Lest my article be hijacked by a K-1 lynch mob, let it be known from the outset that I am a massive kickboxing fan and an admirer of Alistair Overeem.
Indeed, I regard Overeem as one of the world's premier strikers, a modern Hercules and an extremely intelligent MMA fighter—which is exactly why I expect to see the 250-pound Dutchman impersonating Randy Couture on May 26.
Let's start at the top. Overeem is a K-1 Grand Prix champion, perhaps the best heavyweight kickboxer in the world. In kickboxing, I would confidently back Overeem against all comers, counting on a vicious counter-hook or "Uber-knee" to end most nights in devastating fashion.
My problem, then, is this: Having watched Overeem blow his way through K-1's 2010 tournament, I'm not convinced that his striking is particularly well-suited for use in MMA. For the most part, Overeem weathers the storm behind a tight double-forearm guard, waiting for the opportunity to smash his opponents with perfectly timed counter-strikes. While this strategy works brilliantly using K-1's well-padded gloves, successful striking defence in MMA tends to be predicated on movement—covering with 4-ouncers is a gamble, especially against Junior Dos Santos.
Likewise, the range at which Overeem fought the majority of his 2010 bouts is dangerously kickboxing-specific. Successful strikers in MMA tend to move in and out of the pocket with straight shots, given that hooked punches leave a fighter dangerously open for takedowns. Dos Santos' striking has been nurtured in this environment, forcing the Brazilian phenom to develop a long jab, crushing long-range uppercuts and hooks dissimilar to those Overeem uses in K-1, which tend to be short, tight strikes piled on to an opponent cowering against the ropes. In the Octagon's vast diameter of 32 feet, it is unlikely Overeem will be able to back JDS against the cage with strikes alone, rendering his usual K-1 methodology virtually useless.
Not that Overeem doesn't know this, of course. While the media churn out articles filled with talk of a "striking war," few people have are considering the possibility that Overeem will employ his greatest MMA asset: his strength. Come fight day, expect to watch a well-conditioned Reem pushing Dos Santos against the cage, throwing free-hand hooks from a wrestling clinch and searching for the doubled-handed Thai plum, a feature of the Dutchman's game, which, though prohibited under K-1 rules, can be used to bone-crushing effect in MMA.
I may be wrong. Perhaps we'll see a classic kickboxer vs. boxer matchup, an epic striking battle in the centre of the cage; on paper, such an outcome would not be shocking, given the background and stated intentions of both fighters. Somehow, though, I doubt this will the be the case. Dos Santos is simply too proficient at fighting from the outside, too good at drawing his opponent's guard open for the knockout.
Expect the majority of 146's headliner to be played out in MMA's "grey zone" between wrestling and striking, Overeem pushing his offense on the Octagon's periphery while Dos Santos wedges, sprawls and circles, seeking to throw combinations from outside the pocket.