Buentello: Revamped and Ready for Overeem

By Mike Sloan Nov 15, 2007
For heavyweight contender Paul Buentello (Pictures), punching people in the face has always been fairly easy.

He has vaunted power, especially in his right hand, and he's scored a modest share of highlight-reel knockouts along the way. But after studying how he fights and after rigorous training regimens with one of the toughest teams in mixed martial arts, Buentello was delivered a nasty dose of reality: He didn't know how to punch.

Granted, Buentello knows quite enough to get this far in his professional fighting career, but "The Head Hunter" was humbled in preparation for his Strikeforce heavyweight title fight against Alistair Overeem (Pictures). While explaining his crash course in forcing fists into another man's face, Buentello made it sound as if he never knew he had hands at the ends of his arms.

"To be quite honest, I still don't even know how to punch right," Buentello told Sherdog.com. "I'm still missing some key elements of how to fight. I feel that I haven't reached my plateau yet; I'm still learning. But I am still learning stuff like how to properly use my elbows and I'm still learning how to properly throw a left hook."

Buentello recently joined forces with trainer Greg Jackson in New Mexico. After several brutal workouts, the 33-year-old former UFC heavyweight title challenger's eyes opened wide. He had never known just how much he didn't know.

"I have my power and speed, but I'm still growing in every aspect of my game, especially with my wrestling," he said. "I never knew just how difficult proper wrestling is because there are just so many moves and counters. My game is always to keep the fight standing, and the more I know on the ground, the better I'll be in getting the fight back up to my feet. I'm not going to all of a sudden shoot in for a double-leg and try a gogoplata, though, because if I did I'd probably lose 10,000 fans, if I even have that many fans."

Joking aside, Buentello realizes the importance of his upcoming battle with Overeem, and he has forced himself through a gauntlet of grueling preparation. As any seasoned veteran or hungry contender should know, it's the exhausting physicality of weeks of hard work that pave the way toward success in the cage.

"I feel real good," Buentello remarked about his training. "I mean, I got the usual bumps and bruises and stuff like that, but if you don't have any bumps or bruises, then that means you aren't training hard enough. I've done my training a little bit different this time, as I've gone down to Albuquerque to Jackson's MMA. I've been helping Rashad Evans (Pictures) prepare for his fight and I've been able to get in some great altitude training. It feels like I just have this endless supply of air. It's unreal, man, and I just keep being shown new things."

Jackson was not shy about Buentello's development.

"He's very impressive; he's a great athlete with incredibly quick hands," Jackson said. "He's a smart fighter and has been a huge asset for us in getting our team ready for the fights, and hopefully the training will show in both his fight against Overeem and in Rashad's against Michael Bisping (Pictures). He's a student of the game who is constantly improving. I think the Paul Buentello (Pictures) that you're going to see is going to be much different than previous Paul Buentello (Pictures)s that you've seen in years' past because he just keeps evolving."

Buentello is hoping to not only have his fistic attacks evolve inside the cage Friday, but he's also looking to extend his impressive four-fight winning streak. After Buentello was caught cold a mere 15 seconds into his world title fight against then-UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski (Pictures), he has been on a tear, delivering four consecutive knockouts.

Still, Buentello can't seem to escape the murky shadows of that heartbreaking loss to Arlovski, even though none of his fights since have gone the distance.

"It always comes up," Buentello said with a sigh. "Once a week I hear something about Arlovski or somebody tells a running joke about that fight. The first month after that fight it was a pretty sour note because I didn't get to go out there and perform. But now, it's really only a running joke to me because [Arlovski] knows and I know that [a rematch] wouldn't be the same fight. I got caught and I have to live with that, but everybody still has to make their comments about it."

Fans tend to remember fighters more for dreadful results than consecutive knockout wins. The same fate has befallen Buentello, but he takes it in stride and understands that usually ignorance is bliss.

"Everybody seems to base their opinions on me just on that fight, and if you do, then I guess you're not really a true fan of the sport or of me if you don't know me based on my full body of work," Buentello replied. "I may not be the greatest fighter in history with this great record, but everybody knows that when I step into that cage, it'll be a war until the end. If I wind up being dropped or taken out, then that's what happens. But back to the Arlovski fight, it used to bug me all the time, but it doesn't anymore. I'm only as good as my last fight, and that fight is well behind me now. People who truly understand the sport of MMA will understand and hopefully visualize me with my great wins as well. I'm looking forward to continuing that against Alistair, too."

Considering how poorly Overeem has looked as of late, a Buentello triumph appears to be an easy pick. But Buentello and those around him understand that it would be foolhardy to excuse the dangerous Overeem as some sort of meager steppingstone, even if the Dutch fighter has dropped five out of his last seven contests and three via knockout or stoppage.

"Sometimes that is when a fighter is the most dangerous -- when he's got his back against the wall," Jackson said. "I think we're going to win. I don't know how, exactly, but as long as he stays aggressive yet careful, Paul will do just fine. But because at this stage in his career, with basically nothing to lose, Alistair will be deadly."

While Overeem's best days might be behind him, his style and his track record suggest that his battle with Buentello will be marvelous. Like Jackson said, this could be the perfect fight for the Team Golden Glory member to come back in spectacular fashion.

"Alistair is a very credible and worthy opponent to fight for our title and so is Paul," stated Scott Coker, Strikeforce's promoter. "When we had the opportunity to put this fight together, we jumped at it. It's going to be the classic striker-versus-striker type of fight."

"Paul is the kind of guy who can literally fight anyone," Coker added. "Even if he was to fight someone like a Fedor or a ‘Cro Cop,' if he lands that right hand of his, they're going down. If Paul hits Alistair on the chin, we can see some break dancing. Alistair can strike, too, and his knees are very powerful. Also, if he wants to bring the fight to the ground, his guillotine chokes are very dangerous as well. It's a great fight and it should live up to expectations."

Living up to those expectations shouldn't be too much of a problem for Buentello, who revealed that he has never felt better going into a fight. He expects to continue his dominant ways and eventually get back in against the crème de le crème of the heavyweight spectrum. Before he can do that, though, he understands the importance of getting past Overeem regardless of how the fighter from Holland is viewed these days.

"I personally haven't heard anything to the extreme that I should blow right through Alistair," Buentello said. "But the common thing that I do always hear is that he always gasses. I don't put anything into that because he is a great fighter. He's coming all the way over here to fight, and it's for a world title. He agreed to the five-round fight so he'll be totally in shape, and I expect him to show up and be prepared 110 percent. He better be, and all I have to say to the people who will watch the fight is don't blink."
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