The last time Jairzinho Rozenstruick was seen in the octagon, he nearly detached a man’s upper lip from his face with a one-punch knockout in the final four seconds of the fight.
The mutilated face of mixed martial arts legend Alistair Overeem at the hands of the man called “Bigi Boy” became a gruesome viral highlight that skyrocketed Rozenstruick’s UFC stock into the top 5 heavyweight rankings.
Riding a four-fight knockout streak in 2019, the breakout star and Suriname native has landed himself a main event date with No. 2 heavyweight Francis Ngannou when the UFC returns to Columbus for the first time in 11 years.
“I knock everybody out that stands in front of me, so I’m going to knock him out,” Rozenstruick said in a sit down interview with The Lantern. “I say it again: I’m going to knock him out.”
On March 7, 2009, now-31-year-old Rozenstruick was still three years away from his professional MMA debut in Russia. Welterweight Matt Brown, who was born in Xenia, Ohio, and calls Columbus home, was amid a first-round technical knockout finish of Pete Sell at UFC 96 –– the company’s most recent event in Brown’s hometown.
It was one of Brown’s UFC-record 11 knockouts in the welterweight division during a career that has spanned 14 years, 38 fights and 76 rounds and included bouts against former UFC Champion Robbie Lawler and title challengers Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and Demian Maia.
“In the daily training, maybe there’s a little bit of extra fire under your butt,” Brown said. “But I’m disciplined, and I stay training all the time. The main thing is trying to pull that back a little bit and not let the pressure of fighting in your hometown get to you.”
The 39-year-old’s next fight — just his second after a two-year layoff — will take place against a lesser-known opponent.
Miguel Baeza holds an 8-0 MMA record, but his bout with Brown will be just his second after earning a contract on UFC president Dana White’s “Contender Series” this past June.
Brown said his preparation for fights is more about himself than his opponent, however, which means spending tireless hours at the Immortal Martial Arts Center –– the gym Brown opened this past year in Lewis Center, Ohio.
“I kinda felt some urgency with my kids getting to the age that they’re at. I have 9-year-old boys now. I felt like I need to have something for them right now,” Brown said. “I want them to come to the gym with me and hang out with their dad, do what their dad does, and they wanted it too. Rather than taking them somewhere else, I said, ‘I’m going to build a place for them and it’s going to be theirs.’”
While Brown won’t have to leave his regular stomping ground for training camp, Rozenstruick flew into Ohio –– more than 3,000 miles from Suriname –– for the first time Monday.
Back home, the 250-pound knockout artist’s life has changed dramatically since his brutal finish of Overeem in December. Rozenstruick said he might be the most famous athlete in Suriname, and his Instagram videos that display mobs of local fans chanting his nickname support that claim.
He said the “Bigi Boy” moniker was coined when he hit a game-winning shot in a pickup basketball game as a child, but given his stature and penchant for violent finishes, the name may be more fitting than ever.
Rozenstruick said his family and biggest supporters are pooling money together to charter a plane that but more than 300 Suriname citizens to Columbus for the fight.
One man who won’t need a plane is Brown, whose sons, friends and family will cheer him on ringside in his backyard.
Appearing in both the name of his gym and the tattoo on his stomach, the word “immortal” has become synonymous with Brown’s identity as a fighter. At this stage in his lengthy UFC tenure, the word seems to mirror his undying resolve, but its initial creation comes from darker origins.
“I overdosed on heroin when I was younger. Obviously I lived through it. My friends were kind of making a running joke,” Brown said. “I have a couple other brushes with death. That one was the most significant, closest call. They were just joking around saying, ‘Dude, you’re immortal,’ and it kind of stuck with me after that.”
For the second straight fight, Brown will use the tutelage of UFC Hall of Famer and former Ohio State national wrestling champion Mark Coleman in his corner.
“He keeps reminding me every fight’s the Super Bowl. You’re risking your life every time you go out there,” Brown said.
Nothing is a better reminder of that than the power possessed by Ngannou and Rozenstruick, as nearly 80 percent of their combined 24 wins in MMA have come by way of knockout.
Neither Brown nor Rozenstruick is guaranteed to come out with a hand raised March 28, but given their respective track records, both will come out swinging.
Tickets go on sale Friday.