According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the most popular sports in Suriname are football (soccer), basketball and volleyball. Combat sports didn’t make the list.
Boxing? There was Lucien Haime, who fought in the 1975 Pan Am Games but lost in the first round of the tournament.
Mixed martial arts? No one from the South American country has ever made the walk in the UFC.
But kickboxing? Now we’re talking. In fact, it’s hard to find a nation that has produced a level of fighters to compare to the Surinamese lineup of kickboxers that includes Ernesto Hoost, Remy Bojansky, Melvin Manhoef, Rayen Simson and Tyrone Spong.
So it was no surprise that Jairzinho Rozenstruik gravitated to the sport and then excelled at it, ultimately compiling a reported 76-6 record that included 64 knockouts.
“We are hard workers and we make use of all the chances we get,” he said when asked why his nation has produced so many world-class kickboxers. “People from are tough and strong.”
Rozenstruik fit the mold. Yet while he knew he was able to compete with the best in that realm of combat sports, it wasn’t enough for him.
“It started with a sparring session with my friend Milliard in 2011,” said Rozenstruik. “He was already an MMA fighter. After that first day, he mentioned that I was talented and advised me to train more. After one year I had my first MMA match in Russia and won.”
That knockout win over Evgeni Boldyrev in Vladivostok took less than three minutes and six months later he repeated the feat, this time taking 31 seconds less than he did the first time. Rozenstruik would not compete in the sport again for nearly five years, but he was hooked, even if Suriname wasn’t exactly embracing MMA.
“There is not much of MMA (in Suriname),” he said. “That is why I choose a different country to go to training camp. They think it is a tough sport and also dangerous. That is why there are not many MMA fighters in Suriname. I don’t think it is dangerous and I would like to make them aware of the possibilities of MMA.”
He’s got his chance now. Following the two wins over Boldyrev in 2012, Rozenstruik returned in 2017 and ran off four more victories. And when Dmitry Sosnovskiy fell out of a bout with Junior Albini taking place this Saturday in Fortaleza, “Bigi Boi” got the call, becoming Suriname’s first UFC fighter in the process.
“It is an honor to be the first fighter from Suriname in the UFC,” he said. “I am a fighter who always worked hard to accomplish my goals. There have been different projects in Suriname where I made the youth aware of the possibilities life brings and to never give up even when things get real tough. I had a difficult youth and did not come from a rich family, so I had to work hard to reach my own goals. With my journey I would like to inspire future fighters and make them aware that anything is possible. You only have to believe in yourself.”
It’s already an inspiring story, and the 30-year-old will have all eyes on him as he enters a wide-open heavyweight division. But “feel good” story aside, can Rozenstruik make an impact as a still raw talent who admits that using groundwork and wrestling on fight night instead of just punches and kicks have been the biggest adjustments for him?
He thinks he can.
“It’s a good division, one of the best, and I think I can compete easily with the top 10 because of my fighting experience,” Rozenstruik said. “And I can hit hard as well and I believe in my power.”
Sixty-four knockouts in kickboxing and five in MMA can’t be wrong, and Rozenstruik will be gunning to add to that total this Saturday.
“It will be worth watching,” he said. “There will be a lot of fireworks and I can’t wait to show my skills.”