Are Alistair Overeem and Fedor Emelianenko Two of the Most Overrated Ever?

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The interesting thing about last weekend’s “Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum” has been whether or not Alistair Overeem and/or Fabricio Werdum were both overrated going into their lackluster fight. After the bout the thing that first came to many minds was that both Junior Dos Santos and Cain Velasquez are clearly the two best heavyweights in the world. One thing stood out that no one seems to have noticed that exacerbated the problem in the first place: Werdum’s victory over Fedor leading to his being over-rated in the first place.

We can talk all we want about Overeem’s career surge in K-1 Kickboxing leading to his being rated higher than he might be in MMA , mainly due to his lack of a resume in the latter sport, but going into the fight the hype was placed around these two as two of the top five heavyweights in MMA. With Brock Lesnar in that mix alongside Dos Santos and Velasquez in most MMA rankings of top five heavyweights, these were the two considered to be the best in the division not currently fighting in the UFC.

While we can argue all we want about Overeem’s credentials, of whether or not kickboxing titles and wins over fringe fighters like Todd Duffee qualify one as amongst the best heavyweights in the world, but to place Werdum in that same category was a mistake as well. Thus our expectations are higher because we expect to see two of the most skilled fighters in the division and not two borderline Top 10 fighters at best, which is what we got.

Werdum’s big claim to being a top fighter was a decision victory over Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, another fringe fighter, and a submission victory over Fedor Emelianenko. At the time it was a major victory due to Fedor’s carefully managed winning streak and opponent schedule, but after Fedor’s subsequent loss to Bigfoot Silva, we have to evaluate Werdum’s flash submission victory more harshly than at the time. Why?

Because he tapped out a fighter in the middle of a decline who had a bigger name than the ranking he warranted.

The one thing no one has said about Werdum’s initial victory a year ago was that it wasn’t as big of an upset as we’d have liked it to be. Fedor hadn’t faced a high level of competition in the years since his Pride days and his last two fights before his first real loss showed us a fighter on his way down. Andrei Arlovski dominated Fedor with high level boxing until he made a massive mistake and was knocked out. Brett Rogers did the same, lasting until Fedor won with a big power shot. It was a win, and emphatic in both cases, but no one seemed to notice that Fedor’s legendary abilities were starting to slip.

Was he the #1 heavyweight in the world when he lost? No. His last big victories over a ranked Top 10 opponent were over Tim Sylvia and Arlovski. We forget because Sylvia has fallen hard since his lost to Fedor, but when he left the UFC for what he thought would be greener pastures he was still a consensus top 10 heavyweight. Same with Arlovski.

Victories over Matt Lindland and Hong-Man Choi may have been first round finishes but neither could ever be considered appropriate matchups for the #1 heavyweight in the world. They did one thing that Fedor’s handlers understood better than anyone else: they masked his decline.

It’s one of the things that boxing management does to prop up a fighter; give him lackluster opponents to keep up the illusion that a boxer is still amongst the best in the world. Rogers was another in those matchups, a guy who knocked out Arlovski after Fedor did. Arolovksi’s downfall was the same that ended Chuck Liddell’s career, in that his skills hadn’t eroded but his ability to take a punch had, and Rogers was the right style matchup for Fedor. He didn’t have the skill set to do anything to him on the ground but land a big shot, same on his feet.

With no real ground game then, or now, Rogers was perfectly set up for Fedor’s ability to connect with that one big shot and use his stifling ground game. That Rogers was able to last as long, and to look as good against Fedor, wasn’t proof that Rogers was a top heavyweight like some had thought. He was a guy who’d be a good regional champion but doesn’t have the tools to defeat top fighters outside of the “puncher’s chance.” His subsequent losses to Overeem and Josh Barnett put the exclamation point on that one; those two are still legit contenders and Rogers isn’t.

Fedor was still technically considered the best heavyweight in the world by many but to be the best fighter in the world you have to beat #2 and #3, et al. Fedor hadn’t done that in a while. Werdum’s submission victory, and Silva’s subsequent dismantling of the Russian, showed that Fedor wasn’t the level of fighter he had been. He was still a good name and still considered the best because he hadn’t lost but hadn’t fought someone who posed a real challenge in some time.

When Werdum submitted him it wasn’t a matter of an upset by a down on his luck fighter against the best in the world. It was a fringe fighter finally showing that the man who was “The Last Emperor” was on his way down.