Rarely do new additions to the UFC heavyweight division fly under the radar, but Jairzinho Rozenstruik is one of the rare exceptions.
Born and raised in Suriname, “Bigi Boy” was a known entity to kickboxing fans, but those who focused exclusively on mixed martial arts had limited experience with the 31-year-old. Tabbed to replace Dmitry Sosnovskiy opposite Junior Albini earlier this year in Fortaleza, Brazil, a combination of factors coalesced to allow the newcomer to slip into the cage with little to no fanfare.
He was signed on the second day of the New Year, before some had shaken themselves from joyousness of the previous week and really began to focus on the events of the coming year. Add in that he was facing an opponent on a two-fight slide and that their bout was stationed on the preliminary portion of a well-stocked event featuring several high-profile matchups and you can see how Rozenstruik was able to make the walk to the Octagon fairly anonymously.
That isn’t going to be the case when he makes the walk to the cage this weekend in his sophomore appearance in the UFC because after getting his footing during his first five minutes inside the Octagon, Rozenstruik introduced himself to the UFC audience in spectacular fashion, finishing Albini with a multi-strike combination that forced those watching to sit up and take notice.
“I got taken down twice in the first round,” said Rozenstruik, replaying the events of his debut in advance of his return on Saturday night in Greenville, South Carolina, where he squares off with Allen Crowder. “But I stayed calm, worked my way out and the moment he tried to take me down in the second round, I took the upper hand and delivered four heavy punches with a high kick to his head.
“Most people don’t know that I have a very long kickboxing record of 82 fights with 76 wins and 64 knockouts, so I knew what to expect and just did my job.”
That previous experience competing at a high level in kickboxing certainly served Rozenstruik well as the six-foot-four knockout artist showed no signs of being overwhelmed by the size and scope of competing on the biggest stage in the sport or being dropped into hostile territory for his debut.
It’s doubly impressive when you consider that he went from signing his contract and officially stepping in against Albini to making the walk and emerging victorious in the span of one month.
“When I entered UFC Octagon for the first time, I was very calm and excited at the same time,” he said. “I muted the audience who were chanting, “You’re gonna die” and focused entirely on the guidance of my teammates.
“(When I was introduced for the first time), I felt blessed and knew a new phase of my life and fighting career just started.”
As for when it was clear that the fight was over and he’d just scored an impressive finish in his UFC debut?
“Veni, vidi, vici,” said Rozenstruik. “Since we made it here, we can make it anywhere.”
Looking back on his performance, it’s difficult to argue with his assessment.
His win over Albini was the kind of debut effort that sends ardent fans scrambling to the Internet in an attempt to figure out how they failed to recognize the upside of an undefeated promotional newcomer with an aptitude for separating opponents from their consciousness and one that added the name “Jairzinho Rozenstruik,” difficult as it may be to spell or pronounce, to the early list of fighters to watch as 2019 really started rolling.
The first fighter from Suriname to fight in the UFC, Rozenstruik is the next in a line of powerhouses to emerge on the global combat sports scene from the small South American country that was once part of an exchange between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Kingdom of England that saw the British maintain possession of a mid-Atlantic hub of cultural and economic importance, New York City, joining fellow kickboxers Remy Bojansky, Ernesto Hoost, Melvin Manhoef and Tyrone Spong, whom the UFC heavyweight counts as a dear friend.
“It means a lot for me to be able to represent an unknown country to the millions of MMA fans,” he said. “Suriname is the smallest country of South America and only a few people know it exists. I am very proud and I'm feeling blessed to able to do this for my country.
“I’ve known Tyrone for more than 10 years,” added Rozenstruik, who set up shop at Spong’s gym in Florida after starting his camp in Aruba. “He is one of my best friends and an important mentor who gives me lots of advice regarding my sports career.”
The next step in his career comes this weekend in Greenville, South Carolina, where he squares off with Crowder as part of the sneaky-deep, sure-to-be-entertaining first event at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
Following a loss in his promotional debut, the 29-year-old Contender Series alum Crowder was tabbed to welcome Greg Hardy to the Octagon for the first time in January. After extending the former NFL defensive lineman into the second round and starting to gain momentum as Hardy began to fade, the bout was halted after Hardy connected with an illegal knee, handing Crowder a victory by way of disqualification.
“He’s a great opponent for my second bout,” Rozenstruik said of the North Carolina-based Crowder, who carries a 10-3, 1 NC record into Saturday’s preliminary card pairing. “He is a good fighter and I am ready to meet him in the Octagon.”
Bolstered by his extensive kickboxing experience and brimming with confidence after his impressive debut in February, the formidable heavyweight from the smallest country in South America is ready to get back in the cage and continue making a name for himself, both this weekend and beyond.
“My goal is to fight another two bouts this year to fulfill my first UFC contract,” he said. “I hope that the matchmakers of the UFC will schedule my third fight as soon as possible. I don’t have a list with opponents yet, but I am ready for whoever dares to fight me.
“The one thing I am sure of,” he added, “is that next year we’ll be getting the bigger names and main fight cards. It’s going to be amazing!”
As for Saturday, he sees his second fight playing out in similar fashion to his first foray into the Octagon.
“Like with Albini, I am going to make him pay for any error with a knockout.”