The UFC will close out the year 2011 in style. On a special night and time as not to conflict with New Year’s Eve, UFC 141 will air on Pay Per View on tonight at 10 PM. BlackSportsOnline.com MMA Insider Alex Donno breaks down the colossal fight.
The UFC’s biggest star, (both literally and figuratively) Brock Lesnar, makes his return from a 14 month layoff to face former Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem. The 5-round bout will decide the number one contender to UFC Champion Junior dos Santos.
The journey to UFC 141 has been a rocky road for both men. Lesnar returns to the Octagon for the first time after a May surgery that removed an entire foot of his colon. Much of Lesnar’s year off was spent battling illness (diverticulitis). Although his coaches say he’s in the best shape of his life, “cage rust” could be a serious concern. For Overeem, who makes his UFC debut, the past few months have been hectic to say the least. After moving his training camp from Holland to Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, a family issue forced him to uproot his training and take it back to The Netherlands. His mother, a recovering cancer patient, was in fear of a relapse. To make matters more difficult for “The Reem,” his return to Europe came at a bad time. On the same day he flew back to Holland, the Nevada State Athletic Commission, unaware of his departure, ordered him to take a surprise “out of competition” steroid test. He attempted to provide a testing sample from his personal doctor in Holland, but it didn’t meet the procedural standards. The fight seemed was in jeopardy, but the NSAC thankfully agreed to grant Overeem a conditional license, pending a more extensive round of steroid testing. He had to fly to the UK to submit a pre fight test (none of the facilities in Holland met the NSAC’s standard), and it came back clean. The Fight is on. And more importantly, his mother is doing well. Her cancer screenings came up negative. I interviewed Overeem on Miami’s 790 The Ticket, and we discussed his recent distractions.
Here is AOL’s Ariel Helwani talking with Overeem about his prep for the fight.
This matchup will feature two of MMA’s largest heavyweights. Both men possess a comic book style physique, and tip the scales near the heavyweight limit of 265 lbs. With the amount of power that each fighter packs, it’s unlikely this one lasts more than two rounds. They will have five rounds at their disposal, but the odds of neither man achieving an explosive early finish seem slim. Physical similarities aside, the styles of Lesnar and Overeem contrast sharply. To put it in simple terms, Lesnar is the wrestler and Overeem the striker. And they’re both very good at what they do. Lesnar is a former Division 1 NCAA National Wrestling Champion. Overeem is the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix kickboxing champion. Although neither fighter likes to discuss strategy, they both readily admit that the fight must stay in their respective realm in order for them to find success. Lesnar needs to take Overeem down, put him on his back, and punish him with his lunchbox sized fists. Overeem needs to stuff Lesnar’s takedowns and pick him apart in the standup.
The key for Brock Lesnar will likely lie in his ability to take a punch. Although he’s never been knocked out cold, he’s reacted poorly when opponents connect with strikes. In his second-round-comeback victory over Shane Carwin, the first round saw him knocked down quickly and severely battered by Carwin’s mammoth fists. In his loss to Cain Velasquez, a short left hand to his chin sent him running in the other direction. Chances are, at some point in the fight, Alistair Overeem is going to hit him, hard. The amount of poise with which Lesnar reacts to that could be the difference between victory and defeat. Unless of course he’s able to take Overeem down so early in the fight, that way he avoids his striking all together.
Every fight starts standing up. That will create an advantage for Overeem as long as he can keep things vertical long enough to hurt Lesnar. During his dominant 11 fight unbeaten streak in Japan and Strikeforce, Overeem has not faced a wrestler anywhere near Lesnar’s caliber. He’s shown a great sprawl, but Lesnar may avoid that by shooting for takedowns high, with his head on Overeem’s chest. Overeem needs to avoid being pressed against the cage at all costs. It’s safe to assume that defensive wrestling has been a huge focus in Alistair’s training camp. Among his sparring partners for this fight was former Oklahoma State University wrestling standout Jared Rosholt. While Rosholt won’t give Overeem’s overall wrestling ability a ringing endorsement, he has said that Alistair’s takedown defense is solid. And it’s certainly worth noting that Overeem has some of the most dangerous knees in the sport. He broke the ribs of at least two training partners by hitting them with knees as they shot in for a takedown. And eight of his 19 submission wins have come by guillotine choke. That’s a great weapon to catch a wrestler with as he shoots.
No matter the outcome, the UFC should have an easy time marketing the winner. Lesnar is a proven UFC commodity. With his WWE fame, monstrous physique, and explosive fight style, he brings eyes to sport that normally wouldn’t take the time to watch MMA. Overeem doesn’t have Lesnar’s promotional track record stateside, but his potential for growth is endless. He’s charismatic outside the cage, aggressive inside it, and more muscular than any other fighter in the sport. With a victory over Lesnar and the UFC marketing machine behind him, he could become the face of combat sports.
Here is Helwani’s interview with Lesnar about his road back.
In the co-main event, Nate Diaz takes on Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in what should be a dynamite lightweight bout. Both men have aggressive striking and slick submissions. Diaz put his boxing on display in September when he dismantled former PRIDE FC champion Takanori Gomi. Cerrone, meanwhile, has won six straight overall, with a chance to go 5-0 in 2011. Cerrone throws vicious kicks from all angles. Both men stand 6’0”, with Diaz holding a three inch reach advantage. But Cerrone throws more kicks, and could dictate the distance that way. And both are masters of the “mean mug.” The pre fight stare down will be intense, and the odds of them shaking hands after the bout are slim to none. Check out the stare down they had at Wednesday’s Las Vegas press conference. Luckily, only Cerrone’s cowboy hat got hurt in the exchange.
In a welterweight bout, perennial contender Jon Fitch meets up and comer Johny Hendricks. Both come from a collegiate wrestling background. Hendricks has the better credentials as a 2-time NCAA National Champion, but Fitch seems to have evolved his wrestling for MMA in a superior fashion. Fitch will look to clinch, press Hendricks against the cage, and work for a decision in a grind-it-out manner. Such a style hasn’t earned Fitch many fans, though. His past 9 fights have all gone to the scorecards. An exciting finish over Hendricks could go a long way for his marketability. If Hendricks can negate Fitch’s wrestling, he should enjoy a striking advantage. His hand speed and power are formidable. Fitch tends to strike minimally, and only to set up takedowns.
In the remaining main card bouts, Vladimir Matyushenko meets Alexander Gustafsson in a light heavyweight bout, and Nam Phan takes on Jim Hettes at featherweight. Matyushenko is a solid veteran with great wrestling, but keep your eyes on 24 year old Gustafsson. He’s got dynamic striking and has shown excellent takedown defense. He’s considered one of the brightest light heavyweight prospects. Phan vs. Hettes could be explosive. Phan is a skilled technical striker who works at a fast pace. Hettes is a slick submission artist who’s yet to reach round three in his nine fight career.
UFC 141 airs live on pay per view on TONIGHT at 10:00pm EST. An hour of live preliminaries will air on Spike TV at 9.
Be sure to follow Alex on twitter @AlexDonno790