Strikeforce Preview: Alistair Overeem vs. Fabricio Werdum

In just a few hours the long exile of the lineal heavyweight title may finally be over when Strikeforce Champion Alistair Overeem faces lineal champion Fabricio Werdum. While lineal titles are a staple in boxing, the MMA world has seemingly carried on regardless to the fact that neither Overeem’s title or more significantly Cain Velasquez’s UFC heavyweight title can trace their lineage to the original UFC Heavyweight Title first held by Mark Coleman. As previously explained by Dave Meltzer, a crucial break in the UFC’s title lineage caused by titlist Randy Couture quitting the organization after beating Maurice Smith in 1997 and Couture’s loses in Japan before his return to the Octagon in 2000 means that the most prestigious title in the sport fails the “to be the man, you must beat the man” test.

Instead the lineal title eventually ended unified with Fedor Emelianenko’s Pride FC Heavyweight title, following the Russian’s second victory over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Since the fall of Pride, it has been cast adrift from the organization structures of MMA unless you count the laughably preposterous WAMMA sanctioning body. Emelianenko would demonstrate the behavior that has made boxing fans wary of automatically revering lineal champions, with the M-1 Global fighter taking advantage of the lack of mandatory challengers to fight a succession of handpicked opponents that were even past their prime or in over their heads. Such milking tactics would finally come afoul on the 25th June 201o, when Fabricio Werdum caught Emelianenko in a triangle choke and forced him to submit. It was Emelianenko’s first clear loss in  his MMA career and elevated Werdum into the upper echelons of the division.

Werdum would sit out the rest of 2010 with an elbow injury. Strikeforce Champion Alistair Overeem would  build on his first defense of previously dormant title by winning kickboxing’s most prestigious prize, the K-1 Grand Prix, in a remarkable demonstration of how far his striking has developed in recent years. He would also pick up the Dream (interim) heavyweight title. This should have set the stage for the lineal title to be unified with Strikeforce’s championship but Showtime’s current love of tournaments intervened, with Overeem vs. Werdum laughably billed as a quarter-final.

Make no mistake about it, this is the fight that makes the Grand Prix worthwhile. Of the six men still left in the tournament, Sergei Kharitonov and Josh Barnett have been largely inactive in recent years while Antonio Silva lost to Werdum in his Strikeforce debut and Brett Rogers was destroyed by Overeem last year. This single fight will determine who is the best heavyweight in Stirkeforce. The rest of the field are just contenders for the crown, and not especially strong ones at that.

Alistair Overeem is the favorite, with the charismatic Dutchman having impressed many with a 2010 that arguably made him the year’s breakthrough combat sports fighter. The question mark over Overeem is his lack of experience against top opposition in heavyweight MMA, while he was a mainstay of Pride FC that was largely as a light heavyweight and even then he lost more big fights than he won. His best victory at heavyweight is probably his demolition of Rogers, a fact that forces one to raise an eyebrow at the short odds given by the betting lines for his victory.

Still if Overeem can keep the fight standing, he is almost certainly assured of victory. Werdum may have the best jiu-jitsu in the heavyweight division but he is a one-dimensional fighter without the striking to compete on the feet at an elite level. Three out of his four career loses have come at the hands of heavy handed punches who were able to stay away from his grappling comfort zone. The most of them was his destruction at the hands of Junior Dos Santos, a result that led to him being cut from the UFC after compiling a 2-2 record. Even his famous victory over Emelianenko showed these weaknesses in full as if his legendary opponent hadn’t made the rookie mistake of following him to the ground, Werdum would most likely have been quickly knocked out.

The two fighters have met before, with Werdum emerging more victorious. That was however more than a decade ago and Overeem has since grown a heavyweight’s frame and is no long killing himself to regularly make light heavyweight. This should lead to the improvements in strength and stamina necessary for Overeem to keep the fight standing where he can dissect Werdum with his elite kickboxing. With Werdum’s lack of striking defense, Overeem should finish relatively early in the fight and add the lineal heavyweight title to his current triple crown.

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