UFC 141 is upon us, and up for grabs tonight is the No. 1 heavyweight contender spot when former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar faces behemoth Dutch kick boxer and current Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem.
What We Know
Although tonight's main event is ostensibly intended to produce a challenger for current champ Junior dos Santos, it has largely been marketed on the "freak show" angle with far more attention being given to the size of the two fighters than their respective fighting styles.
Alistair Overeem matches Lesnar's size and strength, and as the world's top heavyweight kickboxer seems to have an immense advantage against as tentative striker as Lesnar. Overeem showcased his athleticism and powerful sprawl against Fabricio Werdum, easily shrugging off all takedown attempts from the Brazilian.
Critics of Overeem, however, are quick to point out the distinction between grappling takedowns, which more akin to dragging opponents to the ground, and the more explosive folkstyle wrestling takedowns, which rely on driving through takedowns to control the opponent's center of gravity.
At 6'5" and a lean 260 pounds, Overeem's He-Man action figure physique is as intimidating as any the sport has ever seen. Overeem builds upon that psychological advantage with a style that is noticeably more aggressive in the opening moments of the fight, and few of his opponents are able to weather the devastating combination of kicks, punches and knees.
Those who do last more than one round with Overeem expend a lot of energy getting out of harm's way; Fabricio Werdum, who survived three rounds with the champion, found himself too exhausted to mount any real counterattack and essentially provided Overeem with three rounds of target practice.
What the Tapes Don't Show
Lesnar, while not considered a well-rounded mixed martial artist, is as pure a fighting athlete as anyone in the game. His simple style of controlling the pace and nature of the fight is informed by his experience as a Division I NCAA champion wrestler; Brock uses outstanding wrestling instincts and superior strength and conditioning to physically overwhelm his opponents. Lesnar's game plan is simple: run people over, take them out of their comfort zones and into his world, and keep them there.
It's also worthy of note that Lesnar, a former professional wrestler who seems comfortable in the role of the heel, is a bully of a finisher who seems energized by momentum. If Lesnar takes Overeem down and is able to draw blood, the hammer fists will start raining down with conviction. As Frank Mir and Randy Couture both know, there's not much chance of escape once one enters Brock Lesnar's comfort zone.
Lesnar's killer instinct contrasts strongly with Overeem's most recent outing: a lackluster title defense that showed flashes of striking brilliance but left audiences bored with Overeem's inability or unwillingness to finish the seemingly outmatched Werdum.
After losing his title rather painfully to a game Cain Velasquez, Lesnar suffered a second bout with diverticulitis that required surgery. Though he appeared strong and healthy at yesterday's weigh-ins, Lesnar will need to overcome the ring rust that seems to hamper fighters who spend long periods away from competition.
One time heavyweight up-and-comers Todd Duffee and Brett Rogers can both testify that Alistair Overeem will likely not give Lesnar very long to decide whether or not he's ready for action.