What you need to know about rising UFC star Jairzinho Rozenstruik

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Jairzinho Rozenstruik has been in the UFC for only nine months, and yet he already has made enough noise in the heavyweight division for people to take notice.

In three UFC fights, Rozenstruik has three finishes via KO or TKO. His last two fights have ended in a combined 38 seconds courtesy of a pair of knockouts. At UFC 244 on Nov. 2 in New York’s Madison Square Garden, Rozenstruik flattened former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski in 29 seconds.

“I’ve had an amazing year, yes,” Rozenstruik said. “Does it surprise me? No. I feel like life has prepared me for these moments. And this is one of the moments I have to show myself, to bring myself up there.”

Rozenstruik (9-0) will compete in his first UFC main event against the best opponent of his career, by far, in Alistair Overeem on Saturday. Overeem is a heavyweight legend in MMA and kickboxing, and someone Rozenstruik has followed for a long time as a former kickboxer himself.

A victory versus Overeem wouldn’t just cap a sensational year for Rozenstruik, it would be a path toward stardom and a big step toward a heavyweight title shot in 2020. Overeem is ranked No. 8 in the division by ESPN, and if Rozenstruik wins, he’s already calling out No. 3 Francis Ngannou.

“This is a big thing for me and my country and my team,” Rozenstruik said. “We want to make it count.”

Given Rozenstruik’s quick rise in 2019, let’s take a deeper look at the knockout artist known as “Bigi Boy.”

‘I never had thoughts that I’d become a fighter’

Rozenstruik played soccer and basketball growing up in Suriname, a small country on the Eastern coast of South America. He was bigger than the other kids and wasn’t scared to get physical. One time, after a fight on the soccer field, a coach told him that if he wanted to throw punches, he could do so in a nearby kickboxing gym. Rozenstruik was 17 years old at the time. He took the advice.

“I went to the gym, and I had a big mouth,” Rozenstruik said. “I said, ‘You want to spar with me?’ One of the guys said, ‘OK, let’s go.’ Then he beat me up. I came the next day and talked to the trainer and said, ‘I want to train to beat that guy.’ He said it doesn’t work like that. He said, ‘If you want to train, come tomorrow again.’ That’s how it arose.”

Rozenstruik, 31, laughs now when thinking about it.

“I wanted to beat that guy,” he said. “I never had thoughts that I’d become a fighter.”

In Suriname, soccer and basketball were — and still are — much more popular than combat sports. One of Rozenstruik’s goals is to grow MMA in his home country.

Rozenstruik gushes about Suriname’s culture and diversity. Dutch is the official language, but 11 others are spoken there. Rozenstruik said he speaks Dutch and English fluently, plus Portuguese and Spanish pretty well. Rozenstruik also speaks Sranan Tongo, the local Creole language derived from English and other languages.

“Dutch is our first language,” he said. “When you talk to older people, you speak Dutch. It’s more respectful. The local language, you talk with your friends. You don’t talk to your parents like that with the local slang.”

What’s in a name?

Jairzinho is not a Surinamese name. Rozenstruik’s parents were big soccer fans, and they named him after Brazilian soccer great Jair Filho — better known as Jairzinho. The original Jairzinho was a key player for the 1970 Brazilian national team that won the World Cup.

“They loved that name, so they named me after him,” Rozenstruik said with a laugh. “I think maybe they expected me to become a soccer player, but that’s not the case.”

Rozenstruik said he has never met his namesake but would like to in the future. When he was in Sao Paulo, Brazil recently, he went to the famous Football Museum there and looked up Jairzinho.

“I searched his name, so I learned a little more about him,” Rozenstruik said. “It was nice.”

Rozenstruik’s nickname “Bigi Boy” comes from a basketball game he played when he was about 10 years old.

“I was supposed to make a shot,” Rozenstruik said. “Everybody was saying, ‘Hey you, take the shot. You, you — ‘Bigi Boy,’ take the shot!’ I took the shot, and we won the game. And I was a little bit taller than all the players, so I was like a big boy compared to everybody. That’s how I got that name.”

It has stuck. Rozenstruik is 6-foot-2 and weighs more than 240 pounds.

“Ever since then, I’ve used the name, because nobody really knew how to pronounce my name,” Rozenstruik said. “Everyone called me, ‘Oh, umm, hey what’s your name again?’ As soon as they got the chance to call me ‘Bigi Boy,’ that name stayed.”

Rozenstruik is a Dutch word meaning “rose bush.” Suriname was a Dutch territory until the 1970s.

Worth more than gold

Rozenstruik has plenty of goals in the UFC. They include becoming champion and putting his native Suriname on the MMA map. In the immediate future, though, there is one thing he wants more than anything else: a fight with Ngannou. Rozenstruik is more interested in Ngannou than a title shot.

“I really want this fight against this big, scary guy Francis Ngannou,” Rozenstruik said. “Alistair Overeem is the guy to pass, step up for that fight. I hope (Ngannou) accepts or the UFC gives me a chance to fight him. That’s a really exciting fight for me and my team, because it’s a big, scary guy knocking people out. When you put those two guys in the Octagon, you create a bomb in the Octagon. I think that’s what the UFC fans want to see.”

Rozenstruik said he believes a fight with Ngannou gives him a chance to prove himself. And he’s very confident the outcome will be in his favor.

“I fight everyone, I beat everyone,” Rozenstruik said. “It don’t go any other way. If I don’t believe I can beat someone, I don’t do that fight.”

“I’m falling in love with MMA now”

He might be a new name in the UFC, but Rozenstruik is not some newcomer in combat sports. He was a professional kickboxer for seven years, accumulating a record of 76-8-1 and winning several titles. Rozenstruik actually had his first pro MMA fight in 2012, but he didn’t get back to it until 2017 because he wanted to focus on kickboxing.

The first time he tried MMA, Rozenstruik said, was in 2011, when he was helping train a friend in Aruba. The friend needed a kickboxer to spar with, and Rozenstruik ended up doing some training in wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu while he was there. Other fighters at the gym were not able to take him down during sparring, which sparked his interest in MMA. Even during his kickboxing career, Rozenstruik said he never stopped training in the grappling arts.

“I’m falling in love with MMA now,” Rozenstruik said.

Rozenstruik now lives in Florida, where he believes he can get the best MMA training. Rozenstruik has trained under coach Henri Hooft and with longtime friend and countryman Tyrone Spong at Hard Knocks 365, but he did this camp for Overeem at American Top Team. That’s because there were more heavyweights to spar with at the ATT gym in Coconut Creek, Florida, Rozenstruik said.

Rozenstruik will have his usual corner with him, including head coach Michael Babb, but he took advantage of the opportunity to work with coaches Steve Mocco and Conan Silveira at ATT.

“It’s an honor for me to train there with all those professional guys,” Rozenstruik said. “For them to take me in like that, I’m happy.”

Overcoming adversity

In 2014, Rozenstruik was arrested and convicted in the Netherlands for smuggling cocaine into the country. Rozenstruik was with a group of men who had drugs, but no drugs were found on him personally, according to media reports at the time. Rozenstruik was sent to jail, where he spent about a year, he said. He maintains his innocence to this day and said his conviction was the result of his lack of financial means to fight the charge.

“Back then, we didn’t have that financial power to afford [good attorneys],” Rozenstruik said. “It was really hard. Even my family, my mom, dad, everyone was sad. But it made me stronger, it made me a better man.

“I was innocent, and after I came out I was focused on my own things,” Rozenstruik said. “All those things made me stronger. … It was heartbreaking for my family. I thank God I passed through those hard times.”

Rozenstruik returned to training and had his return kickboxing match on Dec. 20, 2015, a first-round knockout win over Colin George in the Netherlands.

Since then, Rozenstruik said he has kept his circle smaller and not trusted others so easily. He has vowed to improve himself and help others. Recently, Rozenstruik launched the “Rozenstruik Gives Back” foundation in Suriname. He hopes to help struggling youth to get into sports with the ultimate plan to build an athletic complex. Rozenstruik has worked closely with the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Suriname.

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