The Ultimate Fighting Championship will be counting down to the New Year with a rare event on a Friday night as UFC 141 emanates from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
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The headliner features two of the biggest and most feared fighters in the world today as Brock Lesnar collides with Alistair Overeem in a heavyweight title eliminator.
In other action, Nate Diaz will battle Donald Cerrone in a pivotal lightweight showdown, plus top-ranked welterweight Jon Fitch finally returns to the promotion and red-hot prospect Alexander Gustafsson faces a stern test in his ascent up the light-heavyweight ladder.
Here’s a closer look at the televised main card:
Brock Lesnar (5-2) vs. Alistair Overeem (35-11)
Two of the most physically imposing specimens in UFC history will battle in a colossal clash of styles as the decorated collegiate wrestler Lesnar looks to spoil the promotional debut of Overeem, a Dutch kickboxing sensation and the last reigning Strikeforce heavyweight champion.
Lesnar, 34, is returning from an extended layoff after being sidelined with a second bout of the intestinal disorder diverticulitis. Lesnar has since undergone surgery as he had a 12-inch piece of his colon removed. Since returning to the gym, the former professional wrestler claims to be in the best shape of his UFC tenure.
With only seven professional fights under his belt, Lesnar is still relatively new to the sport. However, Lesnar has already tasted greatness as he claimed the UFC heavyweight championship from Randy Couture in November 2008. He knocked off Frank Mir and Shane Carwin in his subsequent octagon appearances before losing his belt to Cain Velasquez at UFC 121 in October 2010.
More than 12 months have passed since Lesnar last saw action, but the extra time spent refining his skills in the gym alongside the likes of Marty Morgan, Erik Paulson, Pat Barry and Tim Hague could prove valuable as he readies to take on arguably the best striker in the entire sport.
The 2000 NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion has endured constant criticism as he effectively transitioned from the realm of Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment to the most competitive professional fighting organization on the planet.
After being overwhelmed in the first round of his title bout with Velasquez, Lesnar is still faced with skeptics. Many pundits have questioned the durability of Lesnar’s chin and his ability to take a punch. However, the fact remains that Lesnar is largely successful bringing fights into his comfort zone. Once he gets his opponent on the mat, his strength and suffocating control are unmatched by any other heavyweight.
Overeem, 31, is coming off a lackluster decision win over Fabricio Werdum under the Strikeforce banner this past June. The fierce Dutchman barely eked out a win after an exceptionally cautious performance in which he was hesitant to let his strikes go or engage the Brazilian in any action on the mat.
In terms of experience, Overeem has a significant edge over Lesnar with 47 professional fights and 14 kickboxing bouts to his credit. Overeem is unbeaten since a September 2007 loss to Sergei Kharitonov in Pride, but the majority of his victories have come against questionable opposition such as Paul Buentello, Gary Goodridge, James Thompson, Brett Rogers and Todd Duffee.
For the majority of his early career, Overeem competed as a light heavyweight. He amassed notable wins over Vitor Belfort and Igor Vovchanchyn, while dropping fights to Chuck Liddell, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Mauricio Rua, Ricardo Arona and Werdum.
Since moving up to heavyweight, Overeem has bulked up immensely, which has also led to widespread accusations of steroid use. Overeem has yet to test positive, but there is no denying his transformation from a lanky fighter during the Pride days to the gargantuan behemoth we see today. There has also been some minor controversy with his drug testing in the weeks leading up to this bout as he allegedly submitted a test several weeks late and also requested a urine sample be returned from his doctor, which was ultimately denied.
While Lesnar has been forced to answer questions about his pro wrestling background and deficient striking pedigree, Overeem has had to endure scrutiny about his massive size and quality of opponents, or lack thereof.
Interestingly, Overeem’s most impressive accolade in recent memory was his K-1 World Grand Prix victory last year in which he vanquished top-ranked kickboxers Tyrone Spong, Gokhan Saki and Peter Aerts to win the prestigious tournament and lay claim to the title of the world’s best heavyweight kickboxer. Perhaps even more shocking was his left-hook knockout of the legendary Badr Hari in a December 2008 kickboxing match.
Overeem has truly cemented his place as an elite striker, but his submission grappling background could also be an X-factor on fight night. Overeem has submitted 19 of his foes and is known to possess a dangerous guillotine choke. If Lesnar gets careless, Overeem could catch him.
In assessing the list of both Overeem’s conquerors and victims, he has never faced a wrestler even close to the caliber of Lesnar. “The Demolition Man” was hesitant to strike with Werdum because he feared being taken down. Lesnar, meanwhile, has successfully taken down every opponent at least once.
Overeem must time Lesnar’s shot perfectly with the aim of connecting with a fight-ending combination, while Lesnar must waste little time putting Overeem on his back and keeping him there.
Relocating from the Golden Glory team in Holland to join Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas was a key move for Overeem as he has trained with world-class wrestlers to prepare for Lesnar’s greatest offensive weapon.
Overeem’s brute strength could also be a game changer. If Lesnar struggles to keep Overeem on the ground, the fight will begin to sway in the Dutchman’s favor.
With that being said, Lesnar’s wrestling base is nothing to scoff at. Overeem is fighting an opponent unlike any he has encountered before and Lesnar’s smothering wrestling and vicious ground-and-pound should be an eye-opener.
A striker with Overeem’s experience, technical prowess and brutalizing power should never be discredited. But he will rely on a striker’s chance, while Lesnar has a whole blueprint to victory if he can close the distance and secure his patented takedown.
Lesnar took NCAA wrestling standouts Carwin and Velasquez down, which leaves little doubt he will be successful shooting in on the former Strikeforce torchbearer. Overeem’s only hope is to catch him charging in or to overpower him during a scramble, which has been an insurmountable task for most of Lesnar’s adversaries thus far.
Ring rust and inexperience could impact Lesnar’s performance, but he should still be favored based on his vastly superior wrestling background. With Lesnar’s sights set on redemption against Velasquez and another run as UFC champion and the winner of this fight already guaranteed a crack at heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos, Overeem could be in for a rude awakening.
Lesnar will look to bull-rush Overeem from the opening bell, wrapping his arms around the K-1 king and planting him on his back. From there, Lesnar should unload with his trademark lunchbox-sized fists en route to a resounding first-round knockout victory.