Ultimate Fighting Championship matchmakers were forced to alter the UFC on ESPN 7 main event after the kidnapping and murder of Aniah Blanchard, the stepdaughter of scheduled headliner Walt Harris. Alistair Overeem instead faced Jairzinho Rozenstruik on Saturday at Capitol One Arena in Washington, D.C.
As the final seconds of the fifth round ticked away, Overeem appeared to be on his way to his 11th victory inside the Octagon. However, despite his being down on all three judges’ scorecards, the undefeated Rozenstruik floored “The Demolition Man with one massive right hand, which resulted in stoppage with just four seconds remaining in the fight -- the third-latest knockout ever in UFC history. The knockout improved the Surinamese heavyweight’s record to a perfect 4-0 inside the Octagon. Overeem, meanwhile, suffered his first loss in three appearances and also sustained a gruesome cut to his upper lip.
“I think Alistair made one big mistake,” Rozenstruik said afterward. “He said I wasn’t on his level. That means you don’t respect what I do. I put a lot of work into this. I train three or four months for a fight. Then you say I am not on your level. Then I think you are missing something. Going deep is what we do every day in the gym. I showed hard work here and knocking him out in the last round. When you work hard, you can do one of those things.”
Rozenstruik made his UFC debut in February and has since rattled off four straight wins by knockout or technical knockout. To build on his breakthrough 2019 campaign, the 31-year-old has set some lofty goals for the year ahead; and he already has a bull’s eye on his next target. “I want to be back [in] like March or April, and I really want to fight the big scary guy: Francis Ngannou,” Rozenstruik said. “So if you hear this right now, I hope you accept this fight. Let’s give these fans a real show.” Ngannou has done nothing to hide his frustrations about not being booked since he stopped Junior dos Santos in 71 seconds on June 29. He immediately took to social media to respond to Rozenstruik’s callout. “I heard you babayga,” Ngannou posted on Twitter. “You made yourself very clear tonight. Congrats on your come back by the way.”
The Rozenstruik knockout was not the only heavyweight outcome that had the MMA world talking, as Ben Rothwell stopped Stefan Struve with second-round punches in a foul-marred clash on the main card. Rothwell dropped “Skyscraper” with inadvertent kicks to the groin on two separate occasions.
“Yeah, there is an asterisk,” Rothwell said during his post-fight scrum. “I can’t do anything about it. I tried to be as apologetic as I could. I complimented Stefan Struve for being a man. We got to move on.”
The victory snapped a three-fight losing streak for “Big Ben” and perhaps kept the Roufusport rep’s UFC roster spot secure. Rothwell affirmed his desire to return in the first quarter of 2020 and was open to the idea of meeting Struve a second time.
“I would fight anybody, of course,” he said. “I would rematch guys I have rematched. It is the truth. I will fight anybody.”
Struve believes the illegal shots played a major role in the outcome.
“I don’t complain about the stoppage,” he said on Twitter. “I’m frustrated that 2 (unintentional) illegal blows take away my focus in a fight that I was clearly controlling and winning, and because of that I miss out on a big win bonus.”
It was the fourth time in five outings that Struve failed to get his hand raised. To add insult to injury, the crowd was not pleased with the Dutchman while he attempted to recover from the illegal kicks. He was showered with boos during the pauses in the action.
“S--- was weird as [expletive], I felt I was gonna give birth to [expletive] Charizard and they were booing and chanting,” Struve posted on Twitter. “Then I start to fight again, and they chant USA, USA, USA. Like my Dutch balls did something wrong.”