Merry Christmas everyone!
Alistair Overeem is a top 5 heavyweight in MMA, but most of the hype surrounding his entry into the UFC and fight with Brock Lesnar doesn't have much to do with MMA at all. Ubereem's most relevant win in MMA was a lackluster snoozefest over Werdum, followed close behind by a shellacking of model citizen Brett Rogers.
But that doesn't mean we shouldn't get excited about Overeem's impending entry into the the world's number one promotion, because of another sport: Kickboxing. Whether or not Overeem's K-1 career will translate into MMA striking success remains to be seen, but that doesn't mean his phenomenal run shouldn't be celebrated. If you haven't caught his K-1 exploits, now is the time to do so. After the jump you can find all of Overeem's recent K-1 fights and a little context to help you better understand the drama behind them.
Reem vs Hari 1
Although Overeem was taking kickboxing fights as young as 17, by New Year's Eve 2008 he was firmly an "MMA guy" and was being pitted in a bout with Hari as more of a "Japanese Special Attraction" than a competitive kickboxing bout. In fact, this was originally planned to be a two fight contract where Overeem and Hari would meet first under K-1 rules and second under MMA rules the next year for fairness. Alistair hadn't been in a kickboxing fight in years and the last two he was in ended with him on the canvass, and was fighting relevant mma competition like Gary Goodridge. Although he had recently bulked up, and had was winning a fight against Cro Cop before it was NC'd, concerns over Alistair's chin (especially after a massive setback against Kharitonov) made many question his ability to take on top quality MMA competition, never mind in K-1.
Contrast this with Hari, arguably the uncrowned number one K-1 heavyweight in the world at the time. He was coming off a phenomenal 2008 run. His vicious aggressive style had him win 6 straight in the year by knockout, before being DQ'd in the K-1 finals for not being able to control his aggression and stomping Remy Bojasky on the ground.
Few informed fans were expecting this one to end with Alistair remaining conscious. What followed was the stuff of legend: Fight starts at 4:40
By knocking out a top ranked heavyweight in Hari, Overeem became an immediate K-1 sensation, and instantly relevant. It seemed like Hari got tagged by a tight left hook everytime Alistair threw it, and we were of course introduced to the uberknee. Hardcore kickboxing fans resented him massively for walking into K-1 and treating it as a secondary pursuit. However, he was massively popular with casual fans with his crossover appeal and scary physique, and the controversy made all his fights must-see affairs.
Reem v Bonjasky
Overeem wasn't brought along slowly by the K-1 brass. His next opponent was three time and defending K-1 champion Remy Bonjasky. Was Overeem for real or was his KO over Hari luck? Bonjasky would serve as just as stiff a test.
If you want to see Bonjasky deal out some serious punishment, then check out some of these fights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRORMHD541Q
Here is the fight, starts at 7:42
Alistair Overeem vs Remy Bonjasky K-1 World GP 2009 in Yokohama #06 (via joeywegman)
Although Overeem was ultimately unsuccessful in the bout, going the distance and arguably taking a round against the legend came with it some legitimacy in kickboxing, that a potentially lucky shot against Hari couldn't bring. The loss actually served to increase Overeem's legitimacy as a potential new contender.
Reem v Aerts 1
It is this legitimacy and popular appeal that brought the fans to use an internet poll to vote Overeem into the K-1 GP Final 16 despite having a dismal 3-3 record so far. The GP format has the final 16 as an event and the 8 winners then face off in a one night affair. Oveerem was matched against literally "Mr. K-1" the Randy Couture of kickboxing, the fading legend of Peter Aerts, a surprisingly competitive then 39 year old three time champion who had never failed to qualify for the final 8. Despite his advanced age he was still highly successful with his only losses in years being against top heavyweights Semmy Schilt and Badr Hari. Overeem was a huge underdog and his past cardio issues led many to conclude that Overeem's only chance was a lucky early shot. Aerts is a huge draw for the GP and the MMA upstart Overeem was being brought in to lose. Fight starts at 7:28.
Alistair Overeem vs Peter Aerts [K-1 World Grand Prix 2009 Final 16] #07 (via joeywegman)
The always witty Michael Schiavello described Oveerem as not just A-donis but THE-donis. Overeem's continued growth seemed especially apparent in this fight, bullying the lankier Aerts around the ring, throwing him down to the ground like nothing. If you wanted to watch a single K-1 fight to understand Overeem's kickboxing style this is the one. Keeping a tight guard around his head, the Reem advances almost ploddingly. He has become extremely disciplined, not throwing looping hooks or gassing himself out. He gets inside the range to negate his general disadvantage at distance against superior kickers like Aerts and looks to pick his shots from the clinch, using his size to maintain control up close. Despite throwing way less shots than Aerts, Overeem gained himself entry into the Grand Prix final 8 by landing with more frequency.
2009 K-1 GP
After the huge Aerts upset in September, Overeem notched two back to back MMA wins in October over Tony Sylvester and James Thompson. Despite his pronouncement that he loves K-1 but MMA is his passion, a statement that hardly endeared him to K-1 fans, the differential in his competition in the sport is massive. The K-1 Grand Prix is/was the sports biggest stage, and the arguably the biggest single night in combat sports. Apart from Peter Aerts, these were the 8 best heavyweight kickboxers in the world.
Overeem was matched with Ewerton Teixeira in the quarters. Ewerton had already won a K-1 tournament in Japan and had a pretty decent 2009 so far with wins over top heavyweights Jerome Le Banner and Singh Jaideep, although the former was a decision of some controversy. However, for the first time in Overeem's recent K-1 run, Alistair was considered the favourite. The brackets were designed to generate a much anticipated semi-final rematch with Badr Hari. But first Overeem would have to get through a stiff challenge in Teixeira, and after Hari finished his opponent in the first it was incumbent that Overeem emerge unscathed for the rematch.
The following is probably not for the faint of heart or fans of non-brain trauma. Apologies not in English.
Alistair Overeem vs. Ewerton Teixeira DEC 5 2009 QUARTER FINAL (via mmaplanet822)
Turns out, if you don't have the range game to keep Overeem on the defensive, you are going to hit with one of those bad boys.
Onto the Hari semi-final. Bari had recovered excellently from the huge setback against Alistair. Including his quarter final win just moments before, Hari had finished 4 opponents in 2009 to get to this point. The most notable of these was a 45 second destruction of seemingly unstoppable Semmy Schilt in It's Showtime! None of his opponents had made it out of the first round. Hari was the pre-tournament favourite and Overeem would return to his familiar position of heavy underdog.
[K-1 2009 Final] Alistair Overeem vs Badr Hari (via csubi77)
For those MMA fans wondering about the stoppage, you only need 2 knockdowns to earn a stoppage in the GP and that knockdown was perfectly legitimate. The cheering of the commentary booth should tell you the general feeling towards Overeem amongst the rest of K-1 and everyone was glad to see his trip to K-1 end in eventual defeat.
Hari would go onto rematch Schilt in the final and lose in the first round.
Overeem v Poturak
Overeem would close out 2009 with a first round obliteration of Fujita in MMA, before starting to train for a serious K-1 run. His comeback fight was schedule for April of 2010 against Bosnian journeyman Dzevad Poturak. Although Poturak is a reasonable fighter and has a K-1 regional tournament win from back in 2007, he is easily the least credentialed fight on Overeem's phenomenal strength of schedule. Lets see how it turns out:
Alistair Overeem vs Dzevad Poturak HD (via WorldWideMMAFighting)
Turns out that if you get anywhere near Overeem you are in serious danger, as Overeem never looks in danger as he walks through his opponent before Poturak fails to answer the count from the second knockdown after he tastes the Ubereem.
Overeem vs Edwards
After finally defending his Strikeforce title against Brett Rogers in May, Overeem was set to enter the final 16 in the 2010 Grand Prix. His opponent was Australian Ben Edwards. who exploded onto the scene with his GP qualifier, drawing attention by breaking a record by defeating all three opponents in a K-1 tournament in a combined 3 minutes and 28 seconds. By now though Overeem was established force in K-1 and was seen as a heavy favourite to advance. Fight starts at 7:11
K-1 World Grand Prix 2010 in Seoul Final 16 - Alistair Overeem vs Ben Edwards - Intro + Full fight (via Suboloc)
"Lock up your horses!" Overeem has started to warm up to K-1 fans and Schiavello, and his entry into the GP is great news for the ailing FEG and K-1. The game Edwards put up a fight for Overeem, but Alistair showcased improved technical skill, dropping Edwards with a well timed counter, backing him into a counter a placing an overhand right like a laser before finishing him off. Overeem wasn't just a meathead who could bully talented guys around with his physical attributes, but a refined kickboxing machine.
K-1 GP 2010
The final 8 this year would have a major notable absence: Badr Hari. He would be serving prison time in connection to some altercation with a bouncer, so their rivalry would never have a trilogy. Apart from 4 time GP champ Semmy Schilt, Overeem was considered an early favourite to win. Other possible contenders were also on the Reem side of the bracket, inthe dark horse Gokhan Saki/Daniel Ghita quarterfinal.
Overeem's draw was Tyrone Spong. Spong is an awesomely talented kickboxer, but is undersized for the heavyweights, and much of his experience is at a lighter weight. In kickboxing however, the money is at heavyweight. Despite bulking up, Spong was considered an underdog due to the extreme size differential.
Even in defeat, Spong had a career defining performance. Overeem got rocked from a straight counter early, but defended excellently, to use Schiavello's words "like a virgin's defence, nothing penetrates" so Overeem was alright. Despite losing the first round and having his offence stifled by warnings against the two handed clinch, Overeem caused Spong to fade in the face of his power and scoring a knockdown towards the end, leaving no doubt who was the better man.
Emerging from the toughest quarter-final by far was Gokhan Saki, having just gone to war with a very game Daniel Ghita. The talented Turk had a disappointing 2009, but is riding a 7 fight win streak in 2010. Despite being a training partner with Overeem, this is the sports highest stage so they will go to war for our entertainment:
Alistair Overeem vs. Gokhan Saki - K1 World Grand Prix 2010 Final GP (Semi Final) HD (via jamesblack12781)
It seems clear that a healthy Saki could have implemented the stick and move range fighting that can cause Overeem problems. However, and this is the problem that we get from single night tournaments, Saki had his right hand and elbow broken in his previous fight with Ghita. Overeem only needed to hit a couple well timed shots and he was going to the final.
In the other semi final, the legendary Peter Aerts put on an all heart fight of the night performance by upsetting tournament favourite Semmy Schilt and taking a decision. After such a hard fight, it wasn't clear if Aerts would have enough in the tank to make it competitive against the Reem.
Alistair Overeem vs. Peter Aerts - K1 2010 Final Fight 1080p (via jamesblack12781)
It is painful to watch. The 40 year old Aerts, weary from going the distance with the number one heavyweight in the world, clearly had nothing for the Reem.
Although Alistair had a relatively easy GP, with key missing fighters, and opponents not being 100 percent when he faced them, winning a GP title, possibly the last ever, is an incredible accomplishment. Its not clear to me that Overeem's high guard close style will translate well into MMA, but I can't wait to find out.