It would be accurate to say that Jairzinho Rozenstruik knows how to make an entrance.
Virtually unknown beyond the hardcore MMA and kickboxing fanbase when 2019 began, the 6-foot-4 heavyweight signed with the UFC, and in the space of two fights lasting a combined six minutes and three seconds, he’s fighting former world champion Andrei Arlovski on one of the biggest cards of the year in Madison Square Garden.
Not bad for the “Bigi Boy.”
“2019 was my breakthrough year,” said Rozenstruik. “At the end of last year, I was that ‘Bigi Boy’ from the suburbs of Paramaribo with a nice kickboxing record and few MMA matches. Suddenly my dream became true. On short notice, I signed a contract with the world’s biggest MMA promotion to replace Dmitriy Sosnovskiy in the match against (Junior) Albini. After beating Albini, my team and I knew that since we made it here, we can make it anywhere.”
Fifty-four seconds into round two against Brazil’s Albini in Fortaleza, Rozenstruik had his first UFC victory. Four months later, with a full training camp, he really showed what he could do, knocking out Allen Crowder in nine seconds in their UFC Fight Night bout in South Carolina.
“Somehow he had a very bad day and ran into a well-placed stop jab,” Rozenstruik says matter-of-factly. “My performance in Greenville became huge news in my home country and the international sports news. It was an eye-opener for many MMA fans.”
Suriname, a nation which produced kickboxing star Tyrone Spong but never placed a fighter in the UFC before Rozenstruik, erupted. That’s not an exaggeration, either.
“UFC Greenville was a crazy experience,” Rozenstruik recalls. “Everyone expected some nasty fight with some heavy exchanges but it all ended even before anyone was able to take a sip of their drink or eat their first popcorn. The internet went crazy, the people of my home country Suriname went crazy. Minutes after the fight, I got called by the President of Suriname. All media outlets reported about my nine-second knockout and it was Paramaribo’s talk of the town for days.”
That reaction from his people may have been more satisfying than the win itself, which lifted his undefeated record to 8-0. And it only got bigger when he made a long overdue trip home.
“After the fight, and after being abroad for many months, I returned to Suriname,” Rozenstruik said. “Almost everyone I’ve met recognized me instantly and wanted to take pictures and wished me all the best for my upcoming journey. It means a lot for me to be able to represent and display the flag of my home country Suriname to millions of people. Suriname is the smallest country of South America and only a few people know it exists.”
A lot more people know it exists thanks to the 31-year-old heavyweight, and that number could rise substantially with a win over a man Rozenstruik previously knew only through video games.
“Andrei Arlovski is one of the guys I know from the PlayStation game,” he laughs. “Andrei is a very famous veteran, a UFC legend and he has my utmost respect. Many people call him the gatekeeper of the heavyweight division and I am thrilled to compete against the former UFC heavyweight champion in real-life.”
I hate the phrase, but if anyone is “living the dream,” it appears to be Rozenstruik. But in addition to following his own path, it’s been important for him to pave the way for those less fortunate and / or trying to get to where he’s at. For starters, he is in the process of launching the “Rozenstruik Gives Back” foundation, and that may be more of a source of pride for him than what happens on fight night.
“I want to support children in dire need, create awareness about a healthy lifestyle and build a sporting complex one day,” said Rozenstruik, who already has the support of the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Suriname. My life is an example of how even the most difficult child can become an international athlete. You can waste your time hanging out in the streets or you can work hard, become a professional and travel the world. It’s your choice how you spend your time. I’ve spent my time learning kickboxing and mixed martial arts. I encourage everyone to spend their time wisely, to find happiness and to achieve greatness.”
Rozenstruik is also the subject of an upcoming documentary, and he even found a little time to kick back with his family for a vacation in Curaçao. But since September, it’s been all work in Miami to get ready for Arlovski, and Rozenstruik knows just what a win on this UFC 244 card will do for him.
“I enjoyed ‘flying under the radar’ as E. Spencer Kyte wrote in my last UFC interview,” he said. “I’ll guess on November 2nd that will change forever. I am here to make the heavyweight division interesting again. Let’s call it the ‘Rozenstruik Challenge’ - one big error and you fall asleep. Next year we will test who will survive the challenge.”