Prior to every event, Under the Radar will cast the spotlight on an up-and-coming talent who shows the potential for growth in their division and isn’t getting enough attention as they head into battle.
Name: Michal Oleksiejczuk
Record: 13-2-0-1 overall; 1-0-0-1 UFC
Division: Light Heavyweight
Team: GKS Gômik Lęczna MMA
Coming out of UFC 236 last weekend, one of the main takeaways for me after seeing Khalil Rountree Jr. dominate Eryk Anders and remind everyone that he’s someone to keep tabs on in the light heavyweight division was that the constant complaining about how shallow and low-quality the 205-pound weight class is at the moment needs to stop.
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Everyone pretends like there are no emerging talents climbing the ranks in the division because they don’t measure up to the greatness of Jon Jones or would stand as considerable underdogs against Alexander Gustafsson, as if measuring the quality of a division comes down exclusively to how everyone would do against arguably the greatest fighter of all time and a perennial contender who has only ever lost to elite talent.
Everything is measured in absolutes — you’re either the best or a bum — and anyone who resides in the vast expanses between those two extremes has to do something dramatic in order to garner even a modicum of attention.
Which is sad, because that’s how emerging talents get overlooked and end up sneaking up on all the people who constantly shout about wanting to know more about fighters, but refuse to do the work to familiarize themselves with anyone who isn’t already a big name or carrying a ton of buzz.
Michal Olieksiejczuk is one of those low key up-and-comers that people should be paying attention to, but aren’t because he competes at light heavyweight and they’ve heard for years how terrible the division is as a whole.
Last time out, the 24-year-old fighter from Barki, Poland needed just 94 seconds to dispatch Gian Villante.
Strip away the division and think about that from a different perspective for a second: a 24-year-old making his sophomore appearance in the Octagon crushed a 28-fight veteran in one minute and 34 seconds, finishing him with a nasty body shot.
Folks have gotten far more excited about far less when it comes to buzzy prospects that everyone likes or charismatic Brazilians who breakdance after their victories, but when Oleksiejczyuk does it, no one seems to bat an eye and it makes zero sense to me.
Now, the young light heavyweight “Lord” didn’t do himself any favors by getting popped for a banned substance following his UFC debut — a short notice, unanimous decision win over Rountree Jr. at UFC 219 — but there are numerous other athletes who have been flagged and suspended who returned to being prospects everyone should follow once they did their penance and Oleksiejczuk should be afforded the same opportunity.
Villante is no world-beater, but he’s a tough out who has been in the UFC for five years, amassing a 7-7 record prior to their matchup in February. Through those 14 Octagon appearances, no one had beaten the Long Island native that quickly or decisively — not Shogun Rua, not Ilir Latifi, not Corey Anderson, not Ovince Saint Preux.
But Oleksiejczuk did and that’s not only worth noting, but the kind of thing that should make you want to see what he does for an encore this weekend when he takes on Gadzhimurad Antigulov in Saint Petersburg.
Prior to his last fight, Antigulov was one of those “let’s see what we’ve got here” guys in the light heavyweight division — a strong grappler who earned first-round finishes in his first two UFC appearances. Then he started fast and flamed out hard against Ion Cutelaba, who is another guy worth paying attention to in the light heavyweight division, and now he’s looking to rebound in the second bout of the Saturday morning fight card from Yubileyney Sports Palace.
Don’t think this is just me cheerleading for a guy who helps make one of my long-standing arguments seems a little more valid either.
Yes, I’ve been riding for the light heavyweight ranks to get some more respect for a while, but there are also performance-based reasons why I think Oleksiejczuk is someone fight fans should be paying attention to this weekend and going forward.
In both his fight with Rountree Jr. and Villante, the Polish newcomer showed smooth striking skills and solid footwork, working his way inside to land his attacks and retreat without catching much fire in return. Though he was more of a “stick and move” fighter against Rountree, who brandishes big power, he pressed forward and attacked Villante without pause and buckled him with a beautiful body shot.
Sound fundamentals and precision striking aren’t as eye-catching as wild spinning attacks and haymakers that make hay, but having those basics in place at this young age, this early into his career bodes well for Oleksiejczuk and should acquit him nicely as he continues to make his way up the divisional ladder.
Antigulov is going to want to close the distance and turn this into a grappling match, which means we should get a chance to see what kind of takedown defense and scrambling skills the 24-year-old has this weekend.
If he can keep it standing and dictate the terms of the fight, Oleksiejczuk has real chance to run his unbeaten streak to an even dozen, which, as I’ve said frequently, is the kind of thing that doesn’t just happen by accident, no matter whom you’re fighting or where.
Light heavyweight isn’t a barren wasteland.
There are emerging talents in the 205-pound ranks you should be paying close attention to and Oleksiejczuk is one of them.
The post Under the Radar at UFC Saint Petersburg: Michal Oleksiejczuk appeared first on The Ring.