Saturday night’s blockbuster heavyweight fight between Strikeforce Champion Alistair Overeem and lineal champion Fabricio Werdum failed to deliver the fireworks expected, with Werdum both unable to force the fight to the ground and unwilling to engage standing against the K-1 World Grand Prix Champion. Overeem managed to play the percentages, both by avoiding being taken down in the first half of the fight when both men were fresh and then avoiding being submitted in the second half of the fight, and justly emerged as the victor and the first man since the fall of Pride FC to wear both an organization’s heavyweight title and be recognized as the lineal champion of the world.
Fundamentally, Overeem vs. Werdum was a bad clash of styles with very specialized fighters cancelling each other out. Werdum came in with a desperate gameplan that consisted of highly telegraphed takedowns and prat falls. The latter tricked Fedor Emelianenko into following Werdum to the ground, but the Brazilian had spent the last six months boasting about the tactic he was never going to trick the canny Dutchman. Overeem was able to successfully defend twelve out of Werdum’s thirteen takedowns, and until he tired out did so with authority. In the first round he was literally chucking Werdum around like a rag doll. When Werdum successfully managed to pull guard later on in the fight, Overeem showed solid defensive grappling technique by keeping his head centered and leaving no space between his and Werdum’s chest. In doing so he denied Werdum the space to transition to a dominant position, let alone a submission attempt.
Overeem is also being criticized for not dismantling Werdum on the feet as most had expected. To a large extent this is the result of too many people expecting Overeem’s striking to look as fluid as it did in K-1, something that was never going to happen. No fighter that is worried about giving up the takedown can strike with complete freedom, not even a world class kickboxer. How many times do we see wrestlers in the UFC do surprisingly well standing against better technical strikers because the latter is preoccupied with maintaining the correct stance for optimum takedown defense?
Overeem’s two great strengths with his striking is Muay Thai in the clinch and his ability to put together high quality power combinations. He could do neither in this fight. The first because it would be stupid to engage for long in the clinch with a fighter so determined to pull guard at every opportunity. The second because whenever he landed a strike Werdum took a pro-wrestling bump off it. How could Overeem set up any combination, let alone look good standing, if his opponent is looking for any chance to fall to the ground? Despite all this, Overeem clearly landed the better, harder blows in the first two rounds and even in the third was timing Werdum well, landing counterpunches and knees.
Alistair Overeem vs. Fabricio Werdum was very much like Georges St. Pierre vs Jake Shields or Gilbert Melendez vs. Shinya Aoki; A boring fight due to the favorite not wanting to go to the ground against a fighter whose only route to victory was via submission. Overeem kept the fight comfortably on the feet in the first half of the fight and was never in any danger of being submitted. Now if Werdum was as good as everybody said he was before this fight then surely that’s worth celebrating? It’s certainly enough to suggest that he should be able to succeed against grapplers such as Josh Barnett or Antonio Silva who are both now being hyped as the next guaranteed winner of the tournament.
Alistair Overeem was certainly overrated by many in the lead-up to this fight, with his lack of experience against top competition in heavyweight MMA making fools of those who insisted he had already proven himself the beat or even one of the best in the division. But the buyer’s remorse shown by those who had completely bought into the hype of him as the baddest man in the planet is just as ridiculous as their original delusion. He is today what he was on Friday; a talented but untested fighter that may just prove to be the most exciting heavyweight fighter to come along for quite some time. And in a field of inactive veterans and unproven prospects that makes him the man to beat in the Strikeforce Heavyweight World Grand Prix.