He may be 41 years old, but UFC heavyweight Aleksei Oleinik is getting better with age. In the biggest fight of his career to date, the Russian choked out Mark Hunt in the main event of this past weekend’s UFC Fight Night 136 event in Moscow, Russia, improving to 57-11-1 in his professional MMA career including a 6-2 record in the UFC. Of his 57 wins, 45 of them have come by submission, making him one of the most effective submission artists in MMA history. And this latest win over Hunt shows he’s not slowing down anytime soon.
Oleinik was a bit of a late bloomer as he started his MMA career in 1996 but he didn’t make his UFC debut until 2014 when he was 37 years old. At that point, he was 61 fights deep into his MMA career but he wasn’t much of a household name. Hardcore MMA fans knew who Oleinik was because he had competed in Bellator’s first heavyweight tournament, and years before in YAMMA Pit Fighting, but it was a win over Mirko Cro Cop that got the UFC interested. Before being signed by the UFC in 2014, Olenik was on a nine-fight win streak against solid non-UFC competition like Cro Cop, Jeff Monson and Tony Lopez. The win over Cro Cop was what got the UFC interested, and so far Oleinik has proven to be a great signing.
After submitting Anthony Hamilton in his UFC debut, Oleinik followed that up with a surprising KO win over Jared Rosholt to become a bit of a dark horse contender in the heavyweight division. Unfortunately, injuries took their toll on Oleinik and he missed the entirety of 2015 and the first half of 2016 sitting on the sidelines. His return bout against Daniel Omielanczuk didn’t go his way as he lost a majority decision in a fight where he was shockingly outgrappled. But Oleinik bounced back with the first-ever Ezekiel choke submission win in the UFC when he tapped out Viktor Pesta in early 2017 and then he followed it up with what was at the time his biggest win ever, a submission over Travis Browne. That win over Browne earned Oleinik a spot on the blockbuster UFC 217 card featuring Georges St-Pierre vs. Michael Bisping, but he was stopped by Curtis Blaydes in a loss that halted his momentum.
Ever the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace, Oleinik bounced back with another fantastic performance when he submitted Junior Albini with an Ezekiel choke in early 2018 and that earned him a fight against fellow BJJ wizard Fabricio Werdum in the main event of the UFC’s first-ever card in Russia. Unfortunately Werdum was removed from the card due to a USADA violation (he’s since been suspended two years after testing positive for steroids) and Oleinik was matched up with Hunt instead in what looked like a bad matchup for him on paper as Hunt is a better striker with solid defensive grappling. But Oleinik showed he’s not just any heavyweight grappler but rather the best in the world and once he got Hunt to the ground he made it look easy by strangling him and tapping him out in less than five minutes. The win over Hunt should shoot Oleinik into the top-10 rankings in the heavyweight division and could earn him a fight against an elite talent such as Stipe Miocic or Alistair Overeem.
I’m still not convinced Oleinik has the striking ability or the chin to keep up with the best heavyweights on the planet, but after the way he took out Hunt he deserves the chance to fight a top-ranked heavyweight not currently booked. Even though he’s 41, he seems to be still improving as a mixed martial artist which is rare to see. Though he’s flown under the radar for over 20 years, Oleinik is finally becoming a big enough star for the UFC as the promotion looks to strike it big in Russia. The fact he headlined the UFC’s first show there is evidence the UFC is behind this guy and thinks he can be an important part of its invasion into Russia. Taking out Hunt the way he did was nothing but impressive and should earn “The Boa Constrictor” a top-level opponent. He’s been counted out so many times before, but after the way he took out Hunt it would be foolish to count him out again.
How far do you think Aleksei Oleinik can go?