Booked for his second straight main event, the 30-year-old Brazilian knows he’s not in the role by accident.
“I’m very happy,” Sakai told MMA Junkie through a translator at Wednesday’s media day at the UFC Apex. “Another main event, and it shows how much the UFC is looking at me.”
Prior to the September loss, Sakai had enjoyed a six-fight winning streak that included his first four trips to the octagon. The fifth-round TKO to Overeem didn’t sit very well with him.
“I was undefeated in UFC, and I hate to lose, so I hate that loss,” Sakai said. “The feeling was so bad that I never want to taste that anymore.”
Sakai went back to the drawing board after the setback, and he said a mental change was the most necessary adjustment.
“I think the biggest switch was inside of my head,” Sakai said. “I knew that I had to evolve and to get better in order to achieve my dreams, so it affected my training and everything. I’m feeling much better now.”
Sakai (15-2-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) returns to action at Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 189, where he takes on Jairzinho Rozenstruik (11-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) in the night’s headliner, which streams live on ESPN+ from the UFC Apex.
Sakai said he respects Rozenstruik’s vaunted striking power but doesn’t see it as anything unusual.
“He has power, but I also have knockout power,” Sakai said. “I showed that in UFC and I didn’t make any big plans or switches. I’m planning to do my own game and beat him.”
Sakai enters the bout sitting at No. 11 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie heavyweight rankings, with Rozenstruik at No. 7. But with a victory, Sakai has his sights set even higher.
“Right now, my focus is 100 percent on Jairzinho,” Sakai said. “I want a big performance, a great fight on Saturday night, and I will think about (the future) after the Jairzinho fight. But I want fights against one of the top five.”
An impressive victory would help Sakai reach that goal, and he believes the result will likely come in rather impressive fashion.
“Everyone can expect a big finish, an explosive fight,” Sakai said. “I really want to try to leave the cage with a knockout win.”