Welcome to the 2nd installment in the Bloody Elbow Fact Check series - a new series designed to tell you which of these "K-1 level strikers" Joe Rogan is yelling about was actually good at kickboxing. Last time, we took a look at WSOF fighter Tyrone Spong. This time, it's the highest profile K-1/MMA crossover fighter of this generation - The Reem, Alistair Overeem.
This weekend, Reem takes on Frank Mir in a must-win fight for both men at UFC 169. Overeem's K-1 credentials will surely be a point of discussion Saturday night, but what exactly do those credentials mean? Let's see what we can figure out.
One accolade on Reem's kickboxing resume stands out in bright, shining lights - 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix Champion. And as far as kickboxing goes, there is no bigger title. The K-1 World Grand Prix tournament dates back to 1993, and champions have included the spot's very elite. Overeem's 2010 win immediately places him on a pedestal, as well it should.
But some historical context is needed. First off, Overeem at the time was splitting his time between MMA and kickboxing, and as a result, was fighting somewhat infrequently in K-1. In addition, K-1 itself was in no great shape, and would shut down operations after this tournament, so they were not producing many shows at the time. Still, K-1's troubles were not reflected in the quality of this tournament, which included pretty much all of the sport's best at that time: Semmy Schilt, Peter Aerts, Daniel Ghita, Gokhan Saki, Tyrone Spong, and yes, Alistair Overeem. He won that tournament by defeating Spong in the opening round, then Saki and finally Aerts.
Cynics will point to certain circumstances as demerits against Reem's win. Saki was injured by Ghita prior to the Reem fight, and Aerts had just defeated the #1 in the world Schilt in a tough fight. But the truth is, that's the nature of the Grand Prix. Many past GP winners have taken the crown under less than perfect circumstances. In 2002 Ernesto Hoost only got in as an alternate; in 2001 same for Mark Hunt; in 2007 Schilt won when Aerts blew out his knee; in 2008 Bonjasky won by DQ when Badr Hari lost his mind; in 1998 Aerts had an easier path to the finals than Andy Hug; etc, etc. The point is, that's how tournaments work. Some chips did fall Overeem's way, but he capitalized on them, and yes, he was the best Heavyweight kickboxer in the world at the end of 2010.
Then he never fought in kickboxing again. Not really his fault, as K-1 essentially folded and Reem became a Zuffa employee, but still, he never has defended that status.
So instead of looking forward from his GP win, let's look backwards at what led to it. Overeem had a sporadic kickboxing career early on, but all that really matters is his two year run from 2008-2010. On New Year's Eve 2008, Overeem, very much an MMA fighter, took on the #2 K-1 Heavyweight in the world, Badr Hari. And in just 2 minutes, Overeem knocked him out. This was a huge win - imagine a good but only marginally above mid-level boxer coming in to the UFC and stopping Junior dos Santos. It was a big, big win.
From there, Overeem moved on to, naturally, the sport's #1, Remy Bonjasky, who Reem took to the limit in a close decision loss. After that, Reem did what Reem (at that time) did best. Crush people. He brutally KO'd the highly ranked Ewerton Teixeira, along with Dzevad Poturak and Ben Edwards. He defeated Peter Aerts, and came in third in the 2009 K-1 GP, losing via KO to his rival Hari. Then he won the GP and poof, he was gone. Along the way, he developed from a big brawler into an aggressive but deceptively skilled fighter who used his physical attributes well to maximize both his defense and his offense.
His record for that two year run: 8-2, coming almost entirely against the sport's highest level.
FINAL FACT CHECK:
In the end, it's very tough to accurately assess Overeem's status because of how it ended. Imagine Jon Jones beating Shogun Rua and then retiring. Or a quarterback coming into the NFL, winning the SuperBowl his 2nd season, then walking away. How would you look at that career? That's very much the question with Overeem.
On the one hand, you can look at all he accomplished. Wins over Hari, Spong, Aerts, and Saki; a close battle with Bonjasky; a Grand Prix crown. Those accomplishments are not matched by too many in the sport.
On the other hand, there's what he didn't accomplish. He never did defeat Bonjasky. He never closed out the trilogy with Hari. He never fought a healthy Saki, never Daniel Ghita. Perhaps most damming of all for a fighter at that time, he never fought the true king of the mountain, Semmy Schilt. [This is a good place to add this caveat as well: he never fought under a strict commission who drug-tested. Make of that what you will.]
So while Overeem's GP champion status earns him a spot on the K-1 Wall of Fame, it's a low spot. He's not a top 20 K-1 Heavyweight of all time, and is definitely the weakest K-1 champion (possibly excluding inaugural champion Branko Cikatic, who was from a completely different era and hard to compare).
Is he a "K-1 Level Striker" Joe? Absolutely, and he deserves recognition as such. But you have to balance what's on his resume with what's not, and when you do, you get a solid K-1 Heavyweight, who found a moment of brilliance, and never showed how long he could sustain that moment.
Alistair Overeem Highlights:
Overeem vs. Badr Hari I
Overeem vs. Ewerton Teixeira
Overeem vs. Gokhan Saki
Overeem vs. little girl
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