Former Strikeforce Heavyweight kingpin, Alistair Overeem, is set to battle with fellow knockout artist, Andrei Arlovski, this Sunday (May 8, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 87 inside Ahoy Rotterdam in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Back in 2014, Overeem's UFC career was in serious jeopardy. The Dutchman had lost three of his last four via knockout, and that sole victory came in the form of a ho-hum decision win against a very unmotivated-looking Frank Mir.
Since then, Overeem's adjustments and move to Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA have taken effect. He's won his last three fights in clear and fairly dominant fashion, including a knockout victory over Junior dos Santos. If he can extend his win streak to four here, Overeem will have as strong a case for a title shot as anyone.
Let's take a closer look at his skill set:
Once Overeem was in the UFC competing at the highest level, his method of kickboxing that he had been utilizing to great success in K-1 showed some holes. Namely, Overeem was too stationary and relied on his guard to defend himself, which is a difficult proposition in tiny MMA gloves.
These issues -- along with a habit of gassing himself out -- cost Overeem some important wins and caused him to absorb many punches.
Since then, Overeem has made some significant strides in changing his game. Rather than simply marching forward into the clinch, Overeem has adopted a more in-and-out style of striking to great results.
As a reasonably long and tall Heavyweight with far more tools and experience than the majority of his competition, this style makes quite a bit of sense for him. At range, there are very few Heavyweights who want to exchange kicks to the body and legs. Personally, I can't think of anyone who would be truly comfortable at that distance with "The Demolition Man."
That's a far stronger statement than I can make about trading punches with Overeem. In that realm, Ben Rothwell -- and to a lesser extent "Bigfoot" Silva -- was more than happy to absorb a punch to land one, and the end result should make it clear why.
The best example of Overeem's recent outside work came in his last two bouts with Roy Nelson and Junior dos Santos. Against two men looking to punch, Overeem maintained his distance and picked his opponent apart.
At the edge of his kickboxing range, Overeem keeps his arms wide and stance low. Moving often and switching his stance, Overeem is very much reading his opponent's reactions and movements. This is a man with 70 total professional MMA and kickboxing bouts -- he's experienced enough to quickly analyze his foes.
While he's analyzing and looking for opportunities to land massive, finishing blows, Overeem is working. Mostly, Overeem is looking to smash his opponent's lead leg with inside or outside low kicks. He'll fire both from either stance and is focusing on speed, which helps him safely score and further widen the gap between his movement and his opponent's own footwork.
In extremely Jackson-Winkeljohn fashion, Overeem has also added a number of linear low kicks to his game. Regardless of whether he's throwing a stomp kick to the thigh or an oblique kick, Overeem is simply making it more difficult for his opponent to close the distance.
As mentioned, Overeem is looking to find his kill shot. In terms of kicks, that's undoubtedly his left kick to the body. Usually fired from his Southpaw stance against an Orthodox opponent, Overeem can cause his opponent to crumble if this kick lands cleanly to the mid-section (GIF)
Rather than walk forward and throw in combination, Overeem now looks to bounce in with hard strikes. This is another common trait of Winkeljohn-trained kickboxers. In Overeem's case, it definitely makes sense, as Overeem can gauge the distance and his opponent, waiting for the perfect moment to unleash a bomb.
Overeem's last bout with dos Santos was the absolute best illustration of this. Early on, Overeem barely threw any punches, but he did score with a couple hard left overhands. By lunging in from a distance that dos Santos could not effectively strike from, "The Reem" was able to do damage while keeping his opponent's accuracy quite low.
As Overeem's distance control frustrated his opponent, he became more effective. By the second round, Overeem was chaining kicks together and landing far more frequently. His left overhand was more accurate, and he usually exited safely by rolling or ducking away afterward.
Finally, Overeem knocked out dos Santos. After spending a round analyzing his reactions then picking him apart for much of the second, Overeem had figured his opponent out. Switching to Orthodox after fighting most of the bout in Southpaw, Overeem pressured his shaken opponent, waited for the jab he knew was coming, then slipped inside and blasted his opponent with a left hook (GIF).
While it no longer plays the center role in his striking arsenal, Overeem's clinch work absolutely must be mentioned. Overeem's left knee to the stomach -- from range or from in the clinch -- is infamous, and it's dropped or finished some very talented fighters.
Inside the Octagon, Overeem is exceptionally dangerous if he's able to force his opponent into the fence. While that may be more difficult since he's lost some weight and muscle, it's undoubtedly still a threat. From that position, Overeem excels at hand-fighting and controlling his opponent's posture, as he'll patiently create the opportunity to drive his knee through his opponent's liver (GIF).
Despite his improvements, Overeem still has a couple of issues. While it hasn't happened lately, it's worth mentioning that Overeem has a history of fatiguing. Once he gets tired, his feet become planted, and he relies far too heavily on his arms to defend himself.
Currently, the bigger issue is that Overeem sometimes allows himself to be trapped along the fence and simply covers up. Roy Nelson and dos Santos were too hesitant to really capitalize, but many other Heavyweight could.
While Overeem has never been the most determined wrestler -- he is a K-1 Grand Prix champion after all -- it has slowly become a more active part of his game. Considering how effective his top game is, that's not such a bad idea.
Overeem has an interesting style of takedown that he usually looks to. After changing levels and driving into his opponent's hips, Overeem will looking to move up into the clinch. From there, he'll often simply begin his assault on the mid-section, but Overeem has also spun around to the back clinch or overpowered his opponent to the mat in the initial entrance with a body lock.
Alternatively, Overeem does have some nice trips after securing the clinch. For example, he spun "Bigfoot" Silva to the mat with a slick throw.
Once on top, Overeem's ground striking is devastating. That was his path to victory opposite Stefan Struve, as Overeem quickly threw his foe to the mat. Once there, Overeem did a very great job of controlling one of his opponent's hands while striking with the other, pounding his opponent into unconsciousness (GIF).
Defensively, Overeem is a very difficult man to take down. Unless he's gassed out, Overeem is either maintaining too much distance to be taken down or simply stalking his opponent from a low base that's difficult to penetrate.
Overeem is a very talented grappler. He's found success in grappling tournaments and has finished 19 of his opponents via submission. That said, Overeem hasn't submitted anyone since 2009, so this section will be fairly brief.
The most well-known technique in Overeem's arsenal is undoubtedly his guillotine, which accounts for a majority of his submission finishes. While it's undoubtedly a dangerous weapon, it's really not complicated. It's actually a bit funny how simple Overeem's guillotine is, but when a tall and powerful Heavyweight latches onto his foe's neck and squeezes, that's a major problem regardless of whether it's a simple or complex choke.
The man has crushing power, and that's often more than enough.
Overeem has really turned his UFC career around with this win streak. Instead of being on his way out, Overeem is very close to contending for a world title. With his new style and team behind him, Overeem has a very real chance against both Fabricio Werdum and Stipe Miocic. That would be quite the career renaissance, but "The Reem" needs to first work past Arlovski.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.