Jairzinho Rozenstruik paid respects to Overeem for his influence all week, and then he destroyed him. The rising star patiently waited for his opening during Saturday night’s headliner, finally producing a TKO with a vicious right hand with four seconds left in the fifth and final round that sent Overeem into the cage wall and out of contention for an eventual title shot in front of an announced crowd of 10,816. Rozenstruik, whose victory matched the third latest stoppage in UFC history, continued to boost his status as a legitimate contender with staying power in the heavyweight division, where he is 4-0 in 2019.
“I never give up, I work hard. I tried to find an opening, couldn’t find it for much of the fight, but I found it in the last one and there you go,” Rozenstruik said.
Rozenstruik, who entered Saturday as the 14th-ranked heavyweight, remained undefeated at 10-0 and strengthened his place among the division’s top contenders. Overeem, meanwhile, lost momentum after winning consecutive fights to rejuvenate his late-career push for his first UFC heavyweight title.
It had been nearly two years to the day that Overeem had suffered a first round knockout against Francis Ngannou, followed by another loss in February 2018 against Curtis Blaydes. Those setbacks seemed to suggest that Overeem’s decorated career might have been headed for an abrupt end. But the 20-year veteran responded with back-to-back first round victories over Sergei Pavlovich and Aleksei Oleinik, and Saturday night presented another opportunity for him to take the next step as he chased his first UFC title.
He would first need to dispatch the powerful 265-pound Rozenstruik, a Surinamese native who made his UFC debut just last February and continued to raise his profile with a stunning first round knockout of Andrei Arlovski in just 29 seconds at UFC 244 on Nov. 2. That counted as the second-fastest heavyweight knockout in UFC history.
But the only reason he had a chance to headline Saturday night’s card, just five weeks later, was because of tragic circumstances. Overeem’s original opponent, Walt Harris, pulled out of the event last month after the disappearance of his stepdaughter, whose remains were found last week in Alabama. That cast a cloud over the event as both fighters arrived in Washington and prepared to fight each other this week.
“I followed the situation, and I was really heartbroken. Me myself, I have two daughters, I have my kids, so if anything happened to them like that, I don’t know,” Rozenstruik told reporters earlier this week. He vowed to focus on the fight this week while keeping Harris’s situation fresh in mind.
Earlier in the week, Rozenstruik entertained the possibility of facing Ngannou, the No. 2 ranked heavyweight. “I have big goals,” he said earlier this week, yet he first needed to get past Overeem. He worried little about the quick turnaround because he had beaten Arlovski so quickly Nov. 2, avoiding injury and feeling fresh as he jump-started training to prepare for Overeem. He had entered Saturday’s contest having scored a knockout in each of his three UFC fights.
Saturday marked UFC’s first visit to the District since 2011 and for just the second time in the organization’s 25-year history. It also marked just the third time in UFC history that an event had two draws; in the co-main event between female strawweights, Marina Rodriguez and Cynthia Calvillo was declared a draw. In the men’s bantamweight event, Cody Stamann and Song Yadong also ended in a draw.
Aspen Ladd took down Yana Kunitskaya in a top-10 matchup between women bantamweights, while the undercard also featured just the second “twister” submission in UFC history by featherweight Bryce Mitchell over Matt Sayles.
That set the stage for the main event, which got underway just after midnight. Overeem was in control through the first four rounds. He scored an early takedown of Rozenstruik and landed several blows on the mat. But while Overeem had Rozenstruik right where he wanted him on the ground and landed several elbows, he missed a chance at a submission in the first round. It would prove costly.
“His game plan didn’t surprise me, he used to grapple quite a bit, he’s an intelligent fighter and knows how to fight,” Rozenstruik said.
After Overeem won the second round, Rozenstruik landed several combinations and a knee early in the third. At the 1:38 mark of the round, he produced another kick and a flurry of punches, but Overeem answered with a solid left hand a few moments later. Even as Rozenstruik finished the third with another vicious sequence, landing another knee and several blows to the body — Overeem was in control and had Rozenstruik pinned on his back again late in the fourth round, throwing several punches and elbows.
Yet Rozenstruik had built his reputation on raw power, and he needed to land just one shot in the final seconds of the last round. He remained patient, stalking his opponent, ignoring a smattering of boos from the impatient crowd. Then he delivered. His right hook caught Overeem and split his lip wide-open.
“I knew he was ahead and that I had to work harder to get the win,” Rozenstruik said. “I had to find a way and that’s what I did.”