Alistair Overeem has lots to smile about these days. | Photo: Paul Benjamin
Rarely has there been as much hype surrounding a fighter entering his next bout than that which involves Alistair Overeem and his rematch with Fabricio Werdum in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix quarterfinals on Saturday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
The sensation was similar when Mark Kerr first burst onto the scene in Pride Fighting Championships and smashed foes in the first round and when Brock Lesnar brutalized Randy Couture to become the heavyweight champion of the world. They, too, were perceived by the general public as too big, too strong and too physical. They were the Titanics of MMA -- unsinkable.
Charismatic HDNet commentator Michael Schiavello describes Overeem as a “Herculean figure” with “more muscles than a seafood platter.”
An impressive undefeated streak that spans 10 mixed martial arts bouts and five K-1 fights has resulted in eight knockouts and five submissions. In that span, the 260-pound behemoth became the Strikeforce heavyweight champion, the K-1 World Grand Prix winner and the Dream heavyweight titleholder, making him the first fighter in combat sports history to hold world titles in MMA and K-1 at the same time.
Overeem’s training partners, themselves decorated combat sports veterans, marvel at his talents.
“Alistair is the best heavyweight in the world,” says Janosch Stefan, a Sambo gold medalist at the 2010 World Combat Games. “Skill-wise, we’re not even coming close to him. By sparring with him, you learn to take it above all.”
Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo black belt Bruno Carvalho takes a similar line.
“He has just improved tremendously in the last couple of years,” Carvalho says. “Ninety percent of the time, he is using the right technique to defend a submission properly, and even when he doesn’t, he’s just too powerful to submit. Training camp with him is about survival.”
Gheorghe Ignat, an eight-time national Greco-Roman wrestling champion in Romania, considers himself as an Overeem fan, as well.
“I’ve been training with some of the top heavyweight fighters in the world, like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Junior dos Santos, but Alistair impresses me the most,” he says. “It is not only his superhuman power, but it’s the way he is using this power, the way he is strategizing against every opponent in a different way, that makes him special. He doesn’t have the standard fight game that most people have these days, as he is improving every time he steps inside the cage. I’ve been in the world of contact sports for most of my life, and I can tell you that no one will defeat Alistair in the next two or three years.”
John Olav Einemo, a 2003 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist who debuted in the Octagon at UFC 131, summed up Overeem’s dominance in a few short words.
“Alistair is a monster,” Einemo says. “Werdum is gonna have a real hard time with him.”
Overeem and Werdum have a tournament history together. In the first round of the 2006 Pride open weight grand prix, Werdum submitted the Dutchman with a kimura 3:43 minutes into the second round. Even though Overeem quickly rejected the relevance of their first meeting as a yardstick for their upcoming fight, he admitted that Werdum may have gained a psychological advantage by beating him before.
“If you have beaten someone before, you know you can do it again,” Overeem says. “I don’t mind, though, because I see it as a chance to redeem myself. Don’t forget that I was the one who asked for the fight.”
One of the main points of criticism against the Pride-era Overeem was his lack of conditioning. Some compared the Dutchman, who once competed at 205 pounds, to a “Ferrari with the gas tank of a lawnmower.” Always dangerous with flying knees and body kicks, Overeem was taken down and stopped on strikes more than once.
Even though he was a significantly smaller athlete during his stint in Japan and although he has not gone into the second round in more than three years, Overeem maintains that conditioning will not be an issue this time around.
“My game has changed so much that I can claim to have gotten better in all the aspects of the sport. Combine it with experience, and you can’t say that I’m the same fighter as [I was] 2006, physically or mentally. As far as conditioning goes, even though I’m bigger now, it is way better than in 2006. I have trained for five five-minute rounds, just to be sure,” he says with a wink.
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