Smothering grappling master, Aleksei Oleinik, will throw down with fellow legendary veteran, Mark Hunt, this Saturday (Sept. 15, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 136 inside Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Moscow, Russia.
Oleinik is a throwback fighter to an era he fought extensively in. A professional since 1996, “Boa Constrictor” has never kept his intentions hidden, as Oleinik very often runs straight to the takedown or to clasp hands around his opponent’s neck in some manner. Watching Oleinik, it’s easy to get nostalgic about the golden days of Pride FC, where specialists and strange strategies were a common part of the fun.
In truth, the best part of watching Oleinik is that he’s improved in the last few years. The 41-year-old combatant has aged like wine, climbing into the top 10 and picking up some of the best wins of his career.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set.
Let’s get this out of the way early: any part of Oleinik’s game that does not directly involve cranking on necks is at least a bit awkward. That’s especially true of his kickboxing, which is wooden and somewhat predictable.
That does not, however, mean that Oleinik is ineffective on his feet or without craft.
Mostly, Oleinik plods forward with his guard high and chin down, looking to step deep into hard shots before driving for a takedown. When pushing forward, Oleinik is generally in good defensive position — although that changes once he starts winging shots. At first, Oleinik will try to whack opponents with a hard jab, but the Russian does most of his work with an overhand and follow up left hook.
Not complicated, but Oleinik can put some surprising speed and power into his shots.
Oleinik does do some interesting things with his right hand. Often, he throws the overhand with his knuckles fully turned over, landing with the knuckles of his pinky and ring fingers. Known as a casting punch and somewhat common among Russian fighters, this type of overhand can slip through the guard and also be used as a clinch entry.
Since his right hand generally has a considerable arc, Oleinik will capitalize on that threat with the uppercut and body shots. In addition, Oleinik does a great job of pounding at the mid-section the second he and his opponent clinch. It’s as simple as whacking his opponent repeatedly in the ribs with his right hand the second they engage, but it’s an effective technique in making a fight ugly and slowing opponents down.
If Oleinik could consistently take down the best fighters in the world, he would be unstoppable. That’s not the case, but Oleinik is certainly an above-average wrestler at Heavyweight.
Often, Oleinik’s first move is to drive for a takedown from the standing position. To be frank, it rarely works — his shot isn’t fast enough to simple blast people off their feet. Luckily, it serves the important purpose of moving the exchange towards the fence. Using the fence to keep his opponent in place, Oleinik can hang on his foe and tire him out, either by continually pushing for the double or walloping the body with his right hand.
If Oleinik manages to get under his opponent and in on the hips, he’ll complete the shot.
If not, Oleinik will move to an upper body throw. For the Russian, this can be technical or pure strength. The International Master of Sports in Sambo clearly knows what he is doing — he steps deep into tosses, uses his hip to block well, and can threaten the throw from many different positions. Sometimes though, Oleinik will simply grab the head and just try to jam his opponent into the mat.
A fourth-degree black belt with an insane 46 submission victories on his record, Oleinik’s moniker “Boa Constrictor” is perhaps the most appropriate in all of MMA. The combination of an 80 inch reach, immense physical strength, and well-over 20 years of experience makes Oleinik an absurdly dangerous man on the mat.
Oleinik has some armbars and heel hooks on his record, and I’m sure he’s better than 99% of Heavyweights at those submissions, but his game is all about the choke. Oleinik’s squeeze is the stuff of legends, as he seems to be able to create an unmatched level of compression with his arms. The result is rare finishes and submissions from odd angles, things generally not possible for most grapplers.
Look at the picture below, for example. Though undoubtedly a rear naked choke, the position is absolutely wrong for a classic rear naked choke. Oleinik was not behind Browne — that’s the “rear” part — he was on his side. In addition, Oleinik’s top hand is in a position where Browne can grab it, generally a flaw that makes finishing the submission more difficult, particularly since the choking arm was not exactly under the chin. Against a regular grappler, each of those issues makes the finish less likely, and all together nearly impossible.
Oleinik has no problem securing the tap. Oh, and he also squeezed the hell out of Browne’s belly with his legs, furthering that “Boa Constrictor” analogy.
The Ezekiel choke is another incredibly rare submission in the world of MMA. It’s almost entirely used in the gi, generally from top position. Oleinik, meanwhile, has a dozen of them on his record and commonly finishes the choke from his back (GIF).
It’s the obvious topic for this week’s technique highlight.
Another great head-squeezing submission from Oleinik is the scarf-hold head lock. It’s resposnible for two of his fairly recent victories, a pair of cranks over Mirko Filipovic and Anthony Hamilton. The technique here is pretty simple: Oleinik wraps up his opponent’s head and arm, sits back, and squeezes the hell out of them (GIF).
As far as I know, Oleinik is also the only man to secure a scarf-hold headlock tapout in the modern era of the UFC.
Aside from Oleinik’s beastly squeeze, Oleinik is also a large man. When he sits back, his opponent’s shoulders are off the mat, which compacts the diaphragm and makes the position even more miserable. Also from this position, Oleinik can attack the trapped arm with his legs, a maneuver known as the scarf-hold arm lock that has also earned Oleinik a pair of submission wins.
Like his opponent, Oleinik may not be a title contender, but he is awesome to watch and likely near the end of his career. Oleinik’s remarkable 5-2 record inside the Octagon has been a blast to watch, and it’s really great that he has been able to compete in the UFC after so many years in Europe. Now, Oleinik returns to Russia in his first main event slot against a fellow veteran. It’s a well-deserved opportunity and pretty great full circle moment for “Boa Constrictor.”
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.