The Blackzilians had a tough time of it last year.
There was a point in time where the camp's name was the punchline. In the latter half of 2013, however, something clicked. The team, which always had stellar talent, began to pick up wins left, right and centre. Today we'll examine some of the lows and highs of the Blackzilians.
The Continued Flops of Alistair Overeem
Alistair Overeem should beat almost anyone put in front of him. In fact, for most of a fight, he does and does it handily. In a sport where folks complain constantly about point fighters, Overeem is an offensive juggernaut who smashes through his opponent or gets knocked out trying. And that there is the problem.
He seems to have one speed—Go!—until he gets hit in return, and it all spirals out of control.
Returning from suspension in February of 2013, Overeem took on mid-tier heavyweight Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva. And it went exactly as expected for two-and-a-half rounds as Overeem put the giant through the meat grinder on the feet, in the clinch and on the ground. There was a great deal more hand-dropping and showmanship than in most Overeem fights, and many fight fans were delighted as he ducked into an uppercut and then got knocked out with a flurry against the cage by Silva.
His match against Travis Browne was eerily similar, just at a higher pace. With his usual move to the clinch along the fence, Overeem made Browne go foetal with a knee to the midsection in the opening moments. Overeem looked to be fighting a smart, and characteristically dominating, fight. As Browne returned to his feet and broke free of Overeem's grasp, he was able to time Overeem with a front kick coming in.
Overeem's forward-leaning stance, with his head well in front of his hips, leaves him vulnerable to the uppercut and the front kick, both of which gave him trouble in his last two fights, but his refusal to adapt after Browne's first four attempts at the front kick are more worrying.
With a match against Frank Mir, who is not known for reversing the momentum of fights, on the cards, it looks like Overeem is set up for an easy win to start 2014. But then that's what we thought about his last two fights.
Tyrone Spong's Continued Success
Tyrone Spong continued to gather momentum through 2013. Taking six fights in total through 2013, he picked up six more victories. The most significant of these came in kickboxing as he won the Glory light heavyweight grand prix against top competition. He also began the year with a knockout of heavyweight kickboxing great Remy Bonjasky in which he showed some brilliant ringcraft, bullying the taller, older man into corners and opening up on Bonjasky's head and body with punches.
Spong continued to dabble playfully in MMA. He took a single MMA bout in 2013 against an opponent with no Wikipedia page (always a good measure of competition), which is understandable, as Spong was only 1-0 in MMA going into the fight. He picked up a decision win in the main event of World Series of Fighting 4, but he didn't knock anyone's socks off.
He capped off the year, however, with one of his best performances to date. At Glory 11: Chicago, he put away his longtime rival Nathan Corbett with a couple of brilliant counters and a final left hook. Each time Corbett threw his right round kick, Spong would come back with a left hook. He threw plenty of left hooks to the body and was able to catch Corbett on the jaw and drop "Carnage" with two left hooks throughout the bout.
His dabbling in MMA isn't likely to amount to much, but his kickboxing skills are some of the finest in the world. With Glory's new deal with Spike TV and its growing popularity as a result, expect to hear a lot more about Spong this year.
Rashad Evans' Recovery
One of the figureheads of the Blackzilians team, Rashad Evans has a lot riding on him. In addition to being a pundit on the UFC's Fox shows, he is still pursuing his light heavyweight career. Coming back from a loss to Jon Jones, Evans was given a fight with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira that he really should have won.
It was as clear as tune-ups come. Nogueira has always struggled with strong wrestlers, as his three previous bouts could attest, and Evans is one of the best wrestlers at 205 lbs. What followed instead was a bizarre case of the southpaw Nogueira jabbing into Evans' lead hand for 15 minutes, and Evans doing little in response. It was dull to watch, but all sorts of things can make a fighter look out of sorts.
Evans returned to form somewhat against Dan Henderson, coming off the canvas to win. Finally, he met Chael Sonnen in something of a gimme match and manhandled him as he should have manhandled Nogueira.
Was it an easy matchup? Yes. Was it impressive, though? Definitely yes. Sonnen is a tough guy even if he has no business competing at light heavyweight.
With a match against Daniel Cormier, a remarkable talent who is coming down from heavyweight, on the way, Evans has the chance to pick up one of the best wins of his career and propel himself toward another crack at the light heavyweight crown. It's been a bumpy year, but he's back on track.
Eddie Alvarez Recovers His Momentum
Eddie Alvarez had a tough year. Tied up in legal disputes between an excited UFC, who would love to have him, and a Bellator who would give anything not to see him go, he was kept out of action through most of 2013. In November, however, he returned to action against the last man to beat him, Michael Chandler, in a bout for Bellator's lightweight title.
What followed was one of the best fights of the year, with Alvarez outboxing Chandler on the feet, but Chandler picking up takedowns and scoring some nasty ground-and-pound. Alvarez picked up a split decision and put his name back in the minds of all the fight fans who had forgotten what he could do outside of the courtroom.
Little has been said about his future outside the idea of a rubber match with Chandler. While few would say no to this, it seems like there is little for him to do in Bellator if he beats Chandler a second time, and signing this match right away might be a waste of a good rivalry.
At any rate, when he's fighting in the cage and not in the courtroom, things are going pretty darn well for Alvarez.
The Vitor Belfot Success Story
You cannot talk about the Blackzilians' successes without mentioning Vitor Belfort. Following a disastrous return to light heavyweight to fill in for an injured Dan Henderson, Belfort has put together an incredible streak of victories at middleweight and moved himself straight to the front of the line for a shot at Chris Weidman's newly solidified title.
Working with Henri Hooft has inspired a new fire in Belfort, and getting an exemption for TRT has also worked wonders. Whether you approve of TRT or not (my stance on drugs is not to care as long as folks are passing the tests and ticking the boxes), Belfort seems reinvigorated by both factors.
The talk of a new Belfort as if he has made strides as a technical fighter might be a little premature. He does what he has always done—run in with flurries, punctuating them with left high kicks—but he has added a slick-as-anything wheel kick to the mix. The point is that he starched at least two opponents who should have known better than to take him on head-to-head (in Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold) and one who seemed like the only guy who could get away with fighting him like that (Dan Henderson).
That said, his left high kick has always been there, but his setups might well be getting better. Body kicks and noticing that Bisping was leaning to stay away from Belfort's left straight set up that left high kick.
His high kick against Henderson came in the instant between Henderson's hand leaving the floor and returning to his guard as he stood up from the mat. Both were lovely recognitions of context, whereas before, Belfort just threw his left high kick whenever he felt like it and wondered why it never worked.
He is the 2:1 underdog against Chris Weidman, but with his power, it only takes an opponent to make a mistake or fight a little dumb for an instant, for the Brazilian to knock him out cold.
Hell, it's happened to three top-tier middleweights in a row.
The roster at the Blackzilians is forever changing, and there are plenty of fighters we could talk about here but haven't.
Thiago Silva, for instance, continues his dramas in and out of the cage. Suspended for a second time as the result of a drug test (though this time it was for marijuana, so draw your own judgments there), he returned against Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante and knocked the one-handed power puncher out in the first round.
Silva then fought Matt Hamill, who was gassed after the opening minutes, and looked mediocre in failing to finish the American. In addition, he missed weight by three pounds for this bout. He has the talent, but unless he can keep on the right side of the commission, he's going to keep losing money and months off his career.
And I haven't even mentioned the Blackzilians' signing of Guillermo Rigondeaux. This might well just be a publicity move, but it took place a few weeks before Rigondeaux handily outboxed the great Nonito Donaire.
Rigo might not even be with the Blackzilians anymore, but his 2013 was a stellar one. He followed his victory over Donaire with a victory over Joseph Agbeko. If you don't know much about boxing, check him out—he's one of the sharpest southpaws in the game.
The Blackzilians' year has been a soap opera, losing and gaining fighters and coaches throughout the year, but something over there seems to be coming together. In a gym full of insanely gifted underachievers like Overeem and Belfort, it will be interesting to see if the environment that they have created can carry them to the titles that they have more than the skill to acquire.