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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Vegas 9: Overeem vs. Sakai - Main card preview

Get the scoop on the hard-hitting action from this weekends latest UFC showing, headlined by heavyweight KO artist Alistair Overeem looking to turn away young buck Augusto Sakai.

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Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

MMA fans can’t have nice things. Either that, or I should accept the new normal of at least one fight per card being cancelled within 48 hours of an event taking place.

We were supposed to be getting a women’s bantamweight contest between Karol Rosa and Sijara Eubanks, a strong favorite to earn FOTN honors. Instead, Rosa’s weight cut went poorly and she ended up hospitalized. While I am disheartened to hear of Rosa’s condition and pray for a strong and full recovery, it is disappointing from a fans point of view. I’ll admit there are several other main card contests that offer a degree of satisfactory intrigue, but card headlined by a pair of plodding heavyweights tends to need as much fast-paced firepower as possible. If we don’t get a violent finish in the main event – far from a promise – we may not find this card to be fulfilling

Alistair Overeem vs. Augusto Sakai, Heavyweight

One comparison between Overeem and Sakai and they come across as polar opposites. Overeem looks akin to something Michelangelo carved out of stone. Sakai more closely resembles a guy who got off a barstool to go fight ala Tank Abbott. Overeem has 17 submission victories on his record. Sakai doesn’t have any. Overeem has been KO’d 14 times. Sakai never has been finished.

As any MMA fan knows, that’s all just on the surface. A fighter’s physique doesn’t determine their success. A lack of submissions doesn’t mean a fighter is incompetent on the mat and a plethora of subs doesn’t mean one is a grappling wizard. 14 KO’s doesn’t… well, 14 KO’s does mean something. Unless you’ve fought as often as Travis Fulton of course….

The main thing I picked up in the course of studying these two is how much both prefer operating in the clinch. It’ll be a shock if the contest doesn’t end up there for long periods of time given it could be argued it is the biggest area of strength for both combatants. For years, we’ve all known about the dangers Overeem’s knees can present to his opposition. There are several strong examples in his UFC run alone. Mark Hunt. Frank Mir. Alexey Oleinik. Roy Nelson. Even if Overeem didn’t finish all of those named opponents, he ravaged their bodies by driving his knee into their bodies and heads. Sakai, not nearly as athletic or flexible as Overeem – despite being about a decade younger – relies more on dirty boxing. It isn’t nearly as sexy as Overeems preferred method, but he does a good job of wearing out his opponents, turning a fight into a battle of attrition. That could prove difficult as Sakai struggled the last time he fought a savvy clinch fighter in Chieck Kongo. In fact, Kongo is his only loss….

One wrinkle that we’ve seen from Overeem is making the fight more of a grind. Overeem has been a measured fighter for several years at this point, but the last couple have seen him slow even more. Before you say it’s because he’s getting old, it appears to be by design. Overeem has been on the receiving end of some of the most violent KO’s in recent memory and has done everything he can to protect his chin. Part of that is picking his spots to attack and taking the fight to the mat. Should Sakai get the leverage in the clinch, look for Overeem’s trips to come into play. A submission seems unlikely – Sakai is reputed to be solid on the mat and Overeem hasn’t submitted anyone since 2009 – but Overeem seems likely to have the advantage given his experience and physical advantages.

One area many have speculated Sakai should have an advantage is in stamina, despite his doughy frame. Sakai tends to outwork his opposition, not just in the clinch. No, he doesn’t have the technical prowess of Overeem, nor does he have the one punch power. What he does have is the willingness and ability to absorb damage, stalking down his opponent to put the punishment upon them. If he can avoid Overeem’s heavy artillery, there’s a strong chance he can work his way to a decision. However, this is the first time he’s been scheduled for a five-round contest. He may take a more measured approach to ensure his tank doesn’t flag… which might play right into Overeem’s hands.

Overeem isn’t what he once was when he was at the peak of his powers. However, he’s still a force to be reckoned with after a career spanning over two decades. That’s impressive as hell, even if he is seemingly on the decline. Sakai is on the rise and possesses impressive durability in a division where that’s a major factor. However, his ceiling doesn’t appear to be the heights Overeem has achieved. Despite his age – and despite his fragile chin – Overeem is still the better athlete, the more technical striker, with more ways to end the contest. A Sakai victory isn’t out of the question, but there are too many questions overall for me to feel comfortable picking him to get a breakout win. Overeem via TKO of RD3

Ovince Saint Preux vs. Alonzo Menifield, Light Heavyweight

This contest was scheduled to go down just two weeks ago before a positive COVID test by OSP moved it back two weeks on the day it was supposed to go down. Little if anything has changed since then… so enjoy a repeat of what I wrote two weeks ago. Call me lazy if you want, but you also have to call me honest.

Does anyone else find it weird that OSP is 37-years old? The former University of Tennessee linebacker – the UFC will never let you forget that – has been under the UFC banner ever since the UFC bought Strikeforce all the way back in 2011, meaning it shouldn’t be a shock. The thing is, OSP has maintained a high degree of athleticism despite his advancing age, allowing him to remain a relevant name at 205. No one is touting him as a contender any longer – four losses in his last six appearances makes that a hard sell – but he still looks like a credible gatekeeper to the top ten.

Stamina is always the key factor with OSP. If he gets tired, the typically durable big man is prone to getting hurt. However, it goes the other way too. He’s had opponents throw the kitchen sink at him early only to slow significantly themselves. Of course, if OSP moderates his energy levels, he’s very hard to put away, thus making an early onslaught a difficult proposition. OSP’s own offense can be inconsistent. There’s times where he sits back and picks his spots, tossing out jabs with the occasional burst of explosive offense for a potential finish. Other times, he has opted to aggressively pursue takedowns, perhaps in hopes of applying a Von Flue – or should I say, Von Preux – choke. He’s been less apt to go that route as of late as that’s usually the route that tends to tire him, but he’s also become more apt to snatch an opportunistic takedown.

However, having said that OSP has largely abandoned the idea of wrestling early, it might be a route he takes against Menifield. A former collegiate linebacker himself – in addition to time in the CFL and Arena Football League – Menifield packs a bigger wallop in his punches than OSP, no small feat. One look at his tree trunk legs should be all one needs to know about his ability to explode. However, his last contest was not only the first time he went to decision, it was the first time he had a fight go past the six minute mark… and the first loss of his career. Devin Clark pulled him into an ugly, grinding affair heavy on clinch work and wrestling. It resulted in Menifield gassing early and losing his ability to explode. That was less than three months ago. I’m sure Menifield learned something from that loss, but that’s also a short amount of time to institute real change effectively.

OSP is hard to predict. He isn’t a bad wrestler and it may be worth engaging Menifield in a wrestling contest if it means Menifield gets tired too. Otherwise, he’ll want to keep Menifield at the end of his jab and that hasn’t always been the most effective strategy for the lanky OSP. I struggle to see Menifield not being able to land a couple of hard shots, but OSP is more likely to make a fight-ending mistake grappling than he is on the feet given his durability. OSP wears out Menifield enough to get a late stoppage. OSP via submission of RD3

  • With all due respect, I don’t think Jalin Turner was who Thiago Moises had in mind when he said he wanted a notable opponent following his win over Michael Johnson. Nonetheless, it’s not like Turner is going to be a walk in the park by any stretch. At 6’3” with a 77” reach, Turner is an absolute physical beast at 155. Throw in the fact he’s an underrated wrestler and it’s not hard to see why so many see a bright future in him. However, he hasn’t yet been able to take advantage of his length defensively and his UFC wins have come against very questionable competition. Moises has faced much tougher competition and while he hasn’t always come out on top, he hasn’t been finished – he’s one tough SOB – and appears to be learning from his experiences. At the very least, he knows how to make tactical changes amidst a fight. Turner will probably win the striking battle, but the question is if he can survive Moises’ ground attack. Some would question if Moises can even get the fight where he’ll have the biggest advantage, but I think all it will take is one venture to the mat. Moises via submission of RD2
  • I’m sure there are plenty who think I should be giving a bigger spotlight to Michel Pereira, but I favor substance over style and Pereira is 1-2 in the UFC. Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge he’s uniquely entertaining and was well on his way to a win over Diego Sanchez before a bonehead foul got him DQ’d… but how much do we want to put behind a win over Sanchez at this time? Regardless, when he isn’t doing backflips onto his opponent or practicing his dance moves amidst a fight, Pereira is very dangerous. All successful fighters have a minimal amount of fear when they fight. Pereira shows none. He’ll throw anything within the realm of reality and his explosiveness makes anything he throws lethal. Plus, he’s durable as hell. However, he also has little concept of energy conservation. Zelim Imadaev has the skillset to be the one creating a highlight moment in this contest. He’s a sound athlete, possesses a rangy frame, and has enough wrestling to mitigate Pereira’s offense. The problem is, Imadaev tends to fight fire with fire, not the right approach to take with Pereira. He might be grounded enough to make the eccentric Brazilian pay for his reckless approach, but there hasn’t been enough proof to convince me otherwise. Pereira via KO of RD1
  • The first male competitor on the UFC roster to step in the Octagon four times in 2020, Brian Kelleher almost didn’t make it when his original opponent pulled up lame. Fortunately for fans, the opportunistic Kelleher is going to make it thanks to Kevin Natividad being willing to step in on short notice. Kelleher is double tough and as scrappy as they come. He tends to lose fights until he isn’t, pulling a submission or a heavy hook out of nowhere as the opposition gets a little too comfortable. Of course, Kelleher’s reckless nature has made him vulnerable to submissions on that mat, but it’s rare that he goes to the mat without his deciding to do so. Given Natividad favors mixing in takedowns with his boxing, I’d be shocked if we don’t see how well Kelleher’s takedown defense stands up. Natividad has some fast hands, surprisingly long reach, and plus power. However, he’s also willing to eat a punch or two to deliver his brand of offense. That may not be the approach he wants to take with Kelleher. Kelleher via submission of RD1