The next few months might bring big changes to the UFC’s heavyweight division, as 40-year-old champion Daniel Cormier could put his title on the line against Brock Lesnar and then step away from the sport.
And up-and-comer Brazilian talent Augusto Sakai believes Cormier’s absence would be beneficial for the heavyweights.
”I saw that they might book him against Brock Lesnar and then he might retire, and that will be good for the division,” Sakai told MMA Fighting. “There will be another title fight, things will start to move in the division, so it will be easier for me to dream about that title shot.”
Sakai, a former Bellator heavyweight, signed with the UFC after knocking out previously unbeaten Marcos Conrado Jr. at the Contender Series last August. Five weeks later, he stopped Chase Sherman in his UFC debut in Sao Paulo.
Now booked to face former titleholder Andrei Arlovski at UFC Fort Lauderdale, Sakai doesn’t see himself as too far off from a title shot if victorious on Saturday night.
”The heavyweight division is really thin worldwide,” Sakai said, “so I believe that a win Saturday puts me in the rankings, taking his spot on that list, and then they will put me against top-ranked opponents. I believe they will throw a top-10 [opponent] at me after Arlovski.
”I’ve got to do my job, put on great fights, knockouts and submissions, and then I believe the UFC will give me this chance. I think the UFC will end up giving me a chance (for the title) with good performances.”
The Brazilian heavyweight enters the Octagon holding a 12-1-1 record in eight years as a professional, with his only defeat coming at the hands of veteran Cheick Kongo in a split decision.
Being matched against a popular name like Arlovski is a sign of recognition, Sakai said, and shows that “the UFC is paying attention to what you’re doing and believes in your work.”
“Coming from the Contender Series and after my debut in Brazil, I think they got good plans for my future,” he said.
”He’s not the same guy he used to be in the past, not as aggressive, and not the same striker he used to be,” Sakai said. “He tries to grapple more these days. I believe he will try to stand and trade a little bit, but try to grapple eventually. He will try to make me comfortable on the feet before changing plans, but I hope I’ll finish the fight before we get to that point [laughs].”
Arlovski is not one to be counted out, though.
In 2017, “The Pitbull” was on a five-fight losing skid when he was booked against then-promising Brazilian heavyweight Junior Albini. He ended up defeating Albini, then three months later, he defeated Stefan Struve.
”Whenever I hear people say he’s old, I say he has the experience of a former UFC champion,” Sakai said. “He has more fights in the UFC than I have in my entire career, so he’s very experienced. There’s no underestimating on my part. I won’t underestimate him because he’s coming off three losses, but I won’t let him use that experience against me.”