Analysis By Dave Walsh
I’ll be straightforward and honest here and admit that I consider myself a pretty big fan of Alistair Overeem. The Kickboxing and Muay Thai fan inside of me views him as one of the few respectable strikers in the world of MMA, never mind in the rather shallow and plodding Heavyweight Division of the UFC. Alistair Overeem is a breath of fresh air; his overhand right is enough to shatter jaws, his low kicks snap like they should, his body kicks were enough to retire Brock Lesnar and his knees put people to sleep. To top it all off, Alistair Overeem was the K-1 World Grand Prix Champion in 2010, making him the last K-1 World Grand Prix Champion and is seen by many as a true multi-sport champion.
The thing is, Overeem understands the hype around him and his striking, understands the aura that he puts off and knows what he is capable of. That is the only way to explain his game plan going into his fight at UFC 156 against a very game Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. Bigfoot Silva is a tough guy, so tough that he’s one of the few guys who can say that he’s legitimately beaten Fedor Emelianenko, which is not something that many can claim. The question on a lot of minds after UFC 156 is where did Overeem go wrong?
That is why I’m here, I’m here to help.
Let’s look at what he did in this fight and why it didn’t work.
They begin the fight tentatively enough, with Overeem keeping a pretty open stance and attempting a lunging left straight early on that was unable to break through Bigfoot’s defenses. He quickly closed the distance and took to a clinch against the cage where he used a few short knees, but nothing that was going to win a fight. It is here where Overeem’s confidence can be seen inflating, as he is able to seemingly without effort control the larger man and break the clinch at will. His hands when they break begin to fall and he begins dipping his head, moving it around as if he was Anderson Silva against a lesser-opponent.
After some more clinch work Overeem’s hands are firmly (or should I say loosely?) at his side and everything that Bigfoot is throwing at him is either too slow or out of range. After some more clinching, with about 1:39 left in the round Bigfoot throws a front kick to the body that Alistair was able to telegraph with an overhand right, followed by a left hand and a left knee to the body that didn’t do a lot of damage but showed Bigfoot what he was dealing with and bolstered Overeem’s already growing confidence. Overeem effortlessly parries a right hand from Bigfoot and follows with a low kick, which he then follows up with by leaning in with his chin directly in front of Bigfoot and his hands by his knees. He’s begging Bigfoot to take another shot and open himself up.
I’m all for head games, when they work, that is, and in this fight they were working quite a bit in these early stages. Something I noticed on the first viewing of this fight was when Bigfoot moved right in, Overeem was wide open and a punch by Bigfoot would have leveled Overeem right then and there, but he was so afraid of the counter that he opted instead to throw nothing. Nothing. That’s respect. They finish out the round with Overeem using head movement to avoid another big strike by Bigfoot. At this point, Overeem’s plan was working and Bigfoot’s wasn’t. Overeem was just waiting for that big opening so he could end the fight and he was willing to bet that he’d remain untouched until that came. The opening of round two sees Overeem with his hands up, that is until Bigfoot throws a few leg kicks that Overeem is able to check and telegraph. Bigfoot finally opens up with a glancing right hand, but it leads into a takedown from Overeem. A lot of the round sees Overeem stay on top of Bigfoot, neutralizing his jiu-jitsu and landing some hammerfists.
The end of round two is where things start to change, as Herb Dean stands them up and Overeem throws a looping overhand right that misses and then starts using the same head movement as before, which means ducking down before pulling back, while throwing a few jabs. While Overeem is showing off, Antonio Silva hits the punch that most MMA fighters just never block or see coming — the uppercut — and it connects. He immediately follows up with a clinched knee strike that also connects, followed by a hook, before he goes for the same combination and Overeem has the mental ability to avoid it, this time. Overeem finishes out the round with a close-range elbow strike following an uppercut of his own that pushed Bigfoot back.
Overeem starts out the third round understanding what getting hit by Bigfoot feels like and I’m quite sure he wanted to avoid that at all costs. Through sheer strength he pushed him back towards the cage and while clinching went for a jumping knee to the body. Off of a break Bigfoot sees the opening from Overeem going for another clinch — with his hands down — and lands a right hand followed by a left that pushes Overeem back. This sets up a right head kick and a few more strikes before Overeem pushes him off, looking for a left of his own. The reality here is that Overeem is hurt and hurt bad with his back up against the cage. Bigfoot sees the opening and throws a few hooks before two right uppercuts are the ones that find the mark again and put Overeem to sleep. A big right hand is what finally puts him down onto the mat and Overeem’s title shot disappears like that.
Keep your hands up.