Yesterday we examined the unusual ways in which the unlikely Alistair Overeem was able to throw off and upset kickboxing superstar, Badr Hari on New Years Eve 2008. Today we'll be looking at their rematch in the semi-final of the 2009 K-1 Grand Prix. It was entirely appropriate that these two enormous men resolve their feud on the biggest stage in the kickboxing world and the match certainly did not disappoint.
The initial match had a myriad of complications around it such as Hari's emotional state having been disqualified in the final of the Grand Prix just 3 weeks before after fighting 3 matches in one night, and Overeem's relatively unknown stand up status (winning most of his MMA matches by ground and pound, clinch work or submissions and still against pretty mediocre opposition). The second bout, while placed in a one night tournament where a great many unknowns can affect either man's performance, was far from a freak show match made at last minute and both men had ample time to prepare and plan.
The fight is only one round, and the clock is visible in all of the stills that I use, so I encourage you to follow along for this one!
One might wonder what can be gathered in technical analysis of such a short bout, but in truth shorter matches often take place because a gameplan comes to fruition almost perfectly and surprisingly early. It was Overeem's up jab and counter left hook which gave Hari fits in their original meeting.
Hari's change of strategy was evident from the opening bell as every time Badr Hari threw his punches he moved his head to the right side of Overeem's head, away from Alistair's troubling left hand.
Notice as Hari opens with a hard one two (1 - 3 above), he places his head on Overeem's right side, away from the left hook and left up jab that stunned Hari last time and served as a counter to his own wild punches. Here Hari moved straight into a clinch (4 above) with Overeem and was thrown to the floor, but Overeem's status as a pretty one sided puncher (before he began to develop his right hand cross counter) was already being exploited.
Moments later Hari was tested for the first time as Overeem lunged in with his cheat punch - throwing an up jab with his left hand as he stepped forward with his right leg, placing himself in perfect position to throw his infamous left knee strike. Where Hari's guard proved tailor made for Overeem's up jab when he wasn't familiar with the strategy, he had clearly been training to defend it for this fight as he was able to block it by turning his guard to deflect it from the inside (2 below).
As Overeem stepped up to connect his left knee strike Hari used his left elbow and forearm to stiff arm Overeem away (3 above). As Hari did this he made sure that his stance was wide and his feet were almost level so that he could drive off of his right leg for power in his short right hook across the jaw (4 above). These sort of punches in cramped spaces have been a staple of Hari's career as well as Vitor Belfort's (though obviously against much less experienced striking opposition). Hari only glanced Overeem with this short right hand across the jaw, but had hurt numerous K-1 legends with it including Peter Aerts and Semmy Schilt, it would land harder a few minutes on.
As Hari went back on offense he routinely ducked way down to his left as he punched - as far away as possible from Overeem's counter left hook. 1 - 3 below clearly demonstrate this.
Even when opening up with combinations Hari was constantly circling away from Overeem's left hand. In the sequence below Hari throws a jab, a right straight, a left hook, a right hook to the body, another left hook and another right hook to the body, all while circling to Overeem's right. Take a look at it in the video at the top of the page and notice how much respect Hari gives to the counter left hook which knocked him out in their first meeting.
After Overeem lost his cool yet again and threw Hari into the turnbuckle, the referee broke the action and the two men returned to the feet. Hari, however, had his back to the corner and Overeem was almost certain to try to attack him, hoping to obtain a clinch and rough Hari up.
Yesterday I hinted that Hari's method for defeating Overeem in the rematch could be glimpsed in his comeback knockout of Ruslan Karaev. Those of you who have since watched that fight, or can remember it, will recollect that Hari was able to knock Karaev out cold as Karaev leaped in to hit Hari with a left hook. Hari moved his head away from the punch in a deep lean and landed a hard right straight inside of the hook. This is certainly one of the most effective counter punches in the boxing repertoire and Barney Ross notably declared it to be the most dangerous if it connected in his book The Fundamentals of Boxing.
As Hari came out of the corner he met Overeem and as Overeem moved in to land a hard left hook, Hari landed a straight right inside of the left hook that put Overeem on wobbly legs. Hari moved in behind it and pushed Overeem's face away with his left forearm again. From here Hari connected his short right hook from the clinch again and sent Overeem stumbling to the mat.
As Overeem attempted to recover, Hari went into full swarming mode. No fighter in the sport of kickboxing finishes quite as well as Badr Hari when their opponent is hurt. Overeem did an excellent job of covering up but Hari went to his signature hand trap. Placing his left hand on Overeem's left glove, Hari ripped Overeem's guard down and threw a hard right hand before Overeem could recover his guard.
To see this technique in it's full brutality, start watching the below video of Badr Hari vs Ray Sefo from the 3:15 mark.
As Overeem stumbled back with his hands out of place Hari was able to land a glancing left high kick which caused Overeem to stumble yet again, only staying upright because he hit the turnbuckle, and the referee waved off the bout.
This rivalry was short lived, with Hari's constant legal troubles and Overeem's move to the UFC, but it is truly one of my favourites in perhaps all of K-1 history for the simple reason that aside from being explosive and entertaining, it ultimately made both fighters improve their games. Badr Hari had gotten into something of a rut when he first met Overeem, being in the habit of simply steamrolling many of the elder statesmen of K-1, and in the second bout he was able to show how incredible he could be by fighting to a sensible, self preserving strategy.
Alistair Overeem, for his part, had been exposed as a one handed puncher. Hari was happy to dip directly into Overeem's right side all throughout the fight without fear of repercussions. Where Overeem had been able to hold his own against Remy Bonjansky, Peter Aerts and Ewerton Teixeira with just his versatile left hand and knees, he was going to have to up his boxing game to crack the upper echelon. From his bout with Ben Edwards, Overeem's right hand cross counter (a right hook over the opponent's jab) became a staple of his game, and carried him through the 2010 Grand Prix. Many write off a rubber match with Hari as a foregone conclusion, but in truth it would be incredibly interesting to see what Hari could do against an Alistair Overeem with two hands.