Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heads back to Russia this Saturday (April 20, 2019) for what could charitably be described as an “interesting” morning/afternoon of mixed martial arts (MMA) action. The card is essentially 75-percent prospects, with the only ranked fighters being headliners Alistair Overeem and Aleksei Oleinik.
It’s such an odd lineup that I wasn’t entirely sure what to write about. One option was the seemingly nonexistent criteria for a fight being on the main card versus the “Prelims,” but that’s not really a big deal when the entire card is streamed on ESPN+. A second was the fact that half of the fights feature at least one fighter making their Octagon debuts, but that would basically just be shilling for my “New Blood” series.
Instead, let’s look at just how wild the main event fighters’ careers have been. Oleinik has been fighting since 1996, Overeem since 1999. They’ve been mainstays for 20 years in one of the most tumultuous sports in the world, racking up a ridiculous 131 combined fights along the way.
This isn’t too insane on paper, though; just recently, fans were treated to Shannon “The Cannon” Ritch vs. Travis “The Iron Man” Fulton, which featured 410 combined fights. The difference is that Ritch and Fulton built their records by alternately crushing cans and being the cans that got crushed. Overeem and Oleinik have spent decades fighting generally decent competition and they’re still top-10 Heavyweights.
Admittedly, Overeem probably should have stopped fighting after his dozenth knockout loss and the UFC Heavyweight division is starving for young talent, but it’s still something to behold.
Personally, though, Oleinik’s longevity is the more impressive to me. Overeem has constantly adjusted and updated both his game and his body, going from musclebound rushdown artist to patient outfighter as time went by.
“The Boa Constrictor,” though, is basically still the same guy who took part in Bellator’s first Heavyweight tournament. He lumbers, throws heat, looks for any opportunity to either take you down or get you to take him down, and lands submissions that should not work. He’s outlasted generations of Heavyweights through sheer bloody-mindedness.
In a sport where fighters all too often flame out and linger past the point of safety, Overeem and Oleinik have accomplished something extraordinary, one through adaptability and the other through forcing everyone else to adapt to him.
Well done, lads.