Long-time Heavyweight contender, Alistair Overeem, will square off with dangerous up-and-comer, Augusto Sakai, this Saturday (Sept. 5, 2020) at UFC Vegas 9 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Overeem is 40 years old and has been knocked out 14 times in MMA (plus several more times in kickboxing). A professional since 1999, he’s taken a simply stupid amount of damage in the last 21 years. Comparing him to most of his peers from that era, Overeem should be shuffling to the cage, barely able to move with any quickness, and clearly close to retirement. Instead, “The Reem” remains. He’s currently ranked the sixth-best Heavyweight in the world, and he’s won three of his last four fights. Overeem has no right to be this good anymore, yet he’s the favorite to win again on Saturday night.
Let’s take a closer look at the legend’s skill set:
Overeem is the king of reinventing himself. Over his illustrious career, Overeem ballooned up from a skinny Light Heavyweight to mountain of muscle. When all his beef began to slow him down, “The Demolition Man” leaned out and focused on footwork. Opponents again adjusted, so Overeem has now settled on a middle ground and additional focus on his wrestling.
In the interest of conciseness, this article will focus on Overeem’s current tactics.
Overeem’s current style makes a lot of sense given the circumstances. Running around or being gigantic — both are exhausting. Overeem is 40 and fights in five-round main events often, so gassing out is not an option.
Overeem’s middle ground leaves him strong at about 250 pounds, without going over the top. At this current size, he’s no longer able to just force the clinch at will and manhandle opponents, but Overeem can absolutely find major success in close distance.
Advancing behind a high guard, Overeem will look for opportunities to club his foe with the left hook or right hand. By overreaching and smacking the side of the head with punches, Overeem is often able to hang on afterward and land in the clinch.
Overeem’s clinch work is 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. Inside the Octagon, Overeem 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).
When Overeem is at distance, he’s no longer running all about. Instead, Overeem is largely standing his ground, taking small steps to maintain the kicking distance. From that range, Overeem is famously accurate. He definitely prioritizes accuracy over volume, rarely throwing in extended combination or hanging in the pocket for too long.
Against Walt Harris, Overeem’s new approach — though he still uses many of his classic tactics — was on display. As Overeem circled away from Harris’ punches and avoided exchanges, Overeem’s veteran eye picked up patterns and opportunities. He picked his kicks, landing a spin kick and calf kick. At one point, he interrupted Harris’ advance with a very clean cross.
Overeem basically ended the fight with an accurate high kick after setting it up with a couple low kicks.
This all appears to be Overeem’s new M.O. He’s looking to clinch, but he’s doing so patiently. While at range, Overeem is looking for opportunities to land power kicks and stick opponents with his cross from either stance. On occasion, Overeem will explode into a combination.
He’s still a knockout threat, but his gas tank is better preserved.
Of course, Overeem’s defensive problems have to be mentioned. It’s been a long time since Overeem tried to simply shell up and defend punches solely with his arms, which was once a major problem. However, Overeem does find himself backed into the fence too often. It seems to be a comfort problem: Overeem is so comfortable in the Octagon that he trusts his defenses to keep him safe along the fence rather than immediately work back to the center.
With a small margin for error at Heavyweight, that’s a major risk.
As mentioned above, Overeem has doubled down on his takedown attempts, which is a smart tactic. Most Heavyweights are mediocre wrestlers; meanwhile, Overeem is not, and if he gains top position, he’s a major finishing threat.
Overeem 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 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 is brutally effective. He does a great job of controlling one of his opponent’s wrists and then gaining posture. Standing over his opponent while keeping him pinned to the mat, Overeem can do serious damage with his free hand, which is how he battered Stefan Struve.
Against Harris, Overeem repeatedly secured two-on-one control from the turtle. Not only did that position exhaust and bloody Harris, but it kept him trapped on the mat. Eventually, Overeem was able to work both hooks in and apply hip pressure, fully pinning his foe and forcing a stoppage because of strikes.
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 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.
I don’t think Overeem has a final title run left in him, but it’s also impossible to rule out. After all, it’s 2020 and Glover Teixeira is just one win away from the belt! More relevantly, Overeem was just seconds from victory against Jairzinho Rozenstruik, and “Bigi Boy” is currently in the Top 5. If Overeem can continue his win streak here then pick up one more big victory, a final shot is not impossible.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 9 fight card this weekend right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ 8 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 9: “Overeem vs. Sakai” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.
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.