The Complete Guide to UFC Fight Night 87: Overeem vs. Arlovski
The UFC makes its first trip to the Netherlands this Sunday with a solid offering on Fox Sports 1.
In the main event, Dutchman Alistair Overeem takes on former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski in a highly relevant heavyweight matchup that could determine the next title challenger in a thin division.
Another Dutchman, Stefan Struve, clashes with former heavyweight title challenger Antonio Silva in the co-main event. Both fighters have been UFC staples for years but have hit rough patches. They are desperately in need of wins not only to stay relevant but also to stay in the UFC.
The rest of the main card features a mixture of relevance and solid action fights. Rising Russian Albert Tumenov draws Icelandic grappling prodigy Gunnar Nelson in a fantastic matchup of up-and-coming welterweights, while the Netherlands' Germaine de Randamie meets newcomer Anna Elmose in a fun bantamweight bout. A strawweight banger between Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Heather Clark opens the main card.
The undercard doesn't feature a ton of name value, but the matchups are intriguing. Former flyweight title challenger Kyoji Horiguchi draws Irish veteran Neil Seery in the Fight Pass headliner. That should be an entertaining back-and-forth scrap. Rustam Khabilov and Chris Wade headline the Fox Sports 1 portion of the card in a strong lightweight offering.
The rest of the card should be reasonably fun, if not big on future title challengers.
Let's take a look at each individual matchup.
The Fight Pass Prelims
Ulka Sasaki (18-3-2; 1-2 UFC) vs. Willie Gates (12-6; 1-2 UFC)
Japan's Sasaki drops to 125 pounds for the first time on short notice to replace the retired Paddy Holohan against the American Gates. Sasaki won his UFC debut in impressive fashion but has lost two in a row since then. Gates too needs a win here after losing his last fight by knockout to Dustin Ortiz. The loser will likely be cut from the UFC.
Both Sasaki and Gates are huge for the division at 5'10" and 5'8", respectively, while the former is more of a grappler and the latter is more of a striker. Sasaki is strong in the clinch and uses his height well for leverage, but he lacks power at range. Gates is good on the feet and has solid takedown defense but struggles on the mat.
Prediction: If Sasaki can get him down—and he should be able to—he takes this handily; the pick is Sasaki by submission.
Leon Edwards (10-3; 2-2 UFC) vs. Dominic Waters (9-4; 0-2 UFC)
Britain's Edwards draws America's Waters in a solid matchup at welterweight. Edwards had put together a two-fight winning streak after losing in his debut but dropped a decision to Kamaru Usman in December. Waters has lost both of his UFC appearances, including a drubbing at the hands of Dong Hyun Kim last November.
This is a loser-leaves-town matchup. It mostly profiles as a chance for Edwards, a potentially elite talent, to get back on track.
Edwards is a slick and skilled southpaw striker. He works behind a long jab and follows with a vicious, fight-ending left hand. Potent kicks add another dimension, and he's a strong defensive wrestler to boot. Waters is a strong wrestler and has a nice front headlock game on the mat, but he's predictable on the feet.
Prediction: If Waters gets this to the ground, he probably wins, but if it stays standing, this is Edwards' fight to lose. The latter is the more likely scenario, and the pick is Edwards by decision.
Kyoji Horiguchi (16-2; 5-1 UFC) vs. Neil Seery (16-11; 3-2 UFC)
Japan's Horiguchi, one of the best prospects the country has produced in recent years, takes on Irish veteran Seery in the Fight Pass headliner. Horiguchi got off to a hot start in the UFC, but flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson beat him handily last April; he got back on track with a win over Chico Camus. Seery has exceeded expectations, compiling a 3-2 record, and submitted Jon Delos Reyes last October.
Horiguchi is a 5-1 favorite, but Seery will put up a tough fight.
The Japanese fighter is a lightning-fast and powerful athlete with dangerous skills. He does his best work circling and moving at range, cutting angles before leaping in with powerful punches and kicks, and then getting out again on a different angle. He's not the strongest defensive wrestler but has nice takedowns and a vicious top game.
The Irishman is solid everywhere. He's a crisp combination boxer from both stances on the feet, has technical offensive and defensive wrestling skills, and does his best work from top position. Seery doesn't really stand out anywhere, though, and isn't an overpowering athlete.
Prediction: As the betting line suggests, this is Horiguchi's fight to lose. He should get in and out without too much trouble, though he'll likely eat counters and have to fend off takedowns. Horiguchi takes a wide decision.
The Fox Sports 1 Prelims
Yan Cabral (12-2; 2-2 UFC) vs. Reza Madadi (13-4; 2-2 UFC)
Sweden's Madadi came up short against Norman Parke in his return to UFC action following a jail stint for robbery, but he looks to get back on track against Brazil's Cabral in the Fox Sports 1 opener. Cabral has alternated wins and losses in his UFC career, and he dropped a decision to Johnny Case last November.
Madadi is decent at range but does his best work in the clinch. The former Greco-Roman wrestler is brutally strong and technical on the inside, and he has a slick array of takedowns along with stout takedown defense. Cabral is an ace grappler with a particularly lethal top game, and he's a surprisingly effective takedown artist as well. Striking is his worst area, but he's competent there.
Prediction: If Madadi can keep this standing, he has a good shot at outworking the slower-paced Cabral. If it goes to the mat, however, it's all Cabral, and the Brazilian's size (5'11") and takedown skills should get the job done. Cabral submits Madadi in the second round.
Jon Tuck (9-2; 3-2 UFC) vs. Josh Emmett (9-0; 0-0 UFC)
Team Alpha Male's Josh Emmett steps up on less than a week's notice to take on Guam's Tuck in his UFC debut. Emmett defeated UFC veteran Christos Giagos in his last outing to run his record to 9-0. Tuck has fought only five times in his three-and-a-half years with the UFC and most recently submitted Tae Hyun Bang last May.
Tuck has skills everywhere, with a high-output, kick-heavy game on the feet, along with dangerous submissions. He's not a good wrestler, though. Emmett is well-rounded and athletic, with a potent striking game, competent wrestling skills and a good top game on the mat.
Prediction: Emmett is a solid prospect, but coming in on late notice against Tuck is a rough situation. Tuck takes a decision.
Magnus Cedenblad (13-4; 3-1 UFC) vs. Garreth McLellan (13-3; 1-1 UFC)
Sweden's Cedenblad meets South Africa's McLellan in an international affair at middleweight. Cedenblad has won three in a row since dropping his debut, though his most recent win was a decision over Scott Askham in October 2014. McLellan too lost his debut but beat Bubba Bush in October to get back on the winning track.
The South African is fairly well rounded, with a kick-heavy striking arsenal, functional wrestling skills and a good top game. He's big, physical and quite strong as well. Cedenblad is big for the division at 6'3" and puts it to good use with straight punches and long kicks on the feet, particularly on the counter. He's better as a wrestler, though, and is downright dangerous on the ground with both strikes and submissions.
Prediction: Cedenblad is not only more skilled in individual areas but puts his game together more effectively. He takes a decision with a strong chance of a finish.
Rustam Khabilov (18-3; 4-2 UFC) vs. Chris Wade (11-1; 3-0 UFC)
Dagestan, Russia, native Khabilov takes on Long Island, New York's Wade in an excellent matchup at 155 pounds. Khabilov rebounded from a two-fight losing streak to take a decision over Norman Parke in February, while Wade submitted Mehdi Baghdad in January to run his winning streak in the UFC to three. The winner will climb to the fringes of the stacked division's top 15.
Khabilov is an exceptional athlete with great speed and shocking strength. He favors the right hand on the feet, along with the occasional spinning kick, but does his best work as an explosive wrestler, particularly with big throws and suplexes. The problem is offensive activity: Khabilov goes through long stretches where not much happens, which makes his fights closer than they need to be.
Wade too is an excellent wrestler. He has great timing on his entries and excels at ducking under for reactive shots. Slick trips and throws in the clinch are another strong suit. Nobody will confuse him for a dangerous striker, but he's getting better at stringing together combinations. On top, he throws good ground strikes and has a knack for getting to the back.
Prediction: This is a close fight—closer even than the 53-10 odds on Khabilov indicate. It's not a given that Khabilov will be able to take down Wade, a strong defensive wrestler, and on the feet, Khabilov's lack of activity could easily lose him rounds. Still, Khabilov is more proven against elite competition and is just more dangerous. He takes a decision.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Heather Clark
Karolina Kowalkiewicz (8-0; 1-0 UFC) vs. Heather Clark (7-4; 1-0 UFC)
Poland's Kowalkiewicz draws the American Clark in a solid strawweight opener to the main card on Fox Sports 1. The Pole debuted in the UFC with an impressive win over Randa Markos last December, while Clark has not fought since a decision win over Bec Rawlings in December 2014. The winner will be well-placed for a matchup with a top-10 opponent.
Kowalkiewicz's game relies on constant circular movement and an unceasing number of strikes. She's mostly a boxer and uses an active lead hand to set the rhythm and distance with her jab before picking her spots to commit to a forward-moving combination. The Pole simply never stops moving, which forces her opponent to chase and expend energy, and all the while, Kowalkiewicz is throwing punches.
Power isn't her strong suit, and she's not particularly fast, but Kowalkiewicz is skilled and has an excellent understanding of how to use both range and the space of the cage to her advantage. It's difficult to back her up to the fence, and in open space, she's hard to track down or counter because she's never there to be hit.
Kowalkiewicz is no picnic in the clinch, either. She's surprisingly strong and technically sound, and mixes in sharp knees, short punches and elbows before doing an excellent job of breaking off and getting back into space.
That's essentially the extent of her game. She defends takedowns well, especially against the fence, but never shoots for any of her own and has shown little as a grappler.
Clark is a big, strong strawweight with quick hands and some power. She throws solid combinations at range and has good instincts on the counter, though she's hittable in the pocket and could stand to throw more volume.
The rest of her game is solid. She puts her size to good use while grinding in the clinch and is a serviceable if not outstanding wrestler. Hitting submissions in transition is a specialty.
Kowalkiewicz -265, Clark +225
Clark's size and athleticism could give Kowalkiewicz fits, but the Pole is much more active at range, and her constant movement should limit Clark's opportunities to put leather on target and grind away in the clinch. As the fight wears on, Kowalkiewicz's volume will win out and secure a decision.
Nikita Krylov vs. Francimar Barroso
Nikita Krylov (19-4; 4-2 UFC) vs. Francimar Barroso (18-4; 3-1 UFC)
Ukraine's Krylov takes on Brazil's Barroso in a battle of up-and-coming light heavyweights. The 24-year-old Krylov is riding a three-fight winning streak and most recently defeated Marcos Rogerio de Lima last August. Barroso has won two in a row, taking a decision over Elvis Mutapcic in January.
The winner will be on the cusp of the thin division's top 15.
Krylov is an offensive maniac. He works a quick-paced striking game at range, mixing up punches and kicks in tricky fashion. Every shot carries power, and he does a particularly good job of disguising his head kicks, but it's his constant stream of volume that troubles his opponents.
Things don't get any easier in the clinch. He's tall at 6'3" and combines that leverage with solid technical skills, switching between collar ties, frames and underhooks while slamming home a steady diet of sharp knees and elbows. Trip takedowns add an additional threat for opponents to worry about, and in general, he's a solid offensive wrestler.
On the mat, Krylov drops hard ground strikes and constantly looks to get to the back, where he can finish with a choke, or grabs ahold of guillotines in transition.
While he's dangerous everywhere, the problem with all of this is defense and sustainability. Krylov works so fast that it's a question as to how long he can maintain his pace. He's hittable after the first few minutes of the fight, and he's neither a good defensive wrestler nor a skilled defensive grappler.
Barroso is the opposite. He's a slow-paced, patient grinder who throws mostly single shots on the feet, and while they pack some power, he's not a particularly accomplished striker.
For the most part, Barroso uses his strikes to cover his clinch and takedown entries. He also excels at timing his level changes as his opponent tries to strike, and he's a surprisingly technical wrestler. From top position, Barroso is difficult to shake off, though he's not especially dangerous.
Krylov -165, Barroso +145
The two most likely outcomes here involve Krylov getting a quick finish in the first round or Barroso weathering the storm, working takedowns and grinding it out either for a decision or late-submission win. The former seems marginally more likely, and the pick is Krylov by knockout in the first round.
Germaine De Randamie vs. Anna Elmose
Germaine de Randamie (5-3; 2-1 UFC) vs. Anna Elmose (3-0; 0-0 UFC)
Denmark's Elmose makes her debut against the Netherlands' De Randamie. The Dane has compiled a 3-0 record in European promotions, while De Randamie has been on the shelf since a lopsided victory over Larissa Pacheco in March 2015.
De Randamie is a crisp striker with a great deal of pure kickboxing experience. She moves well at range, circling and cutting angles while tapping away with sharp low kicks. Her jab is like a piston, and her one-two is vicious. What's notable about her striking game is her commitment to doing the little things right: De Randamie constantly takes subtle angles and pulls her head off the center line as she throws.
It doesn't get any easier for De Randamie's opponents in the clinch. She's both physically strong and technical in the tie-ups and excels at landing hard knees from double-collar ties and frames. Against the fence, she's particularly dangerous. Strong defensive wrestling keeps her standing, but De Randamie is essentially a striker.
Elmose too is a striker with a kickboxing background. As you might expect with only three professional fights on her record, she's raw, but the talent is real. She's an aggressive, powerful, forward-moving puncher who throws hard with technical combinations on her way in. The clinch is her wheelhouse, and her strength in the tie-ups is obvious as she controls her opponent while landing knees, elbows and punches.
The rest of Elmose's game is hard to decipher. She seems to be a competent offensive wrestler and has a vicious top game with a basic knowledge of passes. That's about all we can safely say, though.
De Randamie -400, Elmose +325
This is De Randamie's fight to lose, as the betting odds suggest. She's much more experienced and should have a substantial size advantage, while in terms of the specific stylistic matchup, her circular movement will make it difficult for Elmose to work her pressure game. De Randamie takes a decision.
Albert Tumenov vs. Gunnar Nelson
Albert Tumenov (17-2; 5-1 UFC) vs. Gunnar Nelson (14-2-1; 5-2 UFC)
Talented young welterweights meet as Russia's Tumenov meets Iceland's Nelson in a crackling matchup.
Nelson, an elite competitive grappler, looked like the next big thing in his early stint with the promotion. He notched a 4-0 record with three submissions but fell short against Rick Story in his first headlining bout. Another submission over Brandon Thatch got him back on track, but Demian Maia thoroughly dominated the Icelander at UFC 194 last December.
Tumenov got off to a rough start in the UFC, dropping a decision to journeyman Ildemar Alcantara in his debut in February 2014. Since then, however, the 24-year-old has been on a tear. He is currently riding a five-fight winning streak capped off by a decision win over Lorenz Larkin in January. Before that, Tumenov knocked out the durable Alan Jouban last October.
The Russian is a seriously talented striker, and boxing is his wheelhouse. He flicks a consistent, piercing jab to measure distance and draw out his opponent's reaction. When his opponent commits to throwing something, Tumenov responds with a lightning-fast combination of power punches that he loves to punctuate with a high kick. Catching and countering kicks is a particular specialty.
He does all this while pressuring toward the fence with smooth, technical footwork. The moment his opponent's back hits the cage, Tumenov unloads a vicious head-body punching flurry.
All of the Russian's strikes carry fight-finishing power, especially his left hand and left kick. Pace is a strong suit, and even if he doesn't finish, he throws enough volume to win decisions. Sneaking in shots in transitions is another specialty. Above all, he excels at adapting his attacks to his opponent's reactions, slipping strikes around and through his opponent's guard.
On the downside, Tumenov isn't particularly concerned about defense. To be more precise, he's not easy to hit to the head, but he eats far too many kicks to the legs and body.
Since his UFC debut, Tumenov has been flawless as a defensive wrestler and hasn't conceded a single takedown. Offensively, he likes to turn caught kicks into takedowns and shoots a lovely double when the mood strikes. From the top, he can drop bombs, but he isn't much of a submission artist.
Before he became a world-class BJJ ace, Nelson was an accomplished karate practitioner, and that still forms the basis of his striking game. He likes to circle just out of range and then leap in with a single shot or catch his opponent with counters as he comes forward.
On the downside, Nelson simply doesn't throw much volume—he never throws combinations at all, using only single punches and kicks—and he relies a great deal on timing and space to make his game work. While he's tricky and makes good use of feints, he's hittable on the counter and has only a limited arsenal.
While he's serviceable at range, strikes mostly serve to bring Nelson into ranges where he can work takedowns and then his exceptional grappling game. Straight punches lead to stance switches and carry Nelson forward into the clinch, where he's technically sound and surprisingly stout. Slick inside trips and hard knees make him a handful inside.
Solid, if not outstanding, shot takedowns give Nelson another avenue to getting the fight to the floor. He finishes with technical acumen but relies on timing rather than setups to get in on the hips.
Grappling remains Nelson's wheelhouse. He's legitimately world class on the floor, with an unshakeable base, a dizzying array of passes and great instincts for mixing up strikes, positional advances and the inevitable submission attempts.
Tumenov -185, Nelson +160
While Nelson has a greater profile, this is Tumenov's fight to lose. Perhaps even more so than Rick Story, who handily beat Nelson over five rounds, Tumenov is stylistic kryptonite to the Icelander. He's a more diverse and polished striker and has the rock-solid defensive wrestling skills to keep this standing where he wants it.
The particulars of the striking matchup make this even rougher for Nelson. His tendency of lunging in with a straight right is a bad idea against a slick counterpuncher like Tumenov, particularly one who has such an educated and dangerous left hand. Moreover, the Russian works at the kind of quick pace that Nelson simply can't hope to match.
Nelson's path to victory revolves around surprising Tumenov with a strike and working into either a shot takedown or the clinch. On the mat, he'll have a massive advantage, but it will be difficult to get it there.
Tumenov takes a competitive, but clear, decision.
Antonio Silva vs. Stefan Struve
Antonio Silva (19-8-1; 3-5-1 UFC) vs. Stefan Struve (26-8; 10-6 UFC)
Heavyweights in desperate need of a win clash as Brazil's Silva takes on the Netherlands' Struve. Silva's career peaked with a stunning come-from-behind win over Alistair Overeem three years ago, but since then, he has fallen to 1-4-1 in his last six and fell to Mark Hunt in the first round last November. Struve is 1-3 in his last four and dropped a decision to Jared Rosholt on the same card.
It's unlikely that Struve would be cut with a loss here, but it's possible, and Silva is skating on the thinnest of ice. Heavyweight relevance is a secondary concern here in comparison to avoiding a pink slip.
Struve stands a stunning 7'0" tall but has never made as much use of his height as he should. The Dutchman has been better in his last several fights, sticking with a more consistent jab and cracking low kicks. He still has a terrible habit of biting down on his mouthpiece and exchanging shots in the pocket at the slightest provocation, though. While surprisingly powerful and game, he's hittable and not durable.
Part of that willingness to brawl hinges on Struve's stout clinch game. His height gives him great leverage and a strong double-collar tie along with vicious knees. His height makes him vulnerable to getting pushed up against the fence, however, and he offers nothing as an offensive wrestler.
Defensive wrestling has never been the strongest part of Struve's game, though he has improved dramatically in the last several years. He makes up for that with an active and dangerous guard that relies on a slick triangle-armbar-sweep series, but strong top players have always been able to shut him down.
Silva isn't the fighter he was a few years ago. Never the most durable fighter, he now seriously struggles to take a punch, and his porous defense makes this ever more serious. His speed was never impressive, and now he's downright slow.
Despite all that, Silva can still be dangerous. He's a surprisingly slick kicker on the feet, packs big power in his hands and does a good job of setting his preferred distance with rangy strikes. He even pushes a solid pace.
While he's functional at range, Silva does his best work when he can punch his way into the clinch. He's enormous, strong and technically sound in the tie-ups, with good instincts for grinding against the cage and a nice selection of knees and takedowns.
The best part of Silva's game is his work from the top. The BJJ black belt is surprisingly nimble on the mat, with a nice selection of passes, a rock-solid base and heavy ground strikes.
Struve -220, Silva +180
Anybody who thinks they have a strong read on this fight is fooling themselves. Struve couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger against Rosholt, while Silva has had trouble taking punches, albeit from some of the bigger punchers in the division. That's a recipe for an underwhelming and volatile fight.
If they stay on their feet, Struve should have a marginal advantage. If Silva can work takedowns, the fight is his to lose, and he should be better in the clinch as well. The pick is Silva by knockout due to ground strikes in the second round.
Alistair Overeem vs. Andrei Arlovski
Alistair Overeem (40-14, 1 N/C; 5-3 UFC) vs. Andrei Arlovski (25-11, 1 N/C; 14-5 UFC)
Former UFC heavyweight champion Arlovski meets former Strikeforce and K-1 champion Overeem in a strong headlining matchup.
Arlovski wandered the wilderness of smaller promotions for years and seemed to be finished as a top fighter, but he found his groove by putting together a six-fight winning streak, including four following his return to the UFC in 2014. Stipe Miocic ended that streak with a brutal first-round knockout in January, and now Arlovski is trying to remain at the top of the division.
Overeem looked like one of the bigger free-agent busts in UFC history following a knockout loss to Ben Rothwell in September 2014 that dropped him to 2-3 in the promotion. Since then, he has won three in a row, two of them by brutal knockout. Former champion Junior dos Santos fell to Overeem in December to officially announce his return to the division's elite.
The stakes in this fight are high. A win for Overeem would make him the no-brainer top contender for the winner of next week's title fight between Miocic and Fabricio Werdum, while the 37-year-old Arlovski risks falling out of relevance with a second straight loss.
Arlovski's game is pared down to the essentials but highly effective nonetheless. He's still an excellent athlete despite his advancing age, with surprisingly quick feet and shockingly fast and powerful hands.
Those hands are the centerpiece of Arlovski's game, particularly the right. He's right-hand dominant, one of the more one-handed fighters in the sport, and mixes it up as a straight, overhand, uppercut and even a backfist. He often throws it two or three times in sequence, switching from one punch to the next to work around his opponent's defenses. Counters and throwing on clinch breaks are specialties.
When he wants to, Arlovski shows off a crisp and punishing jab, but he uses it less often than perhaps he should. The occasional side or oblique kick adds some variety and helps to set Arlovski's preferred range, but the right hand is his bread and butter.
If he can't land the right hand, Arlovski is happy to dive into the clinch. He's strong in the tie-ups and excels at grinding away against the fence with short punches and knees. Outstanding takedown defense keeps him on the feet, but he hasn't been interested in offensive wrestling or grappling for many years now.
The big problem for Arlovski isn't his skills or his athleticism; it's his chin. He has never taken a great punch, and while his chin isn't exactly glass, it doesn't hold up well under sustained assault, either.
After years of operating as an aggressive, forward-moving puncher, Overeem has reinvented himself as a stick-and-move outside fighter. This was an excellent shift for him because he remains one of the quicker fighters in the division, with the ability to get in and out of range at will. It also minimizes the number of shots he takes, and more than anything else, a questionable chin has been at the root of his issues.
The Dutchman likes to circle at long distance in both stances, using side and oblique kicks to the thigh to set the distance. He picks his spots to sit down on vicious leg and body kicks or to leap in with a hard straight punch from the rear hand.
It's a measured, slow game that requires great understanding of timing and distance, and Overeem has them. He controls the pace and makes himself hard to both track down in the space of the cage and to hit even if his opponent can find him. While Overeem doesn't land a high volume, he still has the power to finish with any single shot.
If he overextends in his attempt to land a strike, Overeem is happy to dive into the clinch. He isn't as intimidating in close quarters as he was when he weighed 20 or 30 pounds more a few years ago, but he remains exceptionally technical and throws some of the hardest knees in the sport.
Impenetrable takedown defense and slick trips and throws of his own make Overeem a strong wrestler. On the mat, he has always been an underrated grappler. His top game is exceptional and revolves around a vicious repertoire of strikes along with a rock-solid base. A sharp guillotine catches opponents in transition.
Overeem -240, Arlovski +200
The betting odds accurately reflect the state of the matchup. Either fighter could plant a knockout shot on the other's chin at any moment, but Overeem has more tools at range, is better at controlling the distance and could conceivably work takedowns as well. If the fight happens to go all five rounds, it's hard not to see Overeem winning rounds along the way.
With that said, Arlovski will have his chances, particularly on the counter. If he lands his shot, he could finish at any time. The more probable outcome, however, has Overeem either taking a decision or more likely landing the finishing shot of his own. Overeem scores the knockout in the second round.
All betting odds via Odds Shark.