It’s an odd feeling that, in a fight with almost no mystery at all, nobody is quite sure what to expect from Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem.
The two gargantuan heavyweights meet this week in the main event of UFC 141, a fight neither can afford to lose and one where there are no secrets about either man’s game plan. Lesnar will wrestle. Overeem will strike.
That’s about the extent of what we know for sure.
Lesnar returns after a 14-month absence owing to a second serious bout with diverticulitis. He had a foot-long section of diseased colon removed during surgery and then spent the bulk of the summer recuperating on his Canadian ranch. There were rumors of weight loss and whispers that his doctors told him he should give up MMA altogether, but he showed up to the initial prefight press conference in San Jose last month looking as fit (and gigantic) as ever.
Overeem has also been out of the cage for an extended period. He fought just once during 2011 – an underwhelming unanimous decision win over Fabricio Werdum in June – before either injury or miscommunication with Strikeforce knocked him out of that promotion’s grand prix tournament. Immediately following, Overeem was absorbed into the UFC, but it has been no picnic for him ever since.
Already one of the sport’s most scrutinized fighters after tremendous weight gains in recent years, Overeem was late getting his “random” out-of-competition drug test in to the Nevada State Athletic Commission earlier this month. The NSAC granted him a conditional license anyway, but the testing snafu just added to a tumultuous training camp that saw Overeem move his base of operations from Europe to America and back again, later revealing that his mother was gravely ill at home in the Netherlands.
Since both guys experienced some significant adversity prior to this event, there’s no telling how much (if at all) either back story will affect the actual fight. No matter. The physical attributes here are enough to keep us busy on their own.
Lesnar has certainly grown to look somewhat less invulnerable after his last couple of appearances in the Octagon. He slipped past Shane Carwin by the skin of his teeth at UFC 116 last July and then lost his heavyweight title to Cain Velasquez via complete destruction at UFC 121 four months later. The first performance illustrated the holes in his standup game. The second one made those holes seem cavernous.
Assumedly, what you expect to happen this weekend depends on how you think Overeem will be able to capitalize on those holes. Or the job Lesnar will be able to do keeping out of harm’s way.
The thing Overeem does really well, after all, is strike. Yet, he doesn’t fit the mold of either Carwin or Velasquez, both outstanding wrestlers who were able to neutralize Lesnar’s early takedown attempts and then make him pay with their fists. Will Overeem, as close to a pure striker as you’ll find in MMA anymore, be able to stay upright?
And he if can’t, will he be able to survive Lesnar’s ground onslaught long enough to force a standup or wait out the end of the round?
Nobody knows. Nobody knows much about this fight, and that could ultimately make it more interesting than the sheer size of either of the competitors.