Building hype is always an important part of pushing a pay-per-view card for the UFC. Oftentimes, this hype can be more fantasy than reality. Whether it is saying that Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami are all fighters custom-built to take on Anderson Silva or that Dan Hardy had something resembling a chance to beat Georges St-Pierre, things can tend to get a little bit…wild.
Alistair Overeem is the latest recipient of more hype than he is due. He has been for a long while now, in fact.
As with many fighters, Overeem rose to fame through his days in the late Pride organization. Competing in the promotion from 2002-2007, Overeem was a distinctly middle-of-the-pack 205-pounder, where he sported a solid 8-4 record before suffering three first-round losses in a row, dragging him down to 8-7 in his Pride career.
Looking deeper, however, you begin to notice a pattern. His losses came against Chuck Liddell, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (twice), Mauricio Rua (twice), Ricardo Arona and Fabricio Werdum. All tough fighters who, with the exception of Ricardo Arona, had (or still have) long, strong careers in MMA after Pride.
The list of people he beat is not nearly as star-studded. In fact, the only fighters of note who he beat in Pride are now-middleweight Vitor Belfort and Strikeforce heavyweight Sergei Kharitonov (who avenged that loss the next year).
After Pride dissolved, Overeem made his permanent move up to heavyweight. He started off by beating Michael Knaap in a K-1 fight and then lost the aforementioned Kharitonov rematch, getting KO’d in the first round.
Not even two full months later, he bounced back and absolutely embarrassed Paul Buentello in a title fight, making him the first (and to this point, only) Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion. However, that beatdown would be the closest thing to a fair fight for Overeem for a long while.
Except for a mega fight against Mirko Cro Cop (which ended in a No Contest because of some brutal knees to the groin), it can be said without much debate that Alistair Overeem was “fed” opponents. Boxing-style. In fact, some of these bouts were so egregiously lopsided on-paper they likely would not have been approved by American Athletic Commissions.
At Dream 4, Overeem faced Lee Tae-Hyun when Tae-Hyun was just 1-1 in his MMA career. He had a pair of fights in the Netherlands against Gary Goodridge, who was three fights into what would become an eight-fight losing streak (his fight before Overeem was a loss to Paul Buentello) and Tony Sylvester (a fight that ended before it began, if possible).
From there, he had three fights in Japan that are, in this writer’s opinion, an embarrassment to the sport; he fought James Thompson (best known for having his misshapen ear punched flat by Kimbo Slice), Kazuyuki Fujita (best known for being the subject of one of the best articles on Cracked.com) and Todd Duffee (best known for his fastest-ever-in-the-UFC knockout of Tim Hague, but still a 25-year-old who had no business being in a fight with Overeem).
Even his two most recent wins in Strikeforce do not do much to bolster his resume. Brett Rogers was ejected from Strikeforce with a 2-3 record after being arrested for domestic violence, and recently lost his Titan Fighting Championships debut to UFC washout Eddie Sanchez.
Fabricio Werdum, meanwhile, is easily the best fighter Overeem has faced since his 2007 Pride loss to “Shogun” Rua. As somebody often ranked as a top 10 (and even a top five) heavyweight, however, he is also probably the most overrated fighter in the division. His performances against top competition are on par with Overeem (that is, not great), and his standup is basically what you would expect out of somebody labeled a “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist”.
So realistically, what can you expect out of Alistair Overeem now that he is going to be squaring off against the top heavyweights in the UFC? While Overeem has not seen many top mixed martial artists on the opposite end of the cage (or ring), he has an undeniably strong skill set that will, at the very least, keep him competitive in the division.
His success in K-1 speaks volumes about his striking skills, and he will have an edge over most of the fighters in the division standing up. His cardio is unknown at this point, but it passed a tough test against Fabricio Werdum earlier this year, with Overeem looking good for championship rounds after 15 minutes of being clinched and escaping takedowns.
His ground skills take a definite backseat to his standup, however. While he has enough veteran savvy to not be easily submitted, he is not going to be facing competition that he will be able to submit, either. He can effectively work the ground and pound, but the UFC’s heavyweight division is absolutely stacked with successful NCAA wrestlers and strong BJJ practitioners.
The biggest change for Overeem will be the size difference, or lack thereof. As any MMA fan knows, Alistair Overeem is an imposing individual with a hulking frame. He successfully uses this advantage in both MMA and kickboxing, bullying opponents into the cage (or ropes) to set up for his destructive knees, or using his bulk to keep opponents in position on the ground. This advantage, however, is going to be neutralized in the UFC, with loads of comparably huge individuals that he will not be able to impose his will on.
With Overeem set to face Brock Lesnar at UFC 141, we are likely to see a cross section of where Overeem is as a mixed martial artist. We know that Overeem can knee mid-level heavyweights into submission, but the question is, how he will handle a 265-pound Brock Lesnar charging him down? Objectively breaking it down, it remains to be seen how he will be able to handle the wrecking ball that is a Brock Lesnar takedown.
So, prediction time…who will win when Overeem and Lesnar face off? There are plenty of variables at work here, largely concerning how Lesnar has recovered from his long and difficult layoff since his UFC 121 loss to Cain Velasquez over a year ago.
Re-watching Brock Lesnar’s bout with Heath Herring is a strong reminder of what Lesnar is actually capable of. He is far, far faster than he should be at his size, and ultimately, the biggest factor is going to be whether or not he can use his speed and attack with the same sort of aggressive, driving takedowns we see from Josh Koscheck.
If he can get Overeem to the ground, he has the wrestling skills to keep the fight there, where he will have an enormous advantage. Even if Overeem spends his entire camp dedicated to defending the takedown, it is still unlikely that he is capable of avoiding many of those.
That said, this bout is nothing close to a sure-thing for Lesnar. As all MMA fans know, Lesnar is returning from a second battle with diverticulitis. He is reportedly fully recovered and has made several appearances looking as formidable as ever.
However, with over a year away from the sport, there is a huge question mark surrounding his strength, speed, and most importantly, his stamina. With Lesnar vs. Overeem slated for five rounds, we could see Lesnar’s cardio pushed harder than ever in his first fight back.
Ultimately, though, it has been a long, long while since Overeem has faced somebody that matches his sheer strength. At its core, this still ends up being a match between an explosive striker and an explosive wrestler. When that is what a fight boils down to, you have to bet on the wrestler.