

Chris Weidman Making Most Of New Environment

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“They treat me nice down here, everything is in full function, I’m able to train at the gyms and there’s lots of different training partners, so it’s been great,” said Weidman late last month. 

The move for this training camp became necessary due to the closing of the LAW MMA gym (and all gyms in New York) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, he had a family member in welterweight contender Thompson (whose brother is married to Weidman’s sister) who had an open facility and plenty of big bodies for the Long Islander to work with.

“The gym is still closed down, so it’s just tough,” said Weidman of the situation in Long Island. “I had a bunch of guys like Aljamain (Sterling), Al Iaquinta, Merab (Dvalishvili) and a bunch of up and comers, and I was training with them in New York, but as far as sparring and harder stuff, I just needed some bigger bodies and there’s really nobody around. (Gian) Villante had just gotten done fighting, so I needed to come out here. They’re treated me great here and are putting me through some great training.”
 

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He’s also gotten used to the culture shock that comes from being a New Yorker treated to some good ol’ fashioned Southern hospitality.

“It is kind of weird,” he laughs. “People never beep the horn. When you’re walking, and even when you’re driving, it catches me off-guard. If I’m driving through and someone’s walking, they wave to me every time, and I’ve got to be ready to wave back. Now I’m trying to beat them to it and wave first.”

Weidman brushed up on his golf game in between training sessions while Thompson drives the summer camp bus, but when everybody’s back in the room, the 36-year-old is getting some new looks that are keeping him sharp before this pivotal bout.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m obviously not as comfortable going to the gym and working out with these guys as I am when I’m at home because I don’t know them as well. So you have that little bit of discomfort and I feel like anytime you make yourself uncomfortable, that’s where you grow. So I think it’s been a really good experience for me and I think I’ve definitely grown since I’ve been here.”

Those are all good signs for a fighter who, simply put, needs to put an end to a skid that has seen him go 1-5 in his last six bouts. And he’s not shying away from the reality of the situation as he fights for the first time since a first-round stoppage loss to Dominick Reyes in his light heavyweight debut last October. This fight with Akhmedov is back in the weight class Weidman reigned over for nearly two and a half years. Why the quick return to 185 pounds?

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“I lost my 205-pound debut quick,” he says matter-of-factly. “I lost the Jacare (Souza) fight just before that. I need to get back to winning. If I was able to take more out of that 205-pound loss, I would have stuck to it, but I can still make ’85 and I just feel I could be right there and be a world champion at 185. 205, I believe I could, but my first fight didn’t go too well, and I figured I’d go back to where I definitely know I’m capable of doing that.”

To some, it seems like a fast hook on a run at 205 that could have gone somewhere, but to Weidman, going through the process of dropping that extra 20 pounds to make the middleweight limit gives him an edge he didn’t feel he had leading up to the Reyes bout. And to be successful, he feels he has to push hard throughout camp and fight week.

“It was nice not to cut weight at all, but I also didn’t feel like I was in the best shape because I wasn’t dieting,” Weidman explains. “I just didn’t feel like I was sacrificing enough. It was just weird going into fight week (for Reyes). It didn’t feel like I did everything I possibly could. When I fight at middleweight, just because of dieting and getting my weight down, there’s so much focus involved with doing that, that it just makes me feel like I’ve done so much more.”

So he has to suffer some? 

“I want to suffer,” he laughs. “I don’t know how many more years I have left on this, so I want to just make sure I’m working as hard as I possibly can. I don’t want to go into a fight a little chubby. I want to be as ripped as I possibly can and be in great shape, and diet and make all those sacrifices because I don’t have much longer. When I’m done, then I can chill out. But it’s not the time to chill out yet.”

That’s obvious by looking at his losses over the last four years, many of which can be chalked up to being winnable fights that just went south at the wrong time. Luke Rockhold? A fight he was winning before an ill-advised spinning kick gave Rockhold the opening he needed to come back and take the title. Yoel Romero and “Jacare” Souza? Fights he was winning before getting caught and stopped late. Gegard Mousasi? A highly controversial finish in Mousasi’s favor. 

Many just see 1-5 in his last six, though.

“Sometimes I wish I could explain it, but I don’t even bother,” he said. “It’s too much. I just have to be like, ‘Trust me, I’m good.’ (Laughs) I know deep down inside who I am and I know where I’m at with all those guys that I lost to. And that’s the beauty of our sport; you never know what’s gonna happen in there and, on any given night, any guy can win, to be honest. You’ve just got to bring those percentages up on your side. There’s a lot of randomness that happens in our sport and in all sports. It just so happened that with those fights, it wasn’t my night. But that doesn’t take away from my potential or my confidence. And that’s the biggest thing, to remind myself of all that and remain confident because it’s not like I’ve been dismantled and picked apart and crushed by guys. It’s keeping my confidence up, working hard, and this is probably the longest I’ve been in the gym consistently without injury in between fights and I feel like that’s gonna pay off.”

Top Finishes: Chris Weidman

Top Finishes: Chris Weidman

That’s typical Weidman. The record may not be what it used to be, but he hasn’t changed in the nine-plus years since he made his UFC debut on short notice against Alessio Sakara in 2011. He’s still a pro and still all-class. That’s rare in any walk of life, let alone professional sports. But he won’t let the ups and downs of a fight career change who he is. 

“My family’s kept me grounded though everything,” he said. “I never thought I was anyone more special than anybody else. And I made sure I’m vulnerable. I put myself out there, I’m not afraid to go out there and lose everything in front of everybody. And I’ve done that now a bunch. (Laughs) And I’m not afraid to go out there again, I’m not afraid to get struck out over and over again and then still get back up at bat. I think I was just raised that way.”

On Saturday night, Weidman steps up to the plate again. Like always, he’s looking to hit it out of the park.

“I’m self-motivated,” he said. “I don’t need a name in front of me right now. I need to go out there and get a W. That’s all I care about. I just want to get my hand raised at the end of this fight.” 

Unfiltered: Derrick Lewis, Chris Weidman, and Jason Ellis

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First, radio host and former pro skateboarder Jason Ellis join the guys to share the crazy story of how Forrest Griffin (dressed as Sasquatch) tore his MCL with a leg kick, why he decided to take on former UFC champion Shane Carwin with one hand tied behind his back (and still lost), and how he’s been able to open up emotionally later in life. Jason also discusses which famous comedian he is set to fight in an MMA match next!

Then, Chris Weidman calls in not just because he misses Matt so much, but to reveal why he thinks cutting to middleweight actually makes him a better fighter, and to share an insane story from when he first met his now-wife that we promise you won’t see coming.

„The Black Beast“ himself, Derrick Lewis, also joins UFC Unfiltered to show off his new physique, address recent criticism from Curtis Blaydes, and share why he thinks he should be Francis Ngannou’s first championship defense if he wins it one day.

Matt and Jim close out the show by making their picks for UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Oleinik.

Follow the show @UFCunfiltered on Instagram, and check out the full video show on UFC FIGHT PASS – sign up today at www.ufcfightpass.com

UFC Vegas 6 Results

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As the UFC returns to Las Vegas, top-ranked heavyweights collide in this week’s main event. No. 4 Derrick „The Black Beast“ Lewis will test his durability and one-punch knockout power against No. 10 Aleksei „The Boa Constrictor“ Oleinik, one of the most feared submission artists in the entire sport.

Omari Akhmedov carries a six-fight unbeaten streak into his battle against former champ Chris Weidman in the co-main event, and lightweights on the precipice of a breakthrough kick off the main card when Beneil Dariush welcomes Scott „Hot Sauce“ Holtzman.

Prelims begin at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN+, and the main card starts at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

UFC Vegas 6: Lewis vs Oleinik – Preview

UFC Vegas 6: Lewis vs Oleinik – Preview

ESPN+ Prelims, 6pm/3pm ETPT

IRWIN RIVERA VS. ALI QAISI

YOUSSEF ZALAL VS. PETER BARRETT

GAVIN TUCKER VS. JUSTIN JAYNES

ANDREW SANCHEZ VS. WELLINGTON TURMAN

NASRAT HAQPARAST VS. ALEX MUNOZ

KEVIN HOLLAND VS. JOAQUIN BUCKLEY

TIM MEANS VS. LAUREANO STAROPOLI

ESPN+ MAIN CARD, 9PM/6PM ETPT

BENEIL DARIUSH VS. SCOTT HOLTZMAN

JULIJA STOLIARENKO VS. YANA KUNITSKAYA

MAKI PITOLO VS. DARREN STEWART

OMARI AKHMEDOV VS. CHRIS WEIDMAN

DERRICK LEWIS VS. ALEKSEI OLEINIK

UFC Vegas 6: Official Weigh-In Results

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TIM MEANS (171) VS. **LAUREANO STAROPOLI (174.5)

KEVIN HOLLAND (183.5) VS. JOAQUIN BUCKLEY (185)

NASRAT HAQPARAST (156) VS. ALEX MUNOZ (156)

ANDREW SANCHEZ (185.5) VS. WELLINGTON TURMAN (185.5)

GAVIN TUCKER (146) VS. JUSTIN JAYNES (146)

YOUSSEF ZALAL (146) VS. PETER BARRETT (145.5)

IRWIN RIVERA (136) VS. ALI ALQAISI (136)

*Beneil Dariush weighed in above the lightweight limit and forfeits 20 percent of his purse to his opponent.

**Laureano Staropoli weighed in above the welterweight limit and forfeits 20 percent of his purse to his opponent.

Daniel Swain’s Top 5 Fights

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As fighters like Chase Hooper and Kay Hansen continue to emerge, it’s becoming more and more common for revisiting the “Diaz vs McGregor Era” to be considered “going way back.”

Week two of Dana White’s Contender Series will feature a rare breed in Daniel Swain. Since his introduction to the sport at UFC 34, his life was changed and molded to combat sports. With 30 professional fights along with almost 20 years of UFC appreciation, it’s officially cool to be a “student of the game” again.

Curious about who molded Swain’s brain the most before he takes to the Contender Series Octagon? Check out Swain’s top five MMA bouts of all time.

5. Donald Cerrone vs Rob McCullough – WEC 36: “That was the first time I ever watched Donald Cerrone. When me and my brother dove in, we dove in. We watched the TapouT show and we ordered Versus with my mom’s credit card. We went full bore into MMA. Donald Cerrone in that fight, oh boy. I became a Donald Cerrone fight after that fight, so we can make that number five, but really, any Donald Cerrone fight could be number five.
Donald Cerrone vs Rob McCullough here: https://ufcfightpass.com/video/32025
Donald Cerrone’s Anthology here: https://ufcfightpass.com/playlist/3132

4. Cain Velasquez vs Junior Dos Santos II – UFC 155: That was like when I realized big boys can have cardio and if they do, they’re a monster to deal with. Cain Velasquez was a hero of mine for a long time and still is. He was a champion who was respectable. He didn’t have to talk and run his mouth.
Watch Cain Velasquez vs Junior Dos Santos II here: https://ufcfightpass.com/video/29922

3. Israel Adesanya vs Kelvin Gastelum – UFC 236: The heart in Gastelum and the technical side of it from Izzy. Izzy is such a technical fighter. I watch guys like him and say, “That’s the guy I need to be like.”
Watch Israel Adesanya vs Kelvin Gastelum here: https://ufcfightpass.com/video/95785

2. Matt Hughes vs Carlos Newton – UFC 34: That’s the fight that started it all for me. Still to this day when I watch that video, I get goosebumps. That was one of the best fights to ever happen and it started this whole journey for me.
Watch Matt Hughes vs Carlos Newton here: https://ufcfightpass.com/video/28829

1. Robbie Lawler vs Rory MacDonald II – UFC 189: That’s the epitome of testing yourself. That’s why I love this sport. It’s one on one, you versus your opponent, but it’s also you against yourself. Those guys both pushed themselves to their breaking point.
Watch Robbie Lawler vs Rory MacDonald II here: https://ufcfightpass.com/video/36841

Image via @swain_mma on Instagram

Aleksei Oleinik Will Never Give Up

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While my subpar conditioning deteriorates a little more with each passing day, Oleinik looked to be in the best shape of his career last time out, showing improved quickness and fluidity while racing out to an early lead and holding off Fabricio Werdum to secure his second consecutive victory back in May.

So when we spoke on Wednesday afternoon, I asked the veteran grappler to share his secrets with a fellow fortysomething hoping to follow his lead.

“I am not 43 years old; I am 43 years young,” Oleinik said, correcting me when I inquired about the keys to entering this weekend’s main event showdown with Derrick Lewis in the best form, physically and performance-wise, of his extensive mixed martial arts career.

“There are no secrets — it’s all my will and my regimen and I’ve never broken my regimen,” he said, dashing my faint hopes that there was a quick fix that would help me slim down, tighten up, and generally move better that didn’t involve a stringent workout routine and eliminating the majority of the foods I consume on a monthly basis from my diet. “I try to eat and train correctly, that’s all.

“I never give up and I just keep going and going and going.”

The heavyweight division’s Energizer Bunny really is an outlier in this sport.
 

In addition to being the elder statesman in a division where fighting into your late 30s is far less uncommon than in other weight classes, the first fighter to compete across four decades, and the first fighter to earn a victory in four different decades, a victory on Saturday night would also make Oleinik just the tenth fighter in MMA history to register 60 wins or more.

Only one competitor on that list boasts more victories inside the Octagon and that’s Hall of Famer Dan Severn, who scored nine of his 101 career wins under the UFC banner. Oleinik can pull even with him if he beats Lewis this weekend and extends his winning streak to three.

“I think it’s good for me, but I don’t think about it,” Oleinik said of his impressive accomplishments and potentially joining the 60-Win Club on Saturday night. “I don’t think about any records, any rankings, or anything else.

“I only think about my fight and that’s with Derrick Lewis,” he added. “My current fight is always the biggest fight of my life, so I don’t think about the future now.”

The one career achievement Oleinik does allow himself to think about is establishing a legacy, but even there, his thinking is not only different than my own, but makes him seem oblivious to the fact that after amassing more than 75 appearances over a 25-year career (and counting), he’s already done more than enough to secure his legacy in this sport.

“My goal is to earn my legacy, earn my name,” said the Russian heavyweight, who has gone 8-4 inside the Octagon over the last seven years while facing a who’s who in the big boy division. “I always try to face the biggest and toughest guy; guys who are very strong, very dangerous. 

“I don’t want a small name,” he continued. “This is the more difficult way, but it’s my way.”

Free Fight: Aleksei Oleinik vs Maurice Greene

Free Fight: Aleksei Oleinik vs Maurice Greene

Following his split decision victory over Werdum in May, Oleinik lobbied to face another established competitor, ultimately landing opposite Lewis in this weekend’s main event.

“I am happy to fight with big names because any guy in the UFC is very dangerous, but if you fight with ‘no names,’ you go into the ‘no name’ area, too,” said Oleinik, who previously headlined events in Russia against Mark Hunt and Alistair Overeem. “If you fight these big names, you can earn a big name for yourself; not after one fight or two fights, but if you fight big names many times, you earn a big name, too.”

A big name within the MMA community before he arrived in the UFC, Oleinik has only seen his name grow since debuting in the Octagon in with a first-round submission win over Anthony Hamilton in the summer of 2014.

The fact that he’s shared the cage with a host of current contenders is only part of the reason for that, though. The other piece is that he boasts one of the most unique arsenals of chokes and submissions of anyone in the sport today, including his signature Ezekiel choke, which he’s successfully used twice in the UFC and a staggering 14 times overall in his career.

How dangerous of a grappler is Oleinik?

Coming off his second Ezekiel choke victory in the UFC and heading into his main event pairing with Hunt in Moscow, everyone was asking the Russian veteran if he believed he would be able to submit the heavy-handed knockout artist with his signature hold.

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“In my opinion, I can’t do this choke on Mark Hunt,” he began. “Mark Hunt has a very short neck. I think it will be impossible with this fight, but I have something special for Mark. God help me, I will try to show you this surprise. I have one more submission.”

A little over four minutes into the first round, Oleinik tapped out Hunt with a rear-naked choke.

On the ground, Oleinik is like Thanos — inevitable.

He’s facing a similar challenge on Saturday, as Lewis has made it clear he has no intentions of messing around with “The Boa Constrictor” on the canvas and is another big-shouldered, short-necked heavyweight bomber for Oleinik to contend with.

“He is a smart guy and he has a team that has prepared a game plan for me, and I have prepared my game plan,” he said, offering his insights on the matchup with Lewis. “This is a fight between two teams, not just two fighters.

“Of course, I don’t think he’s going to want to wrestle with me or go to the ground with me, so maybe I will fight standing,” he continued.

“I don’t know if I will submit him,” Oleinik added. “I have a couple game plans and I will try.”

And I’ll be watching from home, continuing to marvel at my fellow forty-something, eager to see if he can propel himself into the Top 5 and the title conversation with a victory on Saturday night.

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