Very seldom does a newcomer arrive in the UFC and immediately get paired up with a perennial contender in the co-main event, but Sergei Pavlovich isn’t your average, everyday UFC rookie.
Standing six-foot-three and looking like he was chiseled out of granite, Pavlovich is one of the most intriguing prospects to enter the heavyweight division in quite some time — an undefeated upstart with a Greco-Roman wrestling pedigree, a brief reign as the Fight Nights Global champion and back-to-back victories over a pair of veteran countrymen that underscore what kind of upside the 26-year-old brings to the table in his promotional debut this weekend.
While most fighters making their first foray into the Octagon are often paired with contemporaries in a similar situation or a veteran foe with a handful of UFC bouts under their belt, Pavlovich has the opportunity to make waves in the heavyweight division right off the bat as he squares off with former title challenger Alistair Overeem in the penultimate clash on Saturday’s debut event at Cadillac Arena in Beijing.
“This is a good time for me to be making my UFC debut,” Pavlovich said through a translator. “I had the belt in the Russian promotion Fight Nights and now is a good time to move to the UFC because I want to become the best fighter in the world.”
A member of the team that has previously sent flyweight title challenger Ali Bagautinov to the UFC, Pavlovich has made a quick climb to the biggest stage in the sport, having garnered his first professional victory just shy of four years ago.
He spent the next two years operating as a heavyweight version of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, logging five appearances in 2015 and four more trips into the cage in 2016, emerging victorious in all nine combined outings to push his winning streak to double digits and reach the semifinals of the Fight Nights heavyweight tournament where he would face off with fellow Russian rising star Mikhael Mokhnatkin.
It was a close five-round affair where both men seemed hesitant to pull the trigger and really let loose, but Pavlovich’s continued forward pressure and willingness to instigate the exchanges carried the day, earning him the Fight Nights heavyweight title and an 11th consecutive triumph.
Five months later, Pavlovich successfully defended his new title with a first-round stoppage win over “Baby Fedor,” Kirill Sidelnikov, that pushed his winning streak to an even dozen and ultimately earned him the call to the Octagon.
Where many newcomers can get caught up in the moment in advance of their UFC debuts and get thrown off by being stationed opposite a familiar name they’ve watched compete on myriad occasions in the past, Pavlovich has been handling his transition to the mixed martial arts major leagues with aplomb.
When asked if he was surprised to be given the opportunity to square off with the decorated Dutch heavyweight in his first foray into the UFC cage, the Russian newcomer simply laughed and suggested it is Overeem who is in for a big surprise on Saturday night before explaining what a victory over the 38-year-old legend would mean to him in cold, emotionless terms.
“This is my job,” he said. “If I win, I will just wait for the next fight.”
And as far as Pavlovich is concerned, it is not a matter of “if he will win,” but rather how will he earn a victory on Saturday night.
“Many people on Instagram are writing about me winning by knockout,” said the confident, unbeaten newcomer. “So I will win by knockout. I am 100 percent ready and you will see this in the fight.”
With an unblemished record, the look of an unstoppable juggernaut and the confidence to welcome a debut assignment against one of the most accomplished heavyweights in MMA history, you better believe we will be tuning in to see what Pavlovich can do on Saturday in Beijing.