There is usually one rule of thumb when it comes to having the best chance of beating Aleksei Oleinik, and that's to avoid the ground game with someone nicknamed "The Boa Constrictor." Jared Vanderaa doesn't necessarily agree with playing by the rules and the little devil on his shoulder telling him to test his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt on Saturday night isn't so little anymore.
"He's on my shoulder, like, ‘You know what, go for the throat,'" Vanderaa laughs. "Yeah, I like that idea. And it doesn't help that my wrestling coach and my jiu-jitsu coach is like, ‘Hey, it's not the worst idea we have.' You guys are supposed to be discouraging me from grappling. ‘Nah, f-ck it, choke his ass out.' All right, if you guys insist. I won't say no."
Even if this clash of heavyweights goes to the mat at UFC 273, Vanderaa knows that he can handle himself there. Maybe not to the extent of forcing Oleinik to tap out, but at least defensively, the Californian can avoid getting finished and make his way back to his feet, where his best chance to win lies.
Most importantly, that's why Vanderaa took this fight on short notice after Ilir Latifi was forced to withdraw. The 29-year-old needs a victory after a 1-3 start to his UFC career, and following a controversial split-decision loss to Andrei Arlovski in February, a quick turnaround was just what the doctor ordered for Vanderaa, who was looking to get a fight, short notice or not, saying, "I was trying to get Alan Baudot, and I called him out. That seemed like a fun fight. And then out of nowhere, my manager calls like, 'Hey, you want to fight Aleksei Oleinik?' Yeah. I don't know why, but it seems like a fun time."
Arlovski wasn't necessarily a fun time for Vanderaa, even though he was in there with one of his fighting heroes and nearly left with his hand raised. Two judges didn't agree, and while Vanderaa believes he won, he knows that he could have taken that verdict out of their hands, declaring, "Now looking at the fight, I could have done a little bit more, just a little bit more. If I got a takedown in the second round, and got position, hold him down for like ten seconds, that alone could have been enough for the judges to be like, 'He won this round.' So if I maybe took him down, it might have changed the fight. It's one of those hard pills to swallow. I don't want to be like... I could have done more, I should have done more, but I didn't. And that's my fault. I'm not gonna sit there and be like, 'How could the judges have robbed me?' I gave the judges a reason to allow the robbing, and that's my fault. It sucks and no one wants to hear it, but it happened.
Until the final decision was read, Vanderaa showed glimpses of the form that got him to the UFC in the first place after a first-round finish of Harry Hunsucker on Dana White's Contender Series in late-2020.
Leave it to the affable Vanderaa to put a positive spin on it, though, and that's a key lesson he's teaching to his favorite jiu-jitsu student, his four-year-old daughter Ava, who recently competed in her first grappling tournament.
Even though she didn't get the victory, Ava did pick up a cool medal. But I had to ask, did dad at least buy her ice cream after her match? "I bought her slime, does that count?" he asks. Yes, it does.
Refusing to push Ava into a fighting career, Vanderaa instead wants her and her baby sister to take their own path…after learning how to defend themselves first. "I'm happy she did it," he said of Ava's first match. "I really wasn't pushing competition on her. I refuse to do that. That's my life. I want my daughters to pick their own life. I want them to choose what they need in their life. Yes, I will have my daughter take classes and stuff like that, but I've already told myself I want her to at least three times a week take a class. I don't care if it's striking or jiu-jitsu or both. I just need her to take a class three times a week just so when she gets older she has a form of self-defense. At 16, she gets to choose whatever she wants. By then she would already have 12 years of commitment and training, so she will understand the long-term effects of training hard and understanding what it means to commit to something. Then I want her to be able to make her own choices and start working on her own path."
See, it's not all fun and games for the fastest wit in the heavyweight division. He's a dad first, a fighter second, and after his meeting with Oleinik, he wants to keep the fighter ball rolling through the spring and into the summer. And he's naming names.
"I'm thinking that after I win this fight there was a gentleman I wanted to fight and he was very upset with me because I called him out a while back," said Vanderaa of a bout with Ben Rothwell. "But he got cut from the UFC, and I wanted Rothwell, but he had a dance partner in (Alexander) Gustafsson, so I'll take Gustafsson."
This story first published at UFC.com.