Bryce Mitchell has his hand raised following UFC twister submission victory

UFC 249 is set to take place on May 9 at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, Florida. Topped by an interim title bout between perennial contenders Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje, the event will draw eyes from spectators all across the globe due to it likely being the only live sport available.

Along with this thriller of a main event, there will be 11 other contests that feature the likes of bantamweight king Henry Cejudo and knockout artist Francis Ngannou, both of which are seeking to add another name to their extensive hit-list.

As is the case with most pay-per-view events, fans are riled up with anticipation to watch the big stars perform, however, this weekends fight card features its fair share of MMA talent in near enough every bout.

Here is our list of athletes to watch come Saturday.

Ryan Spann

For Ryan Spann (17-5), life has been good since entering the UFC less than two years ago. After a unanimous decision win in his promotional debut, the light heavyweight travelled to Brazil to fight legend Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who being 15 years the elder undoubtedly held an advantage in terms of experience. Despite being in enemy territory, Spann flatlined his opponent in the first round with a sharp lead uppercut, earning him the biggest win of his career so far.

Standing at 6-feet-5 inches tall, “Superman” is one of the division’s biggest athletes, and is often visibly larger than his peers come fight night. Although he possesses power in his hands, Spann’s real strength lies in his grappling, with 11 of his wins coming by way of submission. The guillotine choke has proved to be his more favourable manoeuvre, which was on display in his last octagon appearance against Devin Clark in October.

At UFC 249, Spann will go head-to-head with middleweight veteran Sam Alvey who could potentially be fighting for his career. Due to his crafty ground game, size and competency on the feet, expect Spann to assert his dominance in the early goings and potentially grab a quick finish.

Bryce Mitchell

The state of Arkansas has struggled to produce top-tier competition for quite some time when it comes to mixed martial arts, but this changed drastically in 2018. A young, confident man by the name of Bryce Mitchell (12-0) entered the UFC’s featherweight division with a bang, defeating the highly-touted Tyler Diamond via majority decision.

“Thug Nasty” is proving to be Arkansas’ long-awaited solution, with his most recent performance further solidifying this. Mitchell wrapped his opponent, Matt Sayles, in a wicked twister, a submission so difficult and scarce that it has only been executed once inside the octagon. Shortly after sinking in the submission, Mitchell successfully forced his opponent to tap, stunning the MMA world in the process. Mitchell’s twister was awarded The Body Lock’s Submission of the Year honors.

Besides his entertaining style of fighting, fans are drawn to the featherweight’s bold and genuine personality, with his post-fight interviews always displaying his practical and calm nature.

At UFC 249, Mitchell squares off with fellow underrated featherweight Charles Rosa, who will likely be looking to dominate him on the ground throughout the duration of the fight. This bout is interesting for a multitude of reasons and may give Mitchell the opportunity to flaunt his ever-improving standup.

Aleksei Oleinik

On May 9, Aleksei Oleinik (58-13) has the opportunity to earn a career-defining win, as well as the chance to climb up the heavyweight ladder once again.

The Russian is a veteran of 72 professional bouts with 79% of his wins coming by way of submission. Oleinik’s opponents usually meet the same fate, being dragged to the canvas and submitted by a slick chokehold. His go-to submission, known as the Ezekiel Choke, is a rare sighting in the MMA world, with Oleinik owning the only two recorded in UFC history.

Oleinik wraps the opposition deep in his trademark choke, applying firm pressure to the carotid arteries in order to force the tap. This unusual yet effective exercise has garnered the 42-year-old plenty of attention, and rightfully so.

As of today, he has two heavyweight legends on his win list – Mirko Cro Cop and Mark Hunt respectively – and UFC 249 presents him the chance of adding a third in Fabricio Werdum. Will Aleksei Oleinik tap out the seasoned jiu-jitsu practitioner, or will the former champion successfully mark his return to the cage?

Calvin Kattar

Perhaps the UFC’s most formidable dark horse, Calvin Kattar (20-4) has long been destined for success. 

Since his short-notice debut in 2017, “The Boston Finisher” has gone to war with the divisions toughest athletes, most notably breaking the jaw of former title contender Ricardo Lamas with one punch. This victory set up a fight with Zabit Magomedsharipov, a man many believe is destined for UFC gold. Despite ultimately losing the three-round affair, Kattar showcased his tremendous boxing, coming close to finishing the fight a number of times. 

This weekend he faces the always bloodthirsty Jeremy Stephens, who will be looking to turn their meeting into a 15-minute barnburner. While Stephens boasts fierce power and an underrated set of kickboxing skills, Kattar is expected outbox him over the course of three rounds. Not only is he one of the divisions best boxers, but quite possibly the sports.

Calvin Kattar vs. Jeremy Stephens is my personal pick for Fight of the Night and it’s like to have you forgetting about the 2-month hiatus we were forced to endure. 

Jairzinho Rozenstruik

This time last year, Jairzinho Rozenstruik (10-0) was fresh off his UFC debut: a second-round destruction of Junior Albini. However, despite this, nobody could anticipate the year that was in store for him…

In less than 12 months, the Suriname native has gone from relatively unknown to a top contender, securing four knockouts victories in spectacular fashion. After his nine-second knockout over Allen Crowder, the talented kickboxer was paired with former champion Andrei Arlovski in a fight that would put the rest of the division on notice. In under 30 seconds, Rozenstruik put away the aging Arlovski, further illustrating the immense power he packs in his fists. The following month he was back, fighting Alistair Overeem in the main event of UFC: Washington, where he was a short-notice replacement and therefore Overeem was expected to run through him. 

Rozenstruik was dominated for almost five rounds in a fight that displayed his sub-par ground game, nevertheless, it also displayed his sheer heart and determination. With five seconds remaining and losing the fight on all judges scorecards, Rozenstruik landed a huge right hand to the jaw of Overeem, sending him plummeting to the mat. On top of this, a portion of Overeem’s upper lip flew off his face. Jairzinho Rozenstruik had just completed the comeback of the year.

At UFC 249, he is scheduled to face fellow knockout artist Francis Ngannou, which will likely determine the clear-cut number one contender in the UFC’s heavyweight division. Rozenstruik has all the tools to keep the menacing Ngannou at bay, and this writer predicts he will do so, as contrary to popular belief, this fight may last the full 15 minutes and finish with Rozenstruik’s perfect professional record intact.

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