A heavyweight battle of long-tenured fighters is set for UFC Fight Night 211 when Alexey “The Boa Constrictor” Oleinik (60-16; 9-7 in the UFC) takes on Ilir “The Sledgehammer” Latifi (15-8; 8-6 in the UFC).
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While both men are on the backends of their careers – Oleinik is 45 and Latifi is 39 – each still can win fights via their original style shown in their more youthful years. What makes this fight so interesting is that both men are now fighting someone of similar seasoned stature coupled with each elected style complimenting that of what the other seeks to implement. So, knowing each has an affinity for the ground, I fully expect both fighters to be comfortable in the style of fight, but, knowing each is quite skilled at what they do on the mat, comfort is likely the last thing on either fighter mind during the fight, for however long it may last!
Latifi vs. Oleinik takes place this weekend at UFC Fight Night 211. Subscribe to ESPN+ to watch every UFC fight live.
Ilir Latifi is a -180 favorite over Alexey Oleinik, who comes back at a +150 dog.
Alexey Oleinik’s nickname, “The Boa Constrictor,” is perhaps not only the “coolest” nickname on the roster but, instead, the most illustrative name for how he fights as a professional in the UFC. Quite literally, Oleinik acts as a Boa Constrictor the moment an opportunity arises to get a hold of his opponent and choke them out – he has 47 of his 60, yes 60, professional wins coming via submission. This impressive submission total is all that is needed to showcase how dangerous Oleinik is once on the mat, but, once you add the fact that he secures submissions through a multitude of chokes – his scarf choke is perhaps the most impressive given the uniqueness parlayed with the immense “Boa Constrictor” strength needed – and the conclusion expands to Oleinik being a fighter you certainly do not want to grapple with.
Even though Oleinik is indeed extremely dangerous on the ground, he is just 1-3 in his last four fights. This loss spell is a culmination of age catching up to him accompanied by him just not being a good striker. In years past, Oleinik’s subpar striking was able to be overcome via wearing a shot to get in close, and once there, grapple his way to a victory; but now, his chin is becoming more and more suspect, with every blow against him looking like it could end the night. Given that this fight is likely to take place on the mat, the significant concern of his dwindling chin and mere lack of threat on the feet is somewhat dissipated, but, given Oleinik is the lesser wrestler of the two – different from submission/grappling – it seems as if he will be at the mercy of his opponent to make a mistake and given him the opportunity to win the fight the way he knows how – submission.
Similarly to Oleinik, Ilir Latifi is just 1-3 in his last four fights. And of the lone win during that span, it came via a split decision over Tanner Boser, who is just 1-3 in his own right over his last four UFC fights. Where Latifi differs from Oleinik is that the importance of record difficulty for Latifi is far more indicative of him transitioning into a new stage of his career, as he was once an extremely tough light heavyweight but is now a heavyweight looking to bring an alternative look to many traditional strike-first fighters.
As alluded to many times, Latifi is a very good wrestler. This comes as little surprise once you lay eyes on him, as he quite literally looks like his nickname of “The Sledgehammer.” This nickname extends beyond the illustration of how he looks from a physical standpoint, as it extends to how he fights in the octagon. Notably, Latifi will look to throw an upward jab – he is almost certainly going to be the much shorter fighter in just about every fight – that looks to put his opponent on the back foot and/or get their hands up in a high-guard position, where then, shoots a takedown. This takedown is often more of pressure against the style, where he methodically works his way to the mat. Doing so allows Latifi to keep the fight in a style and range best suited for him, and, once on the mat, he is able to extend the control to ground and pound.
The form of fighting Latifi employs is seen to be quite effective in smaller divisions, but of late, Latifi has found difficulty successfully implementing the style against naturally strong opponents who are massive in stature. In this fight, there is a massive positive, and negative, for him. The positive is that Latifi’s strength, accompanied by sound technique, will allow him to maneuver Oleinik the way he wants, both in the clinch and on the mat. The negative is that the style of wrapping his hands around the hips in a clinch form, where his head is often near the waste of his opponent, is extremely dangerous to do when fighting an opponent as elite as Oleinik is with securing a choke.
If Latifi remains cognitively aware of compromising submission positions, he should find success in this bout. The issue is that the striking between each man will be less than stellar, so I fully anticipate the fight turning into a clinch-grappling affair. Under the presumption, Oleinik will likely have a legitimate shot at a choke. The question comes is if Latifi will be able to sense the choke prior to Oleinik. If so, he should be able to avoid the danger and control his way to a somewhat easy win; but, if he is a little slow, Oleinik can choke Latifi out – quite surprising given Latifi has next to no neck.
Ultimately, I am on the side of Latifi. I believe his wrestling credentials, extensive octagon experience, and extremely thick upper body should net him the greatest chance to clinch-wrestle his way to a victory against the always dangerous Oleinik in these positions. Parlay this anticipation with the fact I firmly believe Latifi is the better striker – sort of an oxymoron if I am honest – and the result is me seeing far more paths to victory for him than for the Boa Constrictor.
Bet: Ilir Latifi to win