In the main event of the evening on the Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum main card on Saturday night, current Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem (34-11-0-1) will battle former UFC fighter and the man who beat Fedor Emelianenko, Fabricio Werdum (14-4-1), in Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix quarterfinal action. Werdum is likely the more recognizable fighter of the two from a casual standpoint, finishing up his UFC career in October of 2008 and amassing a 2-2 record before being shockingly released after being knocked out by current UFC heavyweight contender Junior dos Santos at UFC 90. Contract disputes were at the heart of his dismissal. He had previously dispatched of Brandon Vera and Gabriel Gonzaga while dropping a decision to Andrei Arlovski in his debut with the promotion.
Werdum made his way to Strikeforce a little under one year after his release, submitting Mike Kyle in 1:24 seconds by guillotine choke. He stepped up his level of competition in November of 2009, defeating Antonio Silva by decision at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers before signing to fight Fedor Emelianenko in June of 2010. Most fans gave Werdum slim to no chance, but he prevailed, catching Emelianenko in a triangle choke as Fedor pounced on Werdum to finish the fight. Fedor could not escape, tapping at the 1:09 mark of the first round.
Overeem has a lesser resume, beating up mostly past their prime veterans and mid-level competition since his move to the heavyweight division. His more impressive accomplishment was winning the K-1 World Grand Prix in 2010. He defeated K-1 staples Tyrone Spong, Gokhan Saki, and Peter Aerts to win the crown and admiration of fans everywhere, furthering the belief that Overeem may be the true king of MMA's heavyweight division.
There has been plenty of talk regarding Overeem's record. The word "overrated" has been thrown around often, and I fail to see how Overeem embodies the word. He is now a massive heavyweight fighter and comparing light heavyweight affairs to his feats in a 265 lb. frame is illogical. It's also been years since his fights in the light heavyweight division, and fans seem to forget that time can improve a fighter's skills. Overeem has not only improved, but the added muscle he has at heavyweight has made him highly dangerous.
Unproven is the better word as he has yet to face legitimate, upper-echelon competition at heavyweight, and Saturday night's encounter with Fabricio Werdum will be his first true challenge. In fact, I'd argue that it may be a more challenging fight for him than against a guy like Junior dos Santos or the other heavyweights below him in the UFC ranks, mainly due to Werdum's threatening ground game.
Werdum's technical skills and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu credentials make this an intriguing chess match of sorts. He isn't as big as Overeem, but from a technical standpoint -- he has the ability to bring Overeem into his world on the ground and overwhelm his defenses.
But I'm not buying into the idea that Werdum can easily exploit Overeem's ground game. Fans seem to forget that Overeem wasn't overly deficient on the ground in his first bout against Werdum, sporting a lesser physique than he does today. He's far from an expert grappler, but he's not a beginner either.
Furthermore, Werdum isn't a fighter who typically explodes through his competition's defenses in the takedown department. He's more of a clinching fighter who likes to take down his opponents from a position battle along the fence. Unfortunately for Werdum, Overeem's clinch is one of the most devastating sights that any fan can watch in the sport. Brutal knees and the power to manhandle his opponents give Overeem a major advantage in that area of this fight.
How does Werdum ultimately win this fight? Creativity. He'll need to strategically avoid Overeem's massive hooks and uppercuts from range, hoping he can find an opening to trip Goliath or roll into a ground exchange with him. Without a takedown, Werdum will likely crumble from the power of Overeem in the stand-up game, and he will be punished along the fence with destructive force.
Overrated? Perhaps we'll find out if that word truly describes Alistair Overeem 2.0 on Saturday night. I, on the other hand, think Overeem will prove what many fans believe is true. He's the next in line to legitimately contend for the title as world's best heavyweight fighter. Overeem brutally destroys Fabricio Werdum on Saturday night inside the first round.