Big Fight Breakdown

Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem UFC 141, Dec. 30

Lesnar v Overeem

You have to hand it to Brock Lesnar. For all the criticism he’s received for his quick—some would say unwarranted—push to championship level in the UFC, Lesnar has never hesitated to accept whatever challenge has been placed in front of him. Even upon returning from career-threatening illness and surgery, Lesnar has embraced the role of his division’s heavy like an old west gunslinger.

It’s been over one year since Lesnar (5-2) lost the championship to Cain Velasquez, but the landscape of the division’s upper tier has only changed slightly. Among the newest additions is Alistair Overeem, the Dutch phenom who concurrently held titles as the DREAM Heavyweight Champion, Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion and K-1 World Grand Prix Champion before vacating all three belts to sign with the UFC.

Unlike many MMA strikers of renown, Overeem (35-11) brings a strong ground game to the table, something that will almost certainly come into play against Lesnar, who as a rule looks to make his opponents crumble under his force. That said, this will certainly be a fight where the fighters’ strategies are diametrically opposed. Overeem will not want to fight Lesnar from his back, and Lesnar will not want to stay on his feet long, either, making the struggle for position a fight within the fight.

HOW BROCK LESNAR WILL WIN

Lesnar has always been true to his core gifts as a wrestler and to his core athletic traits as an aggressor. In all seven of his professional fights, he has chased the takedown as a path towards victory. Twice it has betrayed him. First against Frank Mir, when he was submitted as a UFC rookie, and later against Velasquez, who was able to use his own wrestling to get to his feet and hurt Lesnar standing. But the fact remains that Lesnar has always managed to get his opponent to the mat, no matter how much energy it required.

Given Overeem’s advanced striking pedigree, Lesnar will not want to engage him much on his feet. Historically, Overeem has not been a pushover on wrestling defense. According to FightMetric, he has only been taken to the ground on 24 percent of attempts against him over his last 30 fights. That’s an impressive number on paper, but a closer look shows that he hasn’t faced an opponent with any real wrestling credentials in years. Lesnar is not only the best wrestler he’s faced in that span, he’s also the biggest and strongest.

Lesnar’s best bet is to turn this fight into a grind for Overeem, to take away his space and constantly crowd him. Even if he doesn’t always score the takedown, his size and technique should allow him to press Overeem against the cage and force him to expend energy escaping detrimental positions. If Lesnar does get him to the ground, he needs to value the position and utilize his size early by grinding Overeem out, then capitalize with his power later with strikes as he works towards a finish.

HOW ALISTAIR OVEREEM WILL WIN

For all of Lesnar’s physical gifts, he will be at a vast disadvantage in the striking game, particularly in terms of technique. For a heavyweight, Overeem is fast and has good footwork, and he always throws powerful combinations. None of those gifts will mean a thing if he can’t stop Lesnar from putting him down.

The jab is not a punch Overeem uses often. In his last fight with Fabricio Werdum, for example, only 14 of his 60 punches were jabs. But it may be a useful weapon against Lesnar in an attempt to keep him on the outside. Lesnar has looked uncomfortable during exchanges, so aggressive offense might also work to keep Lesnar at bay. It’s hard to time your offense when bombs are going off around you. But all of that will only work for so long before Lesnar wades in. At that point, Overeem will have two options, equally important. He can attempt to sprawl with the bigger, stronger, more experienced wrestler, or he can fire off knees as Lesnar changes levels and ducks his head in low in order to drive forward.

The success of one or both of those possibilities will largely dictate the outcome of the fight. However, even if Lesnar succeeds in putting Overeem on the mat, the result is not a foregone conclusion. That’s because Overeem actually has more submission wins (19) than knockouts (14) in his career.

Since losing to Frank Mir by submission, Lesnar has exhibited an excellent grasp of the top-side position, utilizing spots like side control that minimize a potential attack from his opponent. So beyond trying to trap Lesnar in a sub, Overeem would probably be wise to either expend his energy trying to create space and getting back to his feet, or tying Lesnar up and waiting for a standup.

Overeem’s best chance of winning comes with his hands. He has 25 minutes with which to work, to ride out Lesnar’s early aggression and force him to stand. Only 34 percent of his opponents’ strikes actually hit him, and Lesnar isn’t well-versed enough to improve upon that number and pose a serious knockout threat. With any extended periods of striking, the odds shift strongly in Overeem’s favor.

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