Much has been written about the transformation of Alistair Overeem. Once a merely decent light-heavyweight fighter in PRIDE, Overeem decided to move to the heavyweight division following losses to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Ricardo Arona, and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Not only did Overeem become a heavyweight, he became a big heavyweight: he weighed in for Saturday’s fight at 256 pounds. Since changing weight classes, Overeem has become a total force, annihilating opponents in both MMA and kickboxing. His kickboxing success has been particularly noteworthy; Overeem won the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix, and never appeared to have much difficulty in the process.
In response, fans have decided to make nicknames out of Overeem’s name.
I have one: Overrated.
As soon as you’re done booing, let me make my case. While taking nothing away from his kickboxing accomplishments, which are genuinely amazing, Overeem’s recent schedule of MMA opponents leaves much to be desired. Here’s a list of the men Overeem has defeated on his current nine-fight winning streak, accompanied by each fight’s Victory Score:
- Paul Buentello, 66.25
- Tae Hyun Lee, 40.42
- Mark Hunt, 59.45
- Gary Goodridge, 55.58
- Tony Sylvester, 68.76
- James Thompson, 57.03
- Kazuyuki Fujita, 59.31
- Brett Rogers, 72.38
- Todd Duffee, 69.83
Of the nine wins, only four were against “UFC-quality” opponents: Buentello, Sylvester, Rogers, and Duffee. Only Rogers would’ve been considered an above-average UFC fighter. Granted, Overeem pretty much pummeled every fighter on the list. Let me put it this way: if Fedor Emelianenko pummeled that list of opponents, he’d be criticized for fighting inferior opposition. For pummeling that list of opponents, Overeem has been hailed by some as the best heavyweight in the world, and the Overeem hype has gone into the stratosphere.
It’s not hard to see why. Overeem has a physique chiseled out of granite; as Jason “Mayhem” Miller put it, the guy “looks like a friggin’ superhero.” His punches leave opponents face down on the canvas, and his knees leave a wake of destruction on a seismic scale. He beat James Thompson in 33 seconds. He beat Todd Duffee in 19 seconds. Since transforming into the physical specimen he is today, the only man to last longer than five minutes against him was Mirko Cro Cop, who only escaped losing by having to endure one of the most devastating knees to the groin in MMA history. Overeem represents an absolute force to be reckoned with.
The thing is, none of the names listed above are as good as any of the fighters I mentioned earlier: Nogueira, Arona, and Rua. Nor are they as good as Sergei Kharitonov, the last man to beat Overeem, who did it by KO. When fighting in PRIDE, Overeem was taking on some of the very best fighters in the organization, and coming up short. What Overeem still hasn’t proven since PRIDE’s collapse is that he’s actually capable of beating top opponents.
There are other lingering questions with Overeem as well. Overeem had a reputation for having very poor cardio; as short as his heavyweight fights have been, whether or not Overeem can fight strong into the second and third rounds is an open question. Another thing about Overeem is that he had a tendency to just lose very suddenly. When he lost to Chuck Liddell in 2003, Overeem had a strong start, but a sudden overhand right by Liddell stunned Overeem, and the finish came soon afterwards. In his past fight with Fabricio Werdum, in 2006, Overeem again started very strong, but faded as the fight progressed, and tapped out to a kimura in the second round. He also lost very suddenly by knockout to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in 2007 at PRIDE 33.
It’s more than reasonable to suggest that Overeem’s added power is what is causing his fights to end so early in his favor, whereas his past fights would’ve been drawn out. However, the point persists: Overeem does not have a strong fight history, and as impressive as he’s been in the past few years, none of the wins he’s scored recently change that. Meanwhile, Werdum has scored two outstanding wins, against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Fedor Emelianenko. In those two wins, Werdum has done more to show that he’s a top heavyweight fighter than Overeem has in his entire career.
I’m sure you’re wondering: how exactly is Werdum going to beat Overeem? I certainly don’t expect Werdum to do it by knockout, or to do it early in the fight. In fact, Overeem is probably going to win the first round, and there’s a very good chance that Overeem gets the first-round stoppage. The problem is that Werdum is a better mixed martial artist than the opponents Overeem has been facing. Many have dismissed Werdum’s chances of taking Overeem to the ground, but Werdum should be more than willing to pull guard. Werdum can use the clinch, he can use the guard, and he can use submission threats to neutralize Overeem’s devastating striking. If Werdum focuses on defense early, he can test Overeem’s cardio, and a gassed Overeem is an Overeem who has shown throughout his career is prone to being stopped.
SILVA PREDICTION: FABRICIO WERDUM (35.03) OVER ALISTAIR OVEREEM (32.37)
After this, I don’t want to ever be accused of not being willing to go out on a limb. Werdum is a huge underdog in this fight. Now, SILVA knows nothing of Overeem’s physical transformation, so it’s reasonable to say that SILVA may be underestimating Overeem. It’s quite possible that the added power will take Overeem from out-striking Werdum but losing late to stopping Werdum early. I’ll admit that it’s not easy to be the one making the case for a Werdum victory while seemingly everybody else picks Overeem, and for good reasons, too. But if I couldn’t convince you that Werdum is a good bet to win the fight, hopefully I’ve at least given you reason to think Werdum has a better chance to win than he’s being given credit for. Just as Overeem is a threat to win at any moment by KO, Werdum is a threat to win at any moment by submission, and as SILVA thinks Werdum will pull off the big upset, so do I.
Victory Score: The estimated quality of the opponent a fighter beats, at the time the fight takes place. A Victory Score of 70 represents a win against an average UFC fighter; a Victory Score of 50 represents a win against an average MMA fighter.