Heavyweight knockout artists Alistair Overeem and Walt Harris will battle this Saturday (May 16, 2020) at UFC on ESPN 8 inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
For all his talent and skill, Overeem is often a frustrating man to watch. The Dutchman was just a few seconds from turning away Jairzinho Rozenstruik, but he relaxed, allowing the massive left hook that destroyed his face to end the fight and his win streak. Once again, Overeem is forced to take a step back and try to climb the ranks once more. It’s impossible to discuss Harris’ return to the cage without at least mentioning the desperately unfortunate passing of his stepdaughter. Prior to that tragedy, Harris seemed to finally put it all together inside the cage, fully realizing the depths of his power and athleticism.
Let’s take a closer look at the skill set of each man:
A former professional kickboxer and K-1 champion, Overeem seemingly switches up his style every couple years based on his ever-changing physique. There was an era where Overeem tried to overpower his foes with single shots as well as a time where he ran around the cage, desperate to fight at range.
Both worked and failed to an extent. Let’s focus on his current form though, which is something of a middle ground.
Lately, Overeem has been more willing to steadily pressure opponents towards the fence. Rather than evade or overwhelm, Overeem slowly backs his foe near the fence, where his power shots are more likely to land. This also gives him the option to move into the clinch, an area where he has nasty knees and slick takedowns.
As Overeem pursues, he uses many of the same weapons as he always has. He still loves to rip a power body kick from the opposite stance or spring into a heavy cross. Regardless of style, Overeem does excel at reading opponents and finding openings, which is how he was largely able to pick Rozenstruik apart for 25 minutes.
Despite Overeem’s skill in that range, the risk of getting blasted is still very real at Heavyweight. He’s much safer in the clinch, and Overeem’s clinch strikes are devastating. Overeem’s left knee to the stomach — from range or from in the clinch — is infamous, and it has dropped or finished some very talented fighters. He is exceptionally dangerous if he’s able to force his opponent into the fence. 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).
Another great trick of Overeem’s — one that he’s used for several years but has grown more relevant again now — is to angle the knee to the head. After a few knees straight up the middle, any opponent still conscious will have his hands up and covering that path. Overeem is quite subtle in dropping a hand from the side of his opponent’s head and creating an opening to bring up the knee (GIF).
Usually, this type of knee may not feel good, but it’s not a knockout blow. Overeem makes it one (GIF).
Walt Harris does not have the deep technical game of Overeem nor a half-dozen different styles to present his opponent. What Harris does have, however, is an absolutely thunderous left hand. The Southpaw is quite quick in general, which makes the heavy power he carries even more deadly.
Harris’ kickboxing really revolves around landing that left. Often times, he’ll be stalking his opponent, showing the right hand with some jabs and slaps. On occasion, he’ll slam home a left kick to at least threaten it. Really though, he’s just trying to line that left up and pitch it down the middle, as a clean connection tends to end the fight.
Perhaps the most skillful aspect of Harris’ kickboxing is his ability to tie knees into his offense. There are several occasions where Harris will attack with punches, club his way into the clinch, and then release a big knee. Against Chase Sherman, Harris did just that before breaking the clinch with a killer left hand (GIF).
Harris’ last (and best) win came over Aleksei Oleinik, a 12-second knockout that really demonstrated why Harris is so dangerous. Oleinik has proven his toughness and durability a dozen times over — including a few days ago at UFC 249! — but the speed disadvantage was massive.
Harris knew and had the confidence to capitalize, an attribute he once lacked. “The Big Ticket” jumped into a flying knee that off-balanced Oleinik, and it only took one clean left to put him down for good (GIF).
Overeem’s clinch takedowns have grown more important to his overall strategy, which now commonly consists of putting opponents on their back and pummeling them. Though he likes to land takedowns from the clinch, but he often shoots to get there. 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 knee 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.
Once in the clinch, Overeem can throw his foes with body locks but has always looked for the outside trip. It’s a favorite of his, and he used it well against Arlovski, hooking his foe’s leg and dropping his body weight down to the ground. Overeem’s takedown of the Belarusian was especially well setup as he had just landed a knee, shifting Arlovski’s focus from wrestling.
Against a solid wrestler in Pavlovich, Overeem dominated the clinch position. He landed serious knees to the body, nearly landed a takedown by stepping outside and blocking the knee with his own from the body lock, and later did trip Pavlovich to the mat by landing a knee from the double-collar tie and then tripping his foe as he moved to pull away.
Once on top, Overeem has a number of finishes that involve him posturing up over his opponent and dropping bombs. Strong bottom games are few and far between at Heavyweight, which means that Overeem can take more chances to drop a few fight-ending bombs.
In his 13 fight UFC career, Harris has landed two takedowns. Both times, Harris ducked under a punch to drive through a double leg in the center, using the type of athletic running shot that is popular in MMA.
Takedown defense has been the more important aspect for Harris, and it’s a difficult one to assess. On one hand, Harris has a 76 percent takedown defense rate, which is excellent. However, he also hasn’t been forced to defend takedowns very often. Oleinik was destroyed instantly, and before that, the last true grappler Harris squared off against was Fabricio Werdum in 2017.
Werdum landed an easy single leg dump on his first attempt.
Though a very skilled grappler with 19 victories via tapout, Overeem hasn’t actually finished a fight via submission since 2009.
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 certainly a dangerous weapon, it’s really not complicated — Overeem grabs the neck and tries to separate it from his opponent’s body. His guillotine is surprisingly simple, but Overeem is long-limbed, powerful and aggressive with the technique, which is more than enough to make him dangerous.
Meanwhile, Harris has yet to finish a fight via submission. As mentioned, his last real grappling test came against Werdum. Though he failed that test dramatically, Werdum is a definite master of his craft, and it was over two years ago now.
Overeem will likely test whether or not Harris’ grappling has improved.
Until there’s a Heavyweight title fight booked, it remains difficult to predict how that division will shakeout. However, it remains an important fight for each man, though for different reasons. Overeem has settled into something of a gatekeeper role, and the only way to escape is a win streak. Alternatively, Harris can pick up the biggest win of his career and firmly insert himself into the title picture.
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Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional 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.