It was doubtful that a former pro-wrestler could waltz into the sport and live up to the hype that was being piled on him, regardless of his legit wrestling background or freakish athletic talent. Then, after he proved his potential, Lesnar was diagnosed with diverticulitis and his fighting career was uncertain. He persevered through the affliction and returned to action, but was then labeled as "afraid of getting hit" for his performances against Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez. The diverticulitis reared its ugly head again and now some are predicting he's on the verge of retirement.
Overeem was plagued by suspicions of dabbling in performance enhancers, mostly based on a newly bulging physique and scarce appearances on North American soil. He was consistently derided for not defending his Strikeforce heavyweight championship in timely fashion, for padding his record by tackling unimpressive competition overseas and, most recently, for being afraid to challenge the world class BJJ of Fabricio Werdum.
Tonight, in the compelling headliner of UFC 141: Lesnar vs. Overeem, they both have the prime opportunity to silence the critics -- at least temporarily. With a crack at newly minted champion Junior Dos Santos' belt at stake, the duo of massive heavyweights will finally be judged by the only thing that really matters: how well they can fight.
Match up analysis in the full entry.
The salient factors are obviously Overeem's devastating kickboxing, Lesnar's overwhelming wrestling and how effectively each can implement their strengths.
After the way Lesnar handled Frank Mir in their rematch, it was clear he'd developed a solid grasp of technical knowledge. Rather than relying solely on brute strength and power, Lesnar complemented his ferocity with an intelligent strategy of control. Mashing his head into the cage to immobilize him, Lesnar buried Mir under his girth and rattled him with a nonstop volley of skull-crushing right hands.
Lesnar's better understanding of submission grappling allowed him to enforce a highly effective anti-BJJ strategy and signified a key stage in his evolution. His striking also looked markedly improved in his stoppage of Randy Couture. He seemed more comfortable in his stance, his punches were straighter and tighter and his power was still fully intact. Enduring the momentous onslaught of Carwin and finishing him with an arm-triangle solidified his growth and showed that he had a big heart and wouldn't just curl up when pushed to his limits.
While Lesnar deserves credit for making such admirable strides in such a short time, he still seems to struggle in putting it all together. Overall, his striking is more polished, he keeps his hands up for better defense and his wrestling is much more attuned to MMA, but he has trouble flowing smoothly between the changing variables of striking vs. grappling and offense vs. defense.
Overeem doesn't have the typical style of a lauded K-1 kickboxer. Where many pure striking crossovers rattle off a wide variety of picture-perfect combinations with textbook fundamentals and footwork, Overeem is more of a vicious and calculating stalker who slowly creeps into firing range and blasts away with a left hook and leaping knees. Those two weapons account for the vast majority of his knockouts, either as the finishing blows or the sequence that triggers it.
In this particular match up, Overeem's tactics will suit him well. Knowing Lesnar can't match him standing and will want to ground the fight, his stable and methodical approach will allow him to maintain his balance and keep his hands in an ideal position to defend takedowns. He's a mauler at close range with huge power in his knees and short punches and, while he can't contend with Lesnar's wrestling, his burly strength and stellar Thai clinch will be valuable in staying afoot.
Overeem is still capable on the ground and has a great guillotine, but I don't see anything saving him if Brock is able to contain him on the mat. He doesn't have the most active set of hips and Lesnar will not waste the opportunity to petrify him with unshakable control and inflict major damage.
I think the chances of Overeem wilting under the pressure of Brock's suffocating top-game are just as likely as Brock's when faced with Overeem's crushing stand up. Overeem's takedown is defense is decent but entirely unproven against someone of Lesnar's caliber, so his striking and ring generalship will be his first line of defense for takedown attempts.
I've gone back and forth on this fight all week: I can envision Lesnar charging Overeem, planting him on his ass and finishing in the first round just as well as Overeem back-pedaling and cracking Lesnar with a left hook early. I'd categorize this fight as a coin-toss with sensible arguments for either man winning.
My Prediction: Alistair Overeem by TKO.