The Question: Is Overeem vs. Hunt the Heavyweight Division at Its Best or Worst?

Chad Dundas@@chaddundasMMA Lead WriterMarch 3, 2017

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 02:  (L-R) Alisrtair Overeem and Mark Hunt pose for a picture during the UFC 209 Ultimate Media Day inside TMobile Arena on March 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

UFC 209 comes at a weird time for Alistair Overeem and Mark Hunt.

For Hunt especially, the twilight of his fighting career has yielded strange days.

First, there was his unanimous-decision loss to Brock Lesnar at UFC 200, later converted to a no-contest after Lesnar tested positive for a pair of banned substances in two separate drug screenings. Then, there was Hunt's response.

To say the 42-year-old Super Samoan didn't take kindly to Lesnar's test failure—or the UFC allowing him to come out of retirement and compete at the July 2016 event without its required drug-testing waiting period—would be an understatement.

In January, Hunt filed a civil suit charging the UFC and Lesnar with engaging in "racketeering, conspiracy and fraud" and seeking an order for them to "disgorge their ill-gotten profits" from the fight, via MMAjunkie.

Mark Hunt takes media question before UFC 209.
Mark Hunt takes media question before UFC 209.Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

That suit remains outstanding and just this week the UFC filed a motion to have it dismissed, so it's fairly surprising to see Hunt return to the Octagon Saturday to fight Overeem at T-Mobile Arena in the UFC's hometown of Las Vegas.

Overeem, meanwhile, has already had time during a five-year UFC career to script himself a precipitous fall, an unexpected rise and then another fall.

He began his UFC run going just 2-3 from the end of 2011 until the fall of 2014 before rebounding for an impressive four-fight win-streak. The UFC has always considered Overeem championship material, and he finally got his shot against Stipe Miocic at UFC 203 in September 2016.

Unfortunately, he lost by first-round KO.

So, essentially what you have here is Overeem and Hunt engaging in a pay-per-view curtain-jerker expected to be long on fireworks but short on purpose. Nobody's sure exactly why these two old warhorses are going to do battle or what's at stake, but everybody expects one of them to end up facedown on the canvas duly separated from his wits.

Does that make this fight an example of the best the UFC heavyweight division has to offer?

Or the worst?

Joining me to discuss the topic is fellow Bleacher Report Lead Writer Jonathan Snowden.


 

 

Hunt, before facing Lesnar at UFC 200.
Hunt, before facing Lesnar at UFC 200.Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Chad Dundas: Jonathan: Mark Hunt has already made it very clear he doesn't want to be here.

Hunt told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour last month that he turned down multiple fights during the second half of 2016, stemming from his extreme displeasure over the Lesnar debacle. He said it wasn't until the UFC threatened him with breach of contract that he relented and agreed to this meeting with Overeem.

"They put me in a position like, 'Well, what am I supposed to do?'" Hunt said, via MMA Fighting's Marc Raimondi. "They forced this fight on me, pretty much."

Regardless of how anybody might feel about fighters' rights or how much they may appreciate the heavyweight division for its guttural, no-strings-attached thrills, it's tough to get behind that.

Overeem, on the other hand, has done a lot to rebuild his reputation after failing his own drug test in 2012 and losing three of his next four, but he is a guy whose chin remains suspect. He's the slight favorite here, according to OddsShark, but if just one of Hunt's big ol' hamhocks finds its way to his jaw during this three-round fight, it could be lights out.

Even in the puddle-shallow 265-pound division, neither one of these guys is likely going to make another run at the title. The best days for both are almost certainly in the rear view. You might even argue the only reason this pair is still active is that they don't know quite what else to do with themselves.

What we're going to get here is an unhappy, potentially unmotivated version of Hunt scrapping with a version of Overeem who isn't quite the same species as the terrifying KO artist he was back in 2007-2011.

Any way I shake this one out and hold it up to the light, I keep coming back to the conclusion that this fight represents the worst of the typically bad UFC heavyweight division.

But I also have the sneaking feeling you're going to say the exact opposite.

Am I wrong?

Alistair Overeem before taking on Stipe Miocic for the UFC title.
Alistair Overeem before taking on Stipe Miocic for the UFC title.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Jonathan Snowden: As terrifying as this may sound, we've been doing this long enough that we've apparently entered into a sort of literary marriage. Long enough, at least, that you can predict exactly what I'm going to think about all things fistic. Because, you're absolutely right—I am head over heels for this fight.

I guess it isn't exactly difficult for anyone who's paid even cursory attention to my MMA ramblings over the years to have an inkling that this fight would be in my wheelhouse. For years I've been a steady advocate for large men doing dirty deeds. At its best, heavyweight MMA is a terrifying reminder of the danger inherent in the most formidable of our species. At its worst, it's two exhausted, enormous, doofuses (doofi?) swinging wildly and taking enormous gulps of precious, precious oxygen.

Hunt versus Overeem is so inherently and obviously spectacular, that there is no way I wouldn't love it on first sight. So maybe we should cancel the band and call the caterer before they pocket the deposit.

I just don't see anyway we can lose here, Chad. Overeem, contrary to your premature obituary for his career, won four fights in a row before being beaten by the champion. There's no reason to imagine he doesn't have another run in him, especially considering, as you note, the slim pickings available in the division.

And, while it's true that Hunt seems like he might give less than his best here, there's something about a hulking, muscle-bound destroyer attempting to remove head from shoulders that tends to wake a man up quickly and compel a healthy interest in the proceedings. Self-interest will save both Hunt and the fight.

He's also traveling with a documentary film crew looking to expose the UFC's various shenanigans and fighter mistreatment. Hunt has a lot riding on this bout. He's looking to make UFC look bad—and it's hard to do that if the story ends with the hero on his back looking up at the lights.

Chad: I suppose this is all mostly status quo in a heavyweight division where the average age of the Top 10 is a bit over 35, and we've yet to find a champion who can defend the title more than twice without losing it and/or suffering some terrible personal calamity.

But even with my relatively low expectations for what the 265-pound class can be, I know it can do better than this.

There are only negative stakes for Overeem and Hunt here. The difference between winning and losing this fight will likely be measured in physical damage and very little else.

The winner gets nothing besides another payday—which, in prizefighting, I know, is important, but still not enough to qualify as real "stakes"—and the chance to remain among heavyweight's pack of aging lions. The loser won't suffer any meaningful blow to his divisional standing or reputation.

Each man's fortune will stagger on essentially unchanged. They'll get the same fights, the same opportunities, the same chances to continue getting a paycheck as long they are physically able.

The only significant consequences will be endured by their bodies and brains.

But in the grand scheme of the UFC, there isn't really anything larger up for grabs. There's no narrative, nothing to pique my interest as a fan besides the promise of big dudes throwing heavy leather.

Juxtapose that with Francis Ngannou's first-round KO of Andrei Arlovski in January or Derrick Lewis' second-round stoppage of Travis Browne on Feb. 19. Both those fights were fun, both provided the emotional tilt-a-whirl and sideshow aesthetic that we'll get from this weekend's fare, but both also came preloaded with importance for Lewis, Ngannou and the future of the division.

There was something bigger going on than just the slobber-knocker.

But not here. Overeem and Hunt could have this fight out behind a local tavern or in a boat salvage yard somewhere, and it would have the same import. I can understand the appeal of that, I guess, but at the sport's highest level, I like to get a little something more for my PPV money.

The positioning of this fight as the first bout on the pay-per-view card tells you the UFC knows exactly what's going on here. It knows this matchup will deliver a harrowing finish and then be quickly forgotten as the more essential parts of UFC 209 leave it behind.

The fight company also knows it can't really promote this bout any significant way without bringing up Hunt's legal challenge—so here we are.

Overeem lands a knee on Roy Nelson at UFC 185.
Overeem lands a knee on Roy Nelson at UFC 185.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Jonathan: From an athletic standpoint, I'm not sure what makes either of those fights more compelling than this one. Overeem and Hunt are better higher-ranked fighters, have earned more respect and admiration from the audience over a decade plus in the sport and have proved themselves capable of stealing the show over and over again in the course of their combat sports careers.

Seeing these two men, both former K-1 kickboxing champions, test each other—physically, mentally and spiritually—is pure pleasure. These aren't just any aging fighters—they are legends, warriors who have pushed the limits of human endurance, dealt unspeakable violence to other men and who will live forever in combat sports lore.

And you're telling me that doesn't mean more than watching Lewis beat a never-was like Browne or Ngannou drop the final shovel of dirt on Arlovski's dead and buried career?

I don't buy that.

A Hunt win likely moves him forward a couple of spots. An Overeem victory extends the status quo. But I come from a time before UFC had pretend rankings it used to promote fights whenever it was convenient for them. That's a narrative that doesn't touch me on the feelings, one that I'll probably never connect to in a meaningful way.

What matter here is simple. Hunt has the courage to step into a confined space against the amazing Overeem; the Reem, likewise, will pit his skills against Hunt's precision brutality. When the artifice is stripped away, it's the only story that ever truly remains.

On Saturday these two fighters will risk pain and public humiliation to prove something—both to themselves and to another man. Stripped to the waist, they'll invite the world to watch an intimate battle of wills. Personally, I don't need anything more than that.