For those who weren't familiar with Jairzinho Rozenstruik's background and his style of fighting when he debuted in the UFC on Feb. 2, 2019, against Junior Albini, it didn't take long to find out. After a so-so opening round, Rozenstruik viciously finished Albini less than a minute into the second, with knees and strikes.
And if some missed that, Rozenstruik followed that win with first-round stoppages of Allen Crowder in nine seconds (!) and of former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski in 29 seconds and then a dramatic last-second KO of Alistair Overeem with just four seconds remaining in a fight he was destined to lose.
After each of those fights, Rozenstruik would return home to a hero's welcome in Suriname. Thousands would turn out and chant his nickname, "Bigi Boy" as he made his way home.
Now, nearly three-and-a-half years after the victory over Overeem, the crowds still come out whenever Rozenstruik returns home. They're maybe a bit thinner and a bit less enthusiastic these days than they were during those heady days in 2019 when he went 4-0 with four knockouts in the world's top MMA promotion, but they're still there.
"There's still a lot of energy and it's still a big thing," said Rozenstruik, who faces Jailton Almeida on Saturday in the main event of UFC Charlotte. "Fighting in the UFC is a huge thing in this country. Everyone around the world knows the UFC. And my country supports all of its athletes and it's always nice to come home and see the people welcoming me back."
Things are different, now, though. After those four UFC wins in 2019 raised his overall MMA record to 10-0, he's hit hard times. He hasn't won back-to-back fights since, and a first-round finish of Chris Daukus in December at UFC 282 in Las Vegas enabled him to snap a two-fight losing streak. He's 3-4 since that 4-0 UFC start, bringing him to 13-4 overall.
He's a +395 underdog at BetMGM to Almeida, who is a wizard on the ground but has been showing improved striking and power recently. Rozenstruik, though, is undeterred and scoffs at the odds. Almeida is a -110 favorite to win by submission. Rozenstruik, by contrast, is +2500 to win by submission. While it's not realistic to think Rozenstruik can submit Almeida, he's also a +500 underdog to win by KO.
He said the long odds don't bother him because he feels he's improved each time out, win or lose.
"In this sport, there is so much to learn," he said. "And nobody ever learns it all. But when you're in it for a while, what you find is that you pick things up each fight and you learn and evolve so that you get better. The guys who can evolve, who take their talent and develop it, they're the ones who hang around and win a lot of fights.
"[Almeida] has a lot of talent. He's in the UFC. You don't get to the UFC if you don't have a lot of talent, because this is the big leagues. He's where he is for a reason. But I'm here, too, and there's a reason I'm here."
Rozenstruik's best chance to win is clearly to keep the fight standing and land a big shot. There are few fighters who can take a Rozenstruik shot on the chin and keep going. The key for Almeida, then, is to avoid the big shot and get the fight where he can pursue his advantages.
Rozenstruik is confident he can win and won't concede anything, even if the fight hits the ground for extended stretches.
"Look, my experience in this sport speaks for itself, and you can't underestimate the value of experience," he said. "Wherever the fight goes, I'll be ready. Just because he's [great at jiu-jitsu] doesn't mean I can't win if the fight goes to the ground. Fighters in the UFC are well-rounded because you have to be. As a professional, you have to work on all aspects of the game and that's what I have done. So I feel good about myself as [I head into this fight]."