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UFC 203: Stipe Miocic vs. Alistair Overeem Toe to Toe Preview - A Complete Breakdown

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Phil and David break down everything you need to know about Miocic vs Overeem for the Heavyweight title in Ohio, and everything you don't about the intangible virtue of being colon-less.

Artwork by Phil MacKenzie

Stipe Miocic vs. Alistair Overeem is the main event for heavyweight's main prize this weekend of September 10, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

One sentence summary:

Phil: Everybody Hurts in this long-anticipated match of Reem vs R.E.M.... wait, wrong Stipe.

David: Overeem looks to fulfill his life long quest of fighting efficiently after three minutes against life long firefighter, part time UFC champion.


Record: Stipe Miocic 15-2 Alistair Overeem 41-14-1 NC

Odds: Stipe Miocic -135 Alistair Overeem +115

History / Introduction to the fighters

Phil: Every heavyweight has to have at least one embarrassing, horrorshow loss. For Stipe it was against Stefan Struve, which is quite a bad one to have in all honesty. This combined with significant time on the shelf helped to keep Stipe under the radar. He was a +280 underdog to Roy Nelson(!), and when he lost a razor thin decision to JDS it was put down to Cigano being done rather than a great fight between two elites.

So he snuck up on the heavyweight title. This stealthy approach was enabled by the way that he represents what would be a "normal" fighter in a different weight class: a skilled wrestleboxer. In the division of freaks, perhaps the greatest freak is the regular joe.

David: I was a massive Miocic skeptic because I could never shake that Struve fight out of my head: watching it again it's kind of amazing how plodding he looks compared to what he's grown into. His growth is often understated until you watch that Struve bout again. I'm still a modest skeptic though. I feel like a few fighters have the potential to derail his cinderella narrative. Except this isn't unbearable oscar bait directed by Ron Howard, so should Stipe end up being the Heavyweight stability we've been waiting for, I won't complain.

Phil: I've genuinely enjoyed Overeem's recent run. It makes heavyweight look... good? Like a place worth paying some measure of attention to beyond gently chuckling as two sweaty behemoths blunder together and one falls over, and then sighing as you realize you have to rationalize it.

I'm not sure I buy a huge amount of Overeem's character redemption at Jackson-Wink. I bet he's still a smug asshole, but I don't care. In a heavyweight world where the metaphorical rock-paper-scissors is dominated by people shouting "rock? ROOOCKKK?!?" and then smashing them together as hard as humanly possible, it's been a pleasure to see someone utilizing all the options at his disposal

David: To be honest, heavyweight narratives are starting to become downright dizzying. Overeem was a pretender turned contender, turned pretender again, turned contender now potential champion. Somewhere in there his K-1 status made him a god, but that's another story. Horse meat or not, Overeem has reached what finally feels like the pinnacle in his career. It feels like only yesterday we were talking about this LHW's potential if he could only fight past three minutes. Wait, feels exactly like forever. Kudos, Alistair.

What's at stake?

Phil: Stipe defending the belt on home turf? Thinking about it, though, "home turf" has often been a pathway for the MMA gods to generate particularly awful losses recently. Werdum in Brazil, Cain in Mexico City, Gus in Sweden.

Overeem has the chance to do what Alvarez did, and add the UFC belt to what is already a pretty impressive collection.

David: The main thing at stake here is heavyweight status. A win for either man makes heavyweight just a little more interesting, as both men have taken advantage of something that feels like a proper trajectory of the positive variety. With how Cain and JDS looked recently, maybe reports of the division's death have been greatly accentuated, just minus the cynicism.

Where do they want it?

Phil: This is the infrequent fight where we have two fighters in this division who can both be described as outfighters. Stipe's best analogue is likely Bisping, working from the edge of boxing range with rhythmically interspersed jab, hook and one-two combinations. He's a little better at slipping and returning fire than Bisping generally is, but he still has the same approximate problem: it's a space where he takes shots. He does have the added benefit of being able to hit takedowns, though.

The ability to counter which he showed against Werdum is... rare. Not even rare, but probably unique for where he is. This kind of singular tactical skill can be a game changer, in good divisions as well as bad ones. For example, the ability to not just move off the cage but return fire while doing so allowed Eddie Alvarez to batter Rafael dos Anjos. Meanwhile, Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz put forth an undeniably great fight... which was also undeniably characterized by whichever fighter happened to have his back to the fence getting pasted. Essentially, singular skills can be a cheat code against fighters who've literally never fought up against someone who can do something as un-heavyweight as punching while going backwards.

David: Miocic has this real, no nonsense method of range fighting. You mention Bisping, which is correct, but I think his diet animal is Jorge Masvidal too. Both have a sense of posture pugilism; maintaining the stance for violence before enacting violence. Miocic isn't as technical, pound for pound, but both fight with poise to compliment their mechanics. His power isn't supernatural, but his punches are chambered, and accurate. The Werdum fight isn't a good example of his power because Werdum moved forward like only silly string was protecting him from entering the doorway. His last three fights have helped emphasize how far you can at heavyweight with just plain accuracy and timing.

Phil: Overeem has really settled into his role as a strategically deployed swiss army knife of MMA techniques. The sheer depth of skill he has in multiple facets of MMA means that it's surprisingly difficult for opponents to capitalize on his historic flaws: mediocre cardio, a suspect chin and a general tendency to fold under pressure. Two of the three should block him out of consistent high-level success, but Overeem is almost unanimously agreed to have all three.

And yet. He's been able to land clipping calf kicks at distance, body kicks slightly closer up. He switches stances adroitly to further confuse distance, and has adopted the shifting left hook which Connor has broken down here. He's one of the best clinch fighters around, he can hit reactive takedowns, and he's a terror from top position. He's fast, has a deceptively long reach for the division, and hits incredibly hard. Judicious deployment of this diverse skillset allows him to fight without of running out of options or gas.

David: Overeem's problems early in his career are well established canon: he couldn't fight effectively past 3 minutes, and his cardio suffered further the more you hit him. These intangibles never really left. But what he's done nowadays is insulate those flaws with intelligent pressure, and better defense. He's morphing into MMA's version of boxer Terry Norris. Where before he could only fight in a way that eventually laid those flaws bare, now he fights in a way that hermetically seals those flaws as long as he's patient, phase shifting, or in top control.

Insight from past fights?

Phil: As something of a quitter, Overeem has always hated being on his back (ref: the Shogun fight). The weird thing, though, is that neither guy has ever really fought anything I'd consider as much of a wrestling threat in their UFC tenures. Overeem has the better track record, as he stuffed Werdum a bunch of times back in their awful rematch and he beat the terrified and colon-less version of Lesnar.

Conversely, Miocic was taken down on several occasions by Gabriel Gonzaga. He was able to scramble to his feet, but the takedowns have an interesting dynamic here: I think they're more likely to be successful if initiated by Overeem, but will be far more effective if successful from Miocic. I'm also curious to see if Miocic has developed his clinch offense a bit more- he was very much focused on wrestling rather than strikes against JDS, but Overeem will be happy to land knees any time they're locked up.

David: The problem with that scenario for Miocic is that he doesn't close the distance quickly. He's comfortable at range boxing, but having to reset requires the kind of effort Overeem can easily predict and counter. He's just not quick enough to make Overeem think twice. Overeem will only be threatened by an athlete's feet moving in for a double leg or knee tap. Anything less (Miocic) gives Overeem time to counter first with the clinch, and then sprawls, limp legs, or counter takedowns. The clincher is 'the clinch. Good luck trying to create something out of nothing in the clinch against Overeem.


Phil: The aforementioned home field curse? Not much else I can think of. These two have been models of professionalism of late. The essential randomness of the fight between a guy who gets hit and a guy who can't afford to is always there though. Maybe it's Jacksons. They've done a pretty stellar job of getting Overeem ready for his UFC fights thus far and seem to thrive when they have a deeper well of tricks to pull from than their opponents.

David: The home field curse is as legit as the Blair Witch. Stipe better make that snot fueled confession before it's too late.


Phil: Close fight. Miocic's ability to counter, his pace and his durability are all tough asks for Overeem. On the other hand, Overeem can win in the clinch and even hit reactive takedowns, and he has a massive advantage if Stipe moves back out to kicking range. While he has to walk a very fine tightrope, I'm just too much of a mark for EcoReem to not pick him. Alistair Overeem by TKO, round 3.

David: You don't need to be a mark. Overeem has all the tools necessary to threaten Miocic in all the ways Miocic should fear. Unlike most of Overeem's recent losses, Miocic doesn't have the kind of velocity to his pressure to get Alistair thinking about the knuckle tattoo Chuck Liddell left on his forehead back in 2003. Stipe will need a certain type of urgency to get Alistair making that one false move, and I don't think he has that necessary instinct. Alistair Overeem by Guillotine, Round 2.