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UFC Fight Night: Alistair Overeem vs. Walt Harris Toe-to-Toe Preview - A complete breakdown

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Phil and David break down everything you need to know about Overeem vs. Harris for UFC in Jacksonville (again), and everything you don’t about flattening curves.

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Alistair Overeem vs. Walt Harris headlines UFC on ESPN 8 this May 16, 2020 at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.

One sentence summary

Phil: Harris meets horsemeat

David: Non-disparagement gauze

Stats

Record: Alistair Overeem 45-18-1 NC | Walt Harris 13-7-1 NC

Odds: Alistair Overeem +125 | Walt Harris -135

HIstory / Introduction to the fighters

Phil: Alistair Overeem is one of the UFC’s cadre of eternal heavyweights. He will sit towards the upper end of the division, a few spots above Andrei Arlovski, until the sun dims and the seas freeze over and Jormungandr begins the final battle with Thor which heralds Ragnarok. At this point, Alistair Overeem will drop to #15 in the UFC’s heavyweight division.

David: I remember questioning Overeem’s MMA potential after his time in K-1. I know. That was the height of his hype, and all I could think was ‘but his chin…’ His documentary with El-P on the soundtrack got me pumped to see him stateside. And then in typical Overeem fashion, nothing was ever quite what it seemed. The losses piled up early. And then something very un-Overeem happened: he stabilized. I mean, maybe not now. But there was a solid two-year stretch where it seemed like he might live up to the memes of Overeem’s clenched mask on top of Ed-209. Now he’s Ed-209 stuck in the vulnerability of one of part two’s robo flops.

Phil: It is hard to talk about Walt Harris without mentioning the hideous tragedy which has surrounded him for the last year. In a better world he would be riding a career high and a modestly impressive win streak which is heading him towards the upper end of the division. This world is much sadder than that one.

David: While many of us are only navigating around temporary loss, Harris is navigating around a deeper, more permanent loss. None of this is to diminish the challenges we all face. Just that, Harris is entering the cage not just a different fighter, but a different human. Career-wise, he’s on the up. He hasn’t lost in two years, and would have had four consecutive wins if he didn’t get popped for a drug named after Mudvayne’s debut album.

What’s at stake?

Phil: Overeem is no longer “title shot” level gatekeeper, but beating him still means something. Similarly, Harris has put together a decent streak. Opponents for either man are likely to be along the lines of Volkov, Sakai etc., perhaps Blaydes if its Harris.

David: Both guys bring the heavyweight violence, which means a great performance can always raise the stakes in and of themselves.

Where do they want it?

Phil: All jokes about his ranking surviving the heat death of the universe aside, Overeem is clearly on the downslope. The outfighting style that he developed at Jackson Wink was fairly dependent on him still being able to close distance with shocking speed to land a big rear power hand from either stance, or kick to the body. That pure speed is definitely waning, as is his physical strength. What’s mostly keeping him in the game is his broad brush craft, as he has a level of skill in basically every area of MMA that most heavyweights honestly don’t have in even one. The other main element to note is that Overeem has paradoxically become a lot better at leveraging a cardio edge as he’s aged. Whereas before he’d empty the tank on a flurry of ultraviolence, he’s learned how to drain opponents by mashing them into the cage and staying a couple of steps ahead in clinch exchanges. He still doesn’t have fantastic cardio (see the Rozenstruik fight) but it is at least a weapon that he knows how to use now.

David: Overeem has had to adjust for many different things throughout his career. As a LHW he was a pocket attacker. Once he let Rob Liefeld draw his body, he had to adjust making the switch from K-1 back to MMA, which forced him to defend differently. And now he’s adjusting the latent variables that always kept him back; ability to take punishment, cardio, etc. This constant struggle between the flesh and the mind has lent Overeem into more of an analytic fighter. It doesn’t really suit him. Overeem is not built to anticipate offense, be selective, and walk around the field of heavyweight bullets for 15-25 minutes. But because he’s so dangerous otherwise, he can. Even in fights he lost, like against Rozenstruik and Blaydes, I got the sense that Overeem lost because he’s too withered to dance with the violence he brought, at least consistently. His fight IQ makes him more durable, but not more efficient. No longer a tracker, Overeem is a fight sweeper. Make a mistake, and he’ll clean out those brain cells. Landing brutal knees in the clinch, crushing with an overhand right, or mixing it up with takedowns — that’s the easy part. The hard part is what happens when he misses a spot.

Phil: Whereas Overeem has become a well-rounded collection of MMA skills, Harris is basically just an incredibly distilled southpaw striker. Right hook, left cross, left body kick and head kick. That’s pretty much it. He has fairly good lateral movement for a heavyweight and combines that with good enough baseline athleticism that he can shuck shots from poor wrestlers, but he’s not much of a grappler. Given space to work, he can build on a diet of feints, but he doesn’t work at a particularly high pace. Fortunately for him, unless this hits the mat he likely won’t have to.

David: Harris is like a doom metal band. The same, crunchy, thunderous riffs played out in redundant fashion makes for a predictable beat. But predictable beats can still bring the beats. Harris attacks with a body kick from distance, typically to preamble his punch entries, and once he’s there, he’s got a quick mixture of straightline and wide angle strikes to quickly break down opponent’s defenses. He needs these stops and starts, which could either work against him, or for him.

Insight from past fights

Phil: If there’s a good sign for Overeem, it’s the Sergei Pavlovich fight. Up against a specialized striker, Overeem was able to take him down ASAP, and clobber him on the mat. Then again, against Rozenstruik he tried the same thing and looked... kind of awful.

David: Overeem’s defense has improved over the years. I feel like he’s truly ditched his penchant of earmuffing his way out of punishment. Problem is, he no longer has the speed and athleticism to slide out of pressure. When you watch that attack on Spivak, it’s a pristine example of how Overeem can get slaughtered: with Harris punching through, and around Overeem’s predictable posture.

X-Factors

Phil: The standard Coronafactors apply (curtailed training camps etc), as do Harris’ potential mental state and Overeem’s physical decline.

David: It’s a sports card being held in the middle of a global pandemic. “lmao” as you so eloquently put it the other day.

Prognostication

Phil: Overeem is more skilled and has a clear path to victory. There’s a solid chance he turns the clock back a la Teixeira vs Smith. That being said, he’s also getting slower and has never been the most durable fighter, so unless he can pick up a finish on the floor, and early, I’m just not sure I can trust him against someone with Harris’ power. Walt Harris by TKO, round 2.

David: Overeem has always been a pretty thoughtful fighter. As he’s gotten older, I think he’s torn between having the mind to be a philosopher in the cage, and having a body that can no longer get away with quiet moments of reflection. Maybe Overeem thinks he can solve each new puzzle, and relishes the challenge. Maybe that’s exactly what he does. Or maybe it’s Harris’ time. Walt Harris by TKO, round 1.