The crown jewel of the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight division will once again hang in the balance when Stipe Miocic defends his title for the first time against onetime Dream and Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem in the UFC 203 main event on Saturday at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. In the co-headliner, former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum will try to get back on track in a rematch against Travis Browne, who serves as a short-notice fill-in for the injured Ben Rothwell.
The rest of the five-fight main card features a welterweight clash pairing former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Phil Brooks with Mickey Gall, a bantamweight tilt pitting Team Alpha Male patriarch Urijah Faber against Jimmie Rivera and a women’s strawweight affair matching Jessica Andrade with Joanne Calderwood.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC 203 “Miocic vs. Overeem” matchup, with analysis and picks:
UFC Heavyweight ChampionshipStipe Miocic (15-2) vs. Alistair Overeem (41-14)
THE MATCHUP: Miocic has a tall order on his hands for his first title defense. Overeem is one of the most experienced fighters in the UFC heavyweight division. In fact, only Andrei Arlovski and Josh Barnett have been at it longer, and Overeem has more fights than both of them, not even counting a successful kickboxing career that saw him win the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix.
It is because of that kickboxing background that Overeem is known as a striker, but in truth he is an MMA native. Having practiced judo as a child, Overeem began his MMA training at 15 and competed in his first pro fight by the age of 19. In addition to his MMA and kickboxing accomplishments, Overeem won the Abu Dhabi Combat Club European Trials in 2005. He has 19 submissions to his name, nine of them via guillotine, but he is more likely to hold top position than fish for subs nowadays. Overeem is very heavy on top, using pressure to stretch out his opponent so that he can freely land strikes. When his fights do go to the ground, it is usually Overeem in control, as he possesses 77 percent takedown defense and finishes about 65 percent of his own shots.
For Miocic, the question is fairly simple. Can he outstrike Overeem? He is unlikely to take down the Dutchman, having finished only 34 percent of his shots in the UFC, and will not be able to dominate him on the floor the way he did Mark Hunt in 2015. Hunt’s grappling may be better than it was when Overeem submitted him in 2008, but it remains a few steps below the Dutchman’s.
Without his wrestling, Miocic is more or less a boxer -- and a good one, especially by heavyweight standards. Miocic moves his feet well, allowing him to stick his opponent with hard shots while retreating. He fights behind a snappy one-two and counters with a short right and hard left hook. Offensively, Miocic’s boxing game is solid, and he lands just shy of five strikes per minute, significantly higher than the heavyweight average. Defensively, however, he leaves something to be desired. Miocic absorbs about three and a half significant strikes per minute, while Overeem eats less than two.
Miocic is more durable than Overeem, so his margin for error is larger, but inviting Overeem to connect cleanly is no recipe for success. Overeem’s recent fights have shown a refocused approach to MMA. Rather than bullying his opponents from the opening bell, exhausting himself and exposing his chin to counters, Overeem now prefers to fight from range, confusing his man with tricky footwork, convincing feints and a wide array of creative strikes.
THE ODDS: Miocic (-140), Overeem (+120)
THE PICK: The essential question of this bout is whether Overeem can avoid being finished by Miocic. That is always a concern among the heavyweight ranks, but Overeem is more fragile than most of his compatriots and always has been. Miocic has been stunned and knocked out before, but nine of Overeem’s 14 losses have come via KO. To prevent defeat, Overeem will need to stick and move, use his kicks to wear down Miocic and prevent the kind of high-volume boxing match that favors the champion. Because Overeem has only gone the distance once since adopting his new style, and only in a three-round fight, it remains to be seen whether he can play the role of flighty outboxer for five rounds. Fortunately, Overeem is accurate and powerful enough that he may not even need the full 25 minutes. The pick is Overeem by third-round TKO.
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