One to Watch: Oleksiy Oliynyk vs. Viktor Pesta
Now the dust has settled on UFC 207 and the close of 2016—a year which was interesting to say the very least—the UFC returns to our lives with a solid fight card to get us all excited for the year ahead in the ever-evolving world of mixed martial arts.
UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez vs. Penn, otherwise known as UFC Fight Night 103, sees MMA pioneer BJ Penn make his big comeback to the sport against the surging Yair Rodriguez in a fascinating featherweight tilt headlining on Sunday night.
The show, taking place at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona, the UFC’s second visit to the city, also features intriguing match-ups on its main card including Joe Lauzon vs. Marcin Held, Court McGhee vs. Ben Saunders and John Moraga vs. Sergio Pettis.
The quality of fights are replicated from top to bottom of this event—evidenced by an absorbing all-European heavyweight clash between Ukrainian-born Russian Oleksiy Oliynyk and the Czech Republic’s Viktor Pesta in an interesting styles clash. The fact this fight is sandwiched between others on the preliminary card, to be broadcasted on Fox Sports, is rather telling of the quality of this Fight Night show.
There is something fascinating about seeing two European heavyweights, both hailing from countries shielded behind the infamous Iron Curtain in play until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, fighting each other under any ruleset—whether it’s in an MMA contest, boxing bout or on the streets with their notorious football hooligans. Perhaps there’s something in the water of Central and Eastern Europe.
In fact, both Oliynyk and Pesta are coming off losses to different Polish heavyweights—another country once considered part of the Eastern Bloc—with Oliynyk losing out in a majority decision to Daniel Omielanczuk and Pesta getting knocked out from a nasty headkick delivered by Omielanczuk’s compatriot Marcin Tybura.
As Pesta’s record indicates with four wins coming by knockout, three by submission and three decision wins to boot, the Czech is well-rounded heavyweight who does well in mixing it up in the Octagon.
The same can’t be said of Oliynyk, however. Despite his shocking one-punch win over American Jared Rosholt in 2014—his most memorable exploit during his relatively-brief UFC tenure—Oliynyk simply loves submissions. To date, Oliynyk has 41 submission wins to his credit with a variety of rare chokes and other holds. These include scarf hold armlocks, scarf hold headlocks, Ezekiel chokes and more.
Nicknamed “The Boa Constrictor,” Oliynyk is one of the few fighters to have truly earned their moniker—his sambo submission stylings are a thing to behold.
Alongside his slick submission skills, Oliynyk is an interesting, if not controversial, character in his region. Ukraine-born Oliynyk openly supported Russia’s military intervention in Crimea and in the east of the country, before becoming a naturalised Russian citizen.
Pesta has fewer controversies associated with his name. However, he will certainly be feeling the heat ahead of his latest UFC contest. Pesta entered the UFC as an undefeated heavyweight. But, having gone 1-3 since joining the promotion after facing some tough competition in a harsh welcoming to the promotion—beating Konstantin Erokhin, but losing to the aforementioned Tybura, rising heavyweight favourite Derrick Lewis and coming a cropper to the technical boxing skills of Dagestani Ruslan Magomedov—it would be amiss to think Pesta won’t be fighting for his UFC life this weekend.
Respect should be shown towards Pesta for taking this latest fight. Despite the inherent pressure with trying to salvage your UFC career, Pesta agreed to fight the dangerous Oliynyk on late notice after original opponent Damien Grabowski pulled out of the fight through injury. Pesta’s favoured method of victory is to take his opponents down and maul them on the ground—a risky game if you’re facing Oliynyk.
39-year-old Oliynyk certainly has the experience edge over Pesta with 61 professional contests to his name in addition to World Combat Sambo Championship, KSW Heavyweight Tournament and Grapplers Quest wins. However, the aforesaid split decision loss to Omielanczuk was his first defeat in 11—a run which went on for over six years. It will be interesting to see how he responds to a loss having experienced so much recent success.
On free TV, you’ll get to witness two heavyweights competing with contrasting styles—one of whom is battling to keep his UFC dream alive, the other a submission artist with an emphasis on the latter word. We’re all spoiled.
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