Alistair Overeem proved once again at UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs Sonnen that he is one of the most talented choke artists in the world, and I'm not talking about his famous guillotine. More than that, Travis Browne showed the kind of toughness that one does not usually see in the heavyweight division.
The heavyweight division, whether it be in boxing or MMA, has always been characterized by the emotionally fragile giants who populate it. Sure you see crazy comebacks, but almost inevitably they are big punches that land while flailing wildly and hoping for a way out. Very few men at heavyweight can sit through a pasting and grit their teeth until things get better.
It is often the case that the heavyweight division is dominated by smaller men who have the cardio, work ethic and mentality that allows them to come back from the horrible bull rush, which large heavyweights almost invariably attempt in the first minutes of a fight.
The men who can endure—the Muhammad Alis, the Antonio Rodrigo Nogueiras and the Fedor Emelianenkos—will always be remembered as the greats, while the Alistair Overeems and Brock Lesnars will always be remembered as terrifying but only so long as they get their way.
That Browne can show such durability as a relatively large heavyweight is a great sign.
From the beginning of the fight, Overeem showed his brilliant aggression with a perfectly varied assault. Body shots, knee strikes to the legs and midsection and flurries of punches upstairs. Despite the inevitable joking about "K-1 Level Striking" following his knockout loss, Overeem looked every bit the world class striker in the first moments of the fight.
Overeem showed, once again, the finest knee strikes in MMA. Moving Browne to the fence, Overeem did an excellent job of avoiding being tied up close and smothered. He used his head underneath Browne's to keep Browne upright while moving his own hips back enough to create room between the two fighters' torsos to throw knee strikes through.
Overeem was able to drop Browne with a beautiful side knee (criminally underused in MMA) as Browne returned to his feet from defending a guillotine attempt.
Now I can't break down heart. I can't tell you how Travis Browne got back up off the mat and ate numerous knees to the midsection—and a couple to the head—and went straight back to work. What is important is that he did, and once back on the feet, he got to work with a clear game plan.
Something fans often lose sight of is that styles make fights, and no amount of "MMath" can accurately predict how a fight will play out. Overeem's K-1 Grand Prix title is a real achievement. Only idiots use Mark Hunt and Overeem's losses by strikes as evidence that K-1 lacked legitimacy. What Travis Browne did was to exploit something in Overeem's game that world champion kickboxers missed.
Badr Hari famously got revenge on Alistair Overeem for his 2008 loss to the Dutchman by countering with his right straight inside Overeem's open left hook. What Browne and his team did was find a flaw in Overeem's defense rather than his offense.
From the moment he was back on his feet and free to work, Browne bombarded Overeem with flicking, high roundhouse kicks and front snap kicks to the midsection. This is a technique I spoke about the other day in reference to Conor McGregor, one which is used by far too few fighters.
One of the few other major proponents of front snap kicks to the body in MMA is the current light heavyweight king, Jon Jones, unsurprisingly also a student of Browne's coaches, Mike Winkeljohn and Greg Jackson.
To me, the real beauty of martial arts is that there are so many places to look for weaknesses that could be considered strengths but can be turned against a fighter. One basic concept from boxing is that an upright fighter is basically invulnerable to the traditional uppercut.
Archie Moore (whom I examined in a video in the week) was one of the greatest technical boxers ever, and before his match with Rocky Marciano he observed, in an interview with Sports Illustrated, Marciano's habit for missing uppercuts. Moore insisted that the uppercut was a defensive punch: not to a specific strike from the opponent but a counter to their posture and aggression. If an opponent leans forward, as many more aggressive fighters do without realizing, it is time to uppercut them.
We can extend these principles to other strikes from underneath as well, such as the flying knee and the front snap kick. Both of these techniques Browne attempted. As Overeem plodded forward and carried his head well forward of his hips, he was in the perfect position to be struck from below.
Browne eschewed punches and threw kicks almost exclusively, switching between roundhouse kicks to the head and front snap kicks to the body and head. Each time a snap kick hit Overeem's midsection, he looked peeved. Each time a snap kick came up through his guard, he looked downright confused.
The technique is not at all common in kickboxing, and I honestly wonder if anyone in Overeem's camp was ever going to start throwing front snap kicks at his face. Overeem's stance—crouched with his head forward of his hips—is made for this kick on reflection, and it was a great spot by Browne's camp.
Overeem's double forearm defense was stifled by the fact that when he tried to bring his elbows in to block the kick's path, Browne immediately clipped him with a roundhouse kick along the side of Overeem's arms.
With the victory, Travis Browne takes a step forward into serious consideration for a title shot in a division sparse on championship prospects. Furthermore, Browne is a 6'7" heavyweight who can head kick, stick to a game plan and survive a horrible pasting to come back strong. He might be rough around the edges, but there is always room for him to grow into a truly elite heavyweight.
With his second loss in a row, Alistair Overeem faces the threat of another streak of losses that plagued him before his move to heavyweight. Ultimately, up until he was masterfully stopped in his tracks, he was dominating Browne and looked every bit a well-rounded force.
Overeem will almost inevitably get another chance to prove himself, and with the lack of fighters using the front snap kick and the inevitable reevaluation that will take place in his camp after this, it is hard to see Overeem dropping below the likes of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Roy Nelson or Frank Mir in the heavyweight ranks.
Pick up Jack's eBooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking from his blog, Fights Gone By.