UFC on ESPN+ 96 Main Event Breakdown

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Do you happen to have plans on Saturday afternoon and early evening? If the answer happens to be “no,” you will after reading about what’s scheduled to go down in Las Vegas at the UFC Apex. After two weeks away from their homebase, MMA‘s top promotion returns to begin the month of March.

Like we mentioned earlier on this week, there’s an old saying “March goes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” A busy weekend of competitive violence continues with another UFC Fight Night, UFC on ESPN+ 96. Live coverage begins at an earlier than normal time, 1:30 pm ET/ 10:30 am PT with the undercard on ESPN+. 

Main card action immediately follows at 4 pm ET/ 1 pm PT over ESPN‘s subscription-based streaming platform. The earlier start time is due to the number of international fighters on the card, translating to a primetime window in Europe.

Heavyweight Showcase in UFC on ESPN+ 96 Main Event

All told, barring any postponed contests between now and Saturday afternoon, the final version of UFC on ESPN+ 96 features 11 bouts. A battle at 265 lbs. is the focus for the UFC on ESPN+ 96 main event.

No. 12 contender Jairzinho Rozenstruik (13-5 MMA, 7-5 UFC) takes on unranked and undefeated Shamil Gaziev (12-0, 1-0 UFC) in the headlining bout of the day. As is the case with all UFC main attractions, this one is an advertised maximum of five rounds at five minutes per round.

UFC on ESPN+ 96 Main Event Fighter Comparison and Betting Odds

Heading into the UFC on ESPN+ 96 main event early Saturday evening, Shamil Gaziev stands as the taller man at 6-foot-4, compared to the 6-foot-2 frame of Jairzinho Rozenstruik. The undefeated Gaziev owns a half-inch reach advantage (78 1/2 inches to 78 inches even), as well as a four-inch leg reach advantage (45 inches to 41 inches) over Rozenstruik.

Currently, the oddsmakers have Shamil Gaziev installed as a -166 favorite on the money line, with Jairzinho Rozenstruik countering as a +140 underdog. If you plan on betting on this or any other fight happening this weekend, please wager responsibly.

Rozenstruik Seeks to End Gaziev’s Unbeaten Run Saturday

Jairzinho Rozenstruik enters the UFC on ESPN+ 96 main event on Saturday having posted a mark of 2-3 over his last five fights. Last time out, he suffered a first-round submission via rear-naked choke against Jailton Almeida (20-2 MMA, 6-0 UFC) in the UFC Charlotte main event on May 13, a card aired by ABC.

He’s had over nine months to stew over the defeat and prepare for his return. Rozenstruik admitted in Wednesday’s media availability that Shamil Gaziev could be a tough customer at the shop this weekend.

“If the UFC selected the guy as a main event, then you know he’s a big deal,” Rozenstruik told the press. “He has a perfect record. I’ve got to give him his props. You’ve got to take him [seriously.] 12-0.  It’s not that he’s doing nothing. So, this weekend, he’s going to get a test.”

Jairzinho Rozenstruik is a man who’s a seasoned vet in combat sports at the age of 35. Before he celebrates his birthday on St. Patrick’s Day, can he hand the undefeated Gaziev his first career defeat? Tune in Saturday evening and find out.

Shamil Gaziev Gets First UFC Main Event in Second Promotional Appearance

In the other corner, Shamil Gaziev, a 2023 graduate of Dana White’s Contender Series,  has yet to lose so far in his MMA career. Dating back to his amateur days, he’s won 14 fights in succession. Back in December, he made a great first impression in his promotional debut, scoring a second-round standing TKO due to elbows and punches against 2021 Contender Series alumnus Martin Buday (13-2 MMA, 4-1 UFC) during the UFC 296 early prelims on Dec. 16.

To go from the bottom of the card to the main event in the span of two fights is an amazingly impressive feat. If you look at his statistics, it’s even more amazing. In his last five fights, Gaziev has recorded four finishes.

This is a man who had just fought in Brave at this time last year. Now, just a shade over 12 months later, he’s headlining UFC on ESPN+ 96. It goes without saying that a victory here would be a defining one for his career.

Analysis, Film Study, and Prediction

Stylistically, the UFC on ESPN+ 96 main event looks to favor Shamil Gaziev, a Dagestani wrestler and former volleyball player, while Jairzinho Rozenstruik counters with a kickboxing background.

Rozenstruik Can Make Quick Work of Anyone

Given Jairzinho Rozenstruik’s history as a kickboxer, it stands to reason that his striking could write an ending to the story in the UFC on ESPN+ 96 main event. Chris Daukaus learned this the hard way in December of 2022.

Right after the command to fight was given, he pounced on Daukaus with unrelenting strikes, knocking him out in 22 blistering seconds. With the loss that night, Daukaus was cut from the UFC’s active roster.

If Jairzinho Rozenstruik comes out like a house on fire from the opening bell on Saturday, he could find himself back in the win column.

Watch Gaziev’s Ground Game

In the other corner, Shamil Gaziev could pacify Jairzinho Rozenstruik’s punches with wrestling and submissions. Submitting opponents is what got him to the UFC, something that Greg Velasco knows firsthand.

During the first round of the main event of Contender Series late last summer, Gaziev immediately dropped Velasco with one crisp, right-handed punch and took his back.  From there, he tried to lock up an armbar from top mount and softened Velasco up with ground and pound.

Upon taking full mount, he applied the torque to secure a rear-naked choke, forcing Velasco to tap out in just over two and a half minutes. If Shamil Gaziev drops Jairzinho Rozenstruik, it’s his world in the UFC on ESPN+ 96 main event.

Final Thoughts

Although UFC on ESPN+ 96 might not be the card of the year in 2024 for the UFC, this heavyweight fight is a cracking 25 minutes (or less) of action. As we’ve seen so often in heavyweight bouts, as little as one punch can end any fight.

Prediction: Shamil Gaziev by Second-Round Submission

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Drew Zuhosky has been writing about combat sports since May of 2018, coming to MMASucka after stints at Overtime Heroics and Armchair All-Americans. A graduate of Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, Drew is a charter member of the Youngstown Press Club. Prior to beginning his professional career, Drew was a sportswriter for YSU's student-run newspaper, The Jambar, where he supplied Press Box Perspective columns every week.

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