The case for Werdum:
As ugly as it looked to most commentators and fans, tonight, I saw some intelligent strategy from Fabricio Werdum in a fight that I found appealing and, brace yourself, thought about actually scoring for the BJJ Blackbelt.
By pulling guard, aggressively striking and then rushing in with telegraphed takedowns, Werdum was successful in limited Overeem’s output, successful in landing un-countered strikes and it created at least two rounds that I at least thought about scoring for Werdum.
The Reason Werdum seemed to Outstrike Overeem:
Let me start out by responding to claims that Werdum actually lost the fight for himself by pulling guard constantly instead of following up his surprisingly successful striking. The fact is this fight was a throw back to an old school striker versus grappler style fight. One fighter, Werdum clearly needed to get the fight to the ground by any means necessary and the other fighter, Overeem, clearly needed to keep the fight on the feet where he could show off some of his K-1 class striking. In fights like these, wrestling is often the deciding factor; who ever can control the location of the fight will probably win.
The thing is, both Overeem and Werdum were quite aware of this fact and had to adjust their games accordingly. For Werdum, this meant closing distance (with strikes) and shooting. For Overeem, the vital role of wrestling and controlling local meant always having his sprawl ready. Unfortunately for fans hoping for another aggressive knockout, what this sprawl-readiness required of Overeem was a more intelligent/passive (pick what ever word you think fits) style on the feet in order to prevent Werdum from shooting under a strike.
As a result, Werdum could more easily and recklessly charge the sprawl-ready Overeem with strikes and not have to worry about counters so long as he ended his barrage with a shot. In a sense, Overeem was almost handcuffed; unable to punch at his wide-open opponent because of the fear of the takedown and what even one could mean for his tournament future.
Some great examples of this kind of strategy come from Georges St.Pierre who has routinely outstruck high level boxers like Thiago Alves and knockout punchers like Matt Serra or BJ Penn by first putting the fear of the takedown in his opponents; forcing them onto their back heels and forcing their attention to their sprawls instead of their strikes.
In short: The fighter who can threaten with both strikes and takedowns can outstrike the striker and take away his much better hands by scattering his attention between strikes, takedowns and sprawls.
The Reason Werdum’s strategy was a good one:
Let me make it simple: pulling Guard does two things to the dynamics of a mixed martial arts fight:
1. It takes the match to the floor
2. It takes the match away from the feet
Yeah, I know that sound stupid. Obviously a guard pull does those two things. In fact, it does both at the same time, so why am separating those ‘things’ into a 1 and a 2? Well, I separate those things because, for some reason, people seem to be forgetting about part 2.
As I mentioned earlier, Werdum was successful with wild strikes that both landed and backed Overeem off and he did so mostly because Overeem had to stay mindful of a takedown and thus could not advance or counter freely. This limited Overeem’s output. By adding in the threat of guard-pulls from the clinch, Werdum was able to further handcuff Overeem who spent much of the fight standing over Werdum asking for another standup instead of looking for a KO punch.
To make the strategy even sweeter, if the frustrated Overeem ever obliged Fabricio “Please get in my guard, im begging you!” Werdum, and he did once or twice, “The Demolition Man” would be forced into play the role of a passive blanket defending mostly weak submissions and doing little else.
To make it short, again,: With Overeem forced into a passive gameplan, Werdum was able to control the local of the fight and outstrike the passive and scattered Dutch striker.
Im torn and I need to rewatch the fight. I can confidently say that I scored the first round for Werdum. Overeem landed a handful of bombs but none were followed up with finishing strikes because of Werdum’s guard-pulls and takedown attempts. Overeem’s output was kept low and Werdum was allowed to do most of the work from the feet.
The second and third rounds were tougher to score. It’s hard to accurately read the damage done by Overeem’s big knees – was Werdum stunned and dropped or did respond to a strike from Overeem with a guard pull (preventing any follow-ups!)? How should a strike like this be weighted?
Also, does Werdum deserve the round based on early punches and kicks that actually forced the Horse-Meat-Eater to back off and cover up at times …or should 2-3 shots from the much harder puncher later in the round earn a 10-9 for Overeem?
On that note: This might be a good fight if anyone is studying late round bias because Werdum did most of his work early in each round.
Regardless of the way you want to score it, what I saw tonight was not a boring and bizarre take-the-steam-out-of-the-GP fight that most think it was. What I saw was an interesting strategy put to use by a grappler who figured out an unorthodox way to take away a K-1 champions striking …and it impressed me.
The Reason my faith in Overeem has dissipated …a bit:
I don’t blame Overeem from playing a passive game in the face of Werdum’s unique strategy and I also don’t blame Overeem for risking the entire tournament and a high profile streak by falling into Werdum’s guard. But! I did see something that worried me: Overeem was so gassed by the end of this fight that Gus Johnson actually put the mic in front of his face thinking that some heavy mouth breathing was the beginnings of some after-fight talk. As a result, everyone in the arena and everyone at home got to hear Overeem let out a massive sigh. Funny as it ways, it was yet another sign (on top of some heavy mouth breathing through out the third round and after the fight) that Overeem’s gas might still be a problem especially when his opponent mixes up grappling and striking. Its been a long time since we’ve seen Overeem’s infamous gas tank in this state, but its also been a long time since the StrikeForce champion has been three rounds and a long time since he’s fought a grappler. I am a big Overeem fan, but a gas out like this against a fighter with better wrestling might be exactly what ruins all of Overeem’s hype and high rankings and, when I look over the tournament brackets, I cant help but notice that both Antonio Silva and Josh Barnett have better wrestling than Overeem.