Alistair Overeem vs. Alexey Oleinik headlines UFC St. Petersburg this April 20, 2019 at the Yubileyny Sports Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
One sentence summary
David: A bloodletting by another name.
Phil: Ezekiels and smitings from the biblical era of HW MMA
Record: Alistair Overeem 44-17-1 NC | Alexey Oleinik 57-11-1 Draw
Odds: Alistair Overeem -235 | Alexsei Oleinik +215
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: If you were to look up the definition of the word “polarizing” you’d find a definition of the word “polarizing” right next to a picture of Overeem licking his lips over an image of Seabiscuit and Barbaro. Overeem started out as the Hot Young Prospect of LHW. Then he became the Has All the Tools but Can’t Put it Together gatekeeper. A new diet, and some kickboxing experience later and Overeem was suddenly the Most Dangerous Man on the Planet. Now he’s just Exciting Heavyweight Guy. It’s crazy to think we’ve reached a point where Overeem is neither elite, nor bad, but just another warm body, but that’s kind of what I’m feeling right now.
Phil: Aĺistair Overeem has been doing this whole ‘fighting’ thing for a minute now, and while there are many fighters that you could see having careers late into their pugilistic dotage, Im not sure that I ever would have seen The Reem as one of them? I would have seen him off chasing pro-wrestling type paydays in whatever the equivalent of Rizin was. But here he is, doggedly ploughing away in a quest for that elusive UFC title.
David: Where Overeem is the embodiment of that exciting border between dangerous, and endangered, Oleinik is that exciting border between eccentric, and quixotic. We’ve had the former: see Machida or Gunnar. We get the latter, but only once every full moon: see Diego, Aoki, everything involved in ZST, or that time Matt Hughes canceled practice in favor of Bible Study. It’s possible that Oleinik crosses that threshold and becomes someone to fear, but for now, I’m just gonna go on with my life and expect that an Ezekiel choke champion from 1996 is about to randomly die.
Phil: Speaking of expectations, how on earth did Oleynik end up here? He was supposed to be a fun novelty, not someone who ended up on legit win streaks and edging perilously close to title contention. You can’t even put it down to any kind of stylistic evolution, but at the moment me and Alexiy have a deal: he turns up and tries for wacky subs, and I watch.
What’s at stake?
David: Overeem’s reputation? I’m starting to realize how dumb I sound, counting Oleinik out. It’s not that (the counting him out part; I’m absolutely as dumb as I sound and look). It’s just that there’s a shelf life on weird in MMA. Shinya Aoki is one of the most talented fighters I’ve ever seen. He was weird. And he’s been killed multiple times. The UFC loves their suburban angst, and anachronistic musical tastes. I have to think this is their way of putting a “hit” out on Oleinik. You can’t ride the foul-mouthed, 8-sided tiger forever.
Phil: Overeem has had some bad losses, but this would have to be the worst one, right? Much as I love Oliynyk, I would class him as a substantial step down from, say, Ben Rothwell.
Where do they want it?
David: Is this a hot take? Am I the only one who thought Overeem was an actively bad striker at 205 during his Pride days? It wasn’t just the knockout losses to Shogun, Liddell, and Hoffman — or the yearly losses to Nog’s little brother in what were glorified boxing matches. He also just had a limited arsenal. Despite his reach, you could never count on him to land a big overhand right. Obviously, Overeem figured it out and became one of the most dangerous strikers of his generation. But I think part of his issues lately stem from him reverting back to his old self. Like a scene out of Altered States, he’s gone backwards. Thankfully, he now has a protective layer of muscles and vitamins to threaten the opposition with each punch. But a lot of his current stylistic issues invoke his classic style: where he’s all about strike selection. It’s not bad to be opportunistic. Just like, despite his losses back then, he was still a solid LHW prospect. But defense doesn’t win championships at heavyweight, and every second Overeem spends not moving forward is another second his opponent has to land some random shot that deads him.
Phil: Overeem is sliding out of the sport on a series of style changes, but has largely settled into his latest incarnation as a range boxer-puncher: lots of lateral movement spiced up with occasional bursts forward, stance switching into big power shots from either side, or kicking offense. His speed has definitely taken a hit, but he remains physically powerful, nasty in the clinch and a tremendously underrated top position grappler. He has a great guillotine, and while we’re unlikely to see it actually work, it may serve to insulate him from Oleinyk’s own choke offense. He is, of course, also one of MMA’s premiere glass cannons.
David: I still don’t even know what to make of Oleinik. Everytime I watch him I find myself still struggling to even define him. In some ways, he really embodies what makes heavyweight so different from other divisions. Which is to say that heavyweight is a lot like the Stanley Cup playoffs. You can be the most talented thing in the world — heck, the most talented thing of the last half century — but the sports gods will find a way to turn your success into a tragedy anyway (complete with melodramatic tweets from the team’s official Twitter account). You think this wasn’t Travis Browne’s feeling as he rocked Oleinik, bullied him in the clinch, but found himself tapping to a neck crank? Oleinik didn’t need to do anything fancy. He barely needed to do something. He just kept lumbering forward, eating shots, eventually landing an overhand right, and was then able to finish the fight with his patented...moves.
Phil: Oleinik is an old guy with long arms who has spent a lot of time choking people out. In almost every area of MMA he gives up significant technical and physical edges to Overeem, with one exception: he’s incredibly durable. That... might be enough? If he can just clomp forward and wing shots, Overeem has shown that his composure still does occasionally abandon him. Oliynyk also has a tendency to give up traditional clinch positions (double underhooks etc) in order to set up his beloved Ezekiel chokes, so it will be interesting to see what the Dutchman’s approach is if and when they lock up.
Insight from past fights
David: One of the things that sticks out with Oleinik; despite his grappling prowess, he still doesn’t really excel in the clinch. It’s similar to the Ronda Rousey problem: a great grappler who had no way, didn’t know, didn’t bother, and didn’t have coaches that were interested in sharpening her wrestling skills so that grappling is something should could do consistently. Oleinik kind of just defends when he’s in the clinch, throws punches, and goes for the takedown. I suspect Overeem will be able to maul him in the clinch of Oleinik is just thinking about how to transition into some goofy, old fashioned armbar.
Phil: Grappling with Oleynyk has not necessarily been a death sentence. Omielanczuk and (to a lesser extent) Blaydes were able to somewhat expose the fact that his game is just not built to win rounds. Over a five round fight, it’s more than plausible that Overeem could run a top position game on the Russian. I doubt he will, but it’s worth thinking about.
David: If you try to earn a living attempting to defeat a former king, you better not miscalculate. James, help me out here.
Phil: None really. There’s always the risk that Overeem suddenly goes from a slight decline to a major one, but I don’t think anyone would be shocked by that.
David: If Oleinik had better wrestling, better striking, or better anything, I’d give him a chance but Oleinik’s biggest strengths will require so much of crossing point A (standing at range) B (maybe clinching up) and C (actually submitting an adept grappler) to get there. That’s why I have Overeem by utter destruction. Alistair Overeem by TKO, round 2.
Phil: Overeem is not the kind of guy who is ever totally insulated from his opponent’s offense, but he’s also been remarkably hard to get to unless attacked by very dynamic fighters in his recent run. Mark Hunt, Fabricio Werdum, even JDS were all slightly slow but powerful and durable opponents, and he largely managed to cruise by all of them. Will I be surprised if he gets club’n’subbed? Absolutely not. Alistair Overeem by TKO, round 3