Prediction: Augusto Sakai vs. Sergey Spivak | UFC on ESPN 40
Augusto Sakai, 31, is currently riding a three-fight losing streak headed into his bout against Sergey “The Polar Bear” Spivak at UFC on
Sakai earned a UFC contract following a second-round knockout win on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2018. He began his UFC career with a four-fight win streak, winning two fights via knockout and another two via split decision. His current three-fight losing streak brings his UFC record to 4-3, with all three losses coming via knockout. Spivak has had an up and down UFC career going 5-3. His five wins have included two knockouts, one submission, and two decisions.
Both men have inconsistent records with a similar level of competition, but the younger Spivak is a sizable favorite Saturday night.
Sakai entered the UFC with some solid wins and showed a well-rounded striking game. He moves well for his size, staying bouncy and light on his feet when he has the energy. Furthermore, Sakai implements a solid leg kick which he throws early and often. Early in his career, the combination of lateral movement and leg kicks allowed him to frustrate opponents and force them to blitz forward with aggression and a disregard for their own defense. From here, Sakai has shown to be adept at timing his technical striking to catch an incoming opponent cleanly. If he catches someone clean, especially with a counter shot, he has the power to end the fight. A heavyweight with good power, leg kicks, and the ability to move fairly well is a combination that creates a difficult matchup for many in the division.
However, the reason for Sakai not reaching his potential and his recent losses is simply that he struggles to eat heavyweight power. When 260+ pound men swing, even if it’s not the most technical or perfect shot, it lands heavy. Sakai does not appear to have a heavyweight chin and can be dropped cold when caught clean. He’s lost three straight by knockout, but, to his credit, they have come against some of the more powerful strikers in the division. If his chin can improve, which is unlikely unless you’re Andre Arlovski, or if it can hold up against mid-level power strikers, Sakai can get back in the win column. But, if his chin truly isn’t up to snuff, Sakai will continue to get flatlined.
Spivak is a unique heavyweight in that he prefers a grappling match compared to the typical big blow striking match we’ve grown accustomed to in this weight class. His striking has progressed since he joined the UFC, but it is still basic and slow. Instead, Spivak makes his hay surviving on the feet long enough to engage the clinch or get the fight to the mat. He is adept, specifically, at countering kicks with a right hand and following the strike into a solid takedown. If he faces an opponent who rarely kicks, Spivak will typically move around the cage, jabbing forward enough to keep a heavy hitter at bay, then he’ll push forward and force his opponent against the cage. From here, Spivak’s grappling and heavy upper body are on full display.
He is skilled at dragging opponents down, not letting them back up, smothering them for several minutes, and finding the finish. Spivak’s grappling is fairly high level, especially in a division with many fighters who rarely grapple. He has heavy ground and pound along with solid submission game. The issue Spivak has faced comes when an opponent can out-muscle him in the clinch and keep the fight standing. Because his striking is so slow, Spivak is often tagged on the feet. However, once he gets the fight down, the finish typically comes soon after.
This is a challenging fight to predict. Outside of Spivak catching Tuivasa in a submission back in 2019, before Tuivasa evolved into the shoey king we all know and love now, neither man has a win over any real talent. Sakai has only lost to power punchers, and Spivak is an average striker at best. However, Spivak should also have no issue getting the takedown if he isn’t pieced up early.
Because both men have so many question marks, I anticipated this line to be much closer. Since the line is wide, I like the value on the dog in Sakai. If he can stay on his bike for 15 minutes, use intelligent leg kicks, and a consistent jab, he should be able to land enough volume and threaten the counter enough to keep the fight standing.
Pick: Sakai to win (+205 odds at BetUS)
Michael Pounders is a high school English Teacher, a boxer himself, and is a fan who loves, gambles on, and nerds out about all things MMA.