Two of the biggest men in MMA (literally) will collide tomorrow night (Dec. 30, 2011) when former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar takes on Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem in the main event of UFC 141: "Lesnar vs. Overeem" in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Lesnar is finally competing in the Octagon after more than 14 months away from the sport because of a battle with serious health issues, which he says he has finally put behind him thanks to surgery. The former "Baddest Man on the Planet" is still hungry to get his world title back.
And to do so, he's going to have to face the sturdiest heavyweight striker in mixed martial arts (MMA) today.
Alistair Overeem has spent the last four years destroying everyone in his path ever since permanently moving to the heavyweight division. He easily claimed the Strikeforce and DREAM heavyweight titles, as well as winning the K-1 Grand Prix kickboxing title in 2010.
He hopes to get a crack at his ultimate goal, the UFC belt, if he can get by Lesnar.
Will Lesnar be able to shake off the rust and put Overeem on his back? Can Overeem test Lesnar's chin and physically force it to fail? What's the best path of victory for both men tomorrow night?
Let's find out:
How he got here: Brock Lesnar has had one of the wildest and craziest careers of any MMA fighter in the brief history of the sport. Beginning as an amateur wrestling, he ground his way up from high school to junior college to Division I in Minnesota to become a story of hard work paying off when he became the heavyweight national champion.
Instead of chasing the Olympic dream, he signed on to compete in professional wrestling, becoming the face of the WWE for several years and winning multiple "professional" wrestling titles while traveling the globe. Not satisfied, Lesnar gave it all up to become a legitimate sports star. After failing with a tryout for the NFL, he transitioned to MMA.
The rest, as they say, is history.
In just his second professional fight, he was signed by the UFC to face former champion Frank Mir and was laying the wood to him before getting caught in a kneebar. Undeterred, Lesnar rebounded to thrash Heath Herring and proceeded to win the UFC heavyweight title from Randy Couture in just his fourth fight.
He participated in the biggest fight in MMA history when he destroyed Frank Mir in a rematch at UFC 100. And after a bout of diverticulitis nearly killed him, he came back and defended his belt against Shane Carwin in one of 2010's most incredible comebacks. He would lose his title to rising star Cain Velasquez and a number one contender bout with Junior dos Santos shortly afterward was scratched when Lesnar relapsed with diverticulitis.
After corrective surgery that removed one foot of his colon, Lesnar was finally able to bulk back up and he accepted a bout against Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem with the winner earning a shot at new UFC heavyweight champ Junior dos Santos.
How he gets it done: Lesnar has to keep it simple here. He's got a longer reach than Overeem, so don't be surprised to see him throw a few wayward jabs early against the musclebound Dutchman, but everyone knows he wants to take this fight to the ground.
The second Overeem opens up the slightest with his striking (or even if he doesn't), Lesnar is going to duck his head, charge forward and try to blast him through the Octagon canvas with a powerful double leg takedown. The key here will be if Lesnar can put "The Reem" on his back and can he keep him there.
If Lesnar can pin Overeem either on the canvas or even on the fence, he needs to immediately go to work with his massive fists. Say what you want about how Lesnar responds to getting hit, Overeem doesn't respond that well, either. If Lesnar can hold Overeem down and repeatedly blast him with heavy punches, there's a very good possibility that he could make "The Demolition Man" fold under his extremely heavy pressure.
Another thing Lesnar needs to do is close the distance. If Overeem gives him an opportunity, he needs to get inside immediately and get right in his face. even if he doesn't score a takedown, it gets significantly harder for Overeem to strike back if Lesnar is inches away from rather than several feet. As long as Lesnar keeps up a high pace and pushes Overeem around, he could make the Strikeforce champ wilt.
Record: 35-11 (1 No Contest) overall, 0-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: Fabricio Werdum (Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum), Mark Hunt (Dream 5), Vitor Belfort (Twice: Strikeforce: Revenge, Pride Total Elimination 2005)
Key Losses: Mauricio Rua (Twice: Pride 33, Pride Final Conflict 2005), Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (Pride Critical Countdown Abolute), Fabricio Werdum (Pride Total Elimination Absolute)
How he got here: Alistair Overeem got off to an inauspicious start with his MMA career as a light heavyweight. He fought some of the best in the world in the Pride organization, but always seemed to come up short against the likes of "Shogun" Rua, Chuck Liddell, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Fabricio Werdum.
Then, of course, the transformation happened. Overeem started to bulk up and fill out his lanky frame to become "Ubereem." There's been plenty of speculation as to how he got so big and transformed himself so drastically, but that's another story for another day.
Since become a full-fledged heavyweight, Overeem has been unstoppable, winning and defending the Strikeforce heavyweight title, as well as the DREAM heavyweight title, most recently against Todd Duffee.
"The Reem" has been busy, also fighting in K-1 kickboxing events. He announced his presence to the world with a first round knockout of Badr Hari at Dynamite!! 2008 and he proved he belonged by winning the single night K-1 World Grand Prix 2010 Final this past December, defeating three men in one night.
Overeem scored the biggest victory of his professional MMA career earlier this summer against Fabricio Werdum, avenging a loss in the first round of the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix. He dropped out of the tournament with an injury and after temporarily being cut by Zuffa, he was resigned to face Lesnar in what expects to be 2011's biggest money MMA fight.
How he gets it done: There are two major keys for Overeem here. The first is to properly gauge distance. If he can do this, Lesnar's shots will be telegraphed and he'll have much more time to either get out of the way, sprawl or perhaps counter with a massive knee. The second key for Overeem is to test Lesnar's chin whenever he gets too close, whether with punches, kicks or again, the massive knee.
Overeem doesn't have the wrestling background, but he's physically strong enough to utilize some judo techniques if Lesnar is too aggressive charging in. He's also got terrific timing with his strikes after years of training in one of the world's top kickboxing gyms. Lastly, while it might have lost some effectiveness because of his muscle mass, Overeem still has a wicked guillotine that could choke even someone of Lesnar's caliber out if he shoots in too wildly for a takedown.
The most important thing for Overeem to do is to be ready to pounce at a moment's notice. If he can tag Lesnar with a punch to the face and he sees the former UFC champ show even a glimpse of being in trouble, he has to go and go immediately. Lesnar can recover if given a few seconds, but if Overeem goes to work on him with big flurries of strikes when he's hurt, he likely will never get the opportunity.
Fight X-Factor: There's a huge X-Factor for both fighters. The first is Brock Lesnar's layoff. He's been away from MMA for more than 14 months now dealing with his second stint with diverticulitis. At some point, at 34 years old, that has to take a toll on him in the cage. Ring rust is a very real thing and he could get off to a slow start, or potentially come in wild like he did against Cain Velasquez trying to overcompensate. While he may be as big as the old Brock Lesnar used to be, he's likely not going to be the same fighter at least in his first match back.
The other factor is Alistair Overeem's level of competition. Sure, he's battled some of the best kickboxers in the world, but in MMA, he has not, especially not in the last four years since he transitioned to heavyweight. In all honesty, he only holds one significant MMA victory in the past four years and that was his most recent fight, a lackluster decision against Fabricio Werdum in a bout where Werdum did not want to stand with him for a second and may have been slightly intimidated. In fact, Overeem has never really faced any wrestler in the heavyweight division even remotely in Lesnar's caliber. How he handles Lesnar's shot is going to be a huge question heading into this fight.
Bottom Line: Both of these men are huge stars in their own right and both men are capable of bringing nearly unprecedented levels of violence to their fights. Lesnar will be trying to smash Overeem's face in with ground and pound while Overeem will be hoping to crush his opponent in the stand-up exchanges. Depending on who can impose their will on their opponent, this could be a one-sided thrashing or a back and forth war. Prepare yourself for anything and everything, Maniacs. This one could be over in seconds or it could last all night. It all depends on how much respect both men have for each other and how much they are willing to engage at full speed. I'm siding more with a short fight myself.
Who will come out on top in at UFC 141? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!