Aleksei Oleinik will welcome Mark Hunt to his home as the two heavyweights headline the UFC’s first event in Russia.
They say that timing is everything, and perhaps that is why the UFC has not made it to Russia until now. At a time when there have never been more Russian fighters at the highest level of the company, the UFC will make their debut with an event in Moscow where they will have knockout artist Mark Hunt take on submission expert Aleksei Oleinik.
For a time, the misconception was that Russia would be a place UFC may never reach. The country had a thriving MMA market already and the UFC had soured their relationship with the country’s biggest MMA star in Fedor Emelianenko. But the UFC has not been absent in the country in all this time: the promotion has had a TV deal in Russia for several years, including renegotiating a new deal last year in anticipation of the cancelled bout between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
To headline the historic UFC Moscow card, MMA veteran Mark Hunt (replacing the now-suspended Fabricio Werdum) was assigned the task of upsetting Russian native Aleksei Oleinik. Most recently, Hunt has been vocal that he plans to fight out his UFC contract and continue his career elsewhere. Hunt pointed to the Brock Lesnar fight in particular, where Lesnar tested positive for a banned substance, and Hunt’s removal from an event in 2017 due to a comment regarding his health that was taken out of context. In short, he’s unhappy with the UFC, and currently in the midst of a lawsuit against them and Lesnar over the latter’s UFC 200 drug test failure.
Inside the cage, Hunt has struggled to recapture the form he had in 2011 where he was on the cusp of title contention in the heavyweight division. He is coming off a loss to Curtis Blaydes in June and at 44 years old, there are now frequent questions about exactly how long he intends to keep fighting if he continues on his current run.
That is not to say Hunt is a shell of himself in the cage. Remarkably, he remains seemingly as durable as ever and his power continues to draw the respect of his peers. Even in his most recent bout, the young and dangerous Blaydes elected to fight solely a grappling match after being dealt damage from Hunt’s blows, which only serves to show that he remains a threat.
Mark Hunt has seemingly been the veteran inside the cage his whole career. But remarkably, Aleksei Oleinik carries nearly three times the experience of Hunt with over 60 fights in MMA. He notched 30 of those bouts in Russia and the Ukraine before ever fighting in the Western Hemisphere. His career has spanned stints in Bellator and M-1, and he fought names such as Chael Sonnen, Mirko Cro Cop, Jeff Monson and others before ever entering the Octagon.
It was in the UFC that he gained his reputation as one of the craftiest submission artists on the roster. He put together a 2-1 record that flew largely unnoticed before opening the 2017 with arguably the Submission of the Year when he stopped Viktor Pesta with the first ever Ezekiel Choke in the UFC. The move drew praise across the board for the skill and sheer amount of luck required to complete the submission. He shocked fans when he pulled off the submission again earlier this year with a finish of up-and-coming Junior Albini. At a time when the biggest Russian stars were already booked, or unavailable for different reasons, Oleinik was given the honor of representing his home country in the UFC’s debut in Russia.
Stylistically, the bout is a classic striker vs. grappler match-up. Both men tend to plod forward and use their size control the action. For Hunt, he will look to counter Oleinik as he attempts to close the distance. As usual, Hunt will be giving up both height and reach which means accuracy will be the most important. The ever durable Hunt remains willing to eat punches to land one of his patented bombs and that is what makes him one of the most dangerous heavyweights in the world.
Oleinik has admitted that an Ezekiel choke will be next to impossible against Hunt for the simple fact that the New Zealander has arguably the shortest and most stout neck in the heavyweight division. However, he will enjoy a significant advantage should he be able to get on top of Hunt to rain blows. While he could look for a submission, he should be patient as to not allow Hunt the space to get back to his feet.
For Hunt, he is getting closer to what could be a UFC departure and is undoubtedly looking for the most success he can so he can negotiate the best deal possible to close out his career. Oleinik is looking to break the pattern and hopefully turn a Hunt victory into a title campaign. In what could go down as the beginning of an era for the UFC in Russia, getting the honor of headlining the first night in the country is an accolade both men will carry forever.