UFC Vegas 29: Let’s appreciate Aleksei Oleinik and Matt Brown while they’re still around

Credit: Mark J. Rebilas & Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

To be an active competitor in the Ultimate Fighting Championship at 40 and above is no normal feat, because it’s difficult to last in the promotion even for athletes in their fighting prime. But at UFC Vegas 29, two members of this trend-bucking club of well-aged combatants will be in action. However, while fans have gotten used to the latest travails of Aleksei Oleinik and Matt Brown inside the Octagon, their days competing in that fabled cage are numbered. It’s why we need to appreciate what they have done and will do while they’re still around.

A legendary limb snatcher

Aleksei Oleinik and Matt Brown
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In our current mixed martial arts environment, talents on the way up to have trained in MMA from the start. Also, the state of MMA gyms is far different than it was a decade ago. The options for fighters are as deep as ever and athletes from other combat sports can evolve into fully formed MMA competitors faster than in previous eras. True hardcore specialists like “The Boa Constrictor” are an endangered species at the highest levels of the sport.

Despite entering his fourth decade as a prize-fighter, Oleinik, 43, is more or less the same fighter. Sure, he has probably sought out new coaches over the years to improve his striking and strength, and conditioning. He, no doubt, also trained with all manner of skilled athletes over the years at American Top Team. But the Russian has always had one goal in each of his 75 bouts. Grab an opponent, get them to the ground, and make you scream Uncle or дядя for his countrymen foes.

There are many things that have made this bear of man so memorable. The first being, he actually got better with age. Although he is ranked fifteenth in the UFC heavyweight division currently, up until recently he was a top-10 fighter a couple of wins away from serious title fight consideration. Before his two-fight losing streak, he went toe-to-toe with one of the greatest heavyweight submission grapplers ever in Fabricio Werdum–also ranked at the time–and won.

Since his English isn’t too good and he doesn’t portray himself as a trash-talking Russian tough guy, Aleksei Oleinik doesn’t really get the credit he deserves as arguably the best heavyweight mangler of limbs MMA has ever seen. Men like Werdum, Frank Mir, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira deserve their praise, but none of them can say they have scored 46 professional submission wins. If it were easy to get fighters to tap, everyone would do it. But few, if any, have done it with such technical variety as Oleinik. He’s snatched up necks and limbs with scarf holds, Ezekiel chokes, neck cranks, and heel hooks during his career.

Yes, he wasn’t a great striker, and less talented fighters with bigger power could beat him, but Aleksei Oleinik has always remained a special talent in spite of that weakness.

‘Mad Dog’ Matt Brown

Aleksei Oleinik and Matt Brown
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If Matt Brown wasn’t already known as “The Immortal” then “Mad Dog” would have been the next best option for his nickname. Because there are few fighters over the last 20 years that have as much mongrel mutt toughness as Brown. He’s the sort of ultimate survivor type, that if an eye-gauge or biting were accepted rules for a cage fight, he’d probably do it. He’ll do whatever it takes to win because he isn’t a gifted athlete that can throw up superman punches and question mark kicks with ease. He’s a mutt that shows his fangs, is double tough and will make an opponent earn every second of the loss they handed him.

Brown, 40, has lost a lot in his career. Eighteen times to be exact. And that’s okay. The Ohio native’s legacy in this game isn’t about wins and losses. Although his 15 victories inside the Octagon deserve respect. He will stay in fans’ memories purely based on giving them what they always wanted: Finishes. He either finished his opponent or had his night ended prematurely. And if that didn’t happen, somebody bled before it was all done.

Brown earned finishes in 91% of his wins (14 KO/TKOs and six submissions). In his defeats, opponents stopped him early 78% of the time. Fans love finishes, and win or loss, Matt Brown delivered that. That’s all before you factor in memorable scraps with Donald Cerrone, Mike Swick, and Mike Pyle. Brown was so ferocious that he turned former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler into a wrestler in 2014. He even has a win over former title challenger, and resident weight-class enigma, Stephen Thompson.

The man has long been a one of a kind.

Enjoy Aleksei Oleinik and Matt Brown while you’ve still got ’em

Both Aleksei Oleinik and Matt Brown are in the midst of two-fight losing streaks. And both are walking a fine line of job security at the moment. Oleinik likely has a bit more leeway with a loss, as a ranked athlete and competitor in a division where age is less of a hindrance. However, if he fell by knockout for a third straight time, which would also mean five KO losses in his last seven, then the grappling great could be outside the UFC in a few weeks.

Brown has already retired once before. Following his November 2017 highlight-reel knockout of Diego Sanchez. At the time it was the perfect way to go out following three straight losses. A letdown and third straight defeat at UFC Vegas 29 may be a situation where the UFC makes the retirement decision for him.

It’s why we all must appreciate these two while we still have them. Not every great fighter is a former champion or title challenger. Some leave lasting memories from their career peaks and valleys. Oleinik and Brown are two of those types, and their Octagon window gets closer to closed with each outing.

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