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UFC Fight Night: Overeem v Harris Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 18’s Alistair Overeem

Heavyweight legend, Alistair Overeem, will look to take another step closer to the title opposite Russian kickboxer, Alexander Volkov, this Saturday (Feb. 6, 2021) at UFC Vegas 18 from UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Trying to leave combat sports is akin to attempting to escape one’s mafioso family or complete one last investigation before retiring from the police department — things are unlikely to go smoothly! Yet, 40-year-old Alistair Overeem’s goal and situation is clear: he’s trying to make one final title run then immediately retire with the belt. It’s a nearly impossible task, but one that Overeem is doing surprisingly well at. He’s won four of his last five, and ascended back into the top five as a result. With a different referee in the cage with him opposite Jairzinho Rozenstruik, “The Reem” may well be on a five-fight win streak. Unfortunately, we are now at part where historically, the situation gets sticky: Overeem must now defeat a dangerous and proven contender at the top of his game.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:


I have written about Overeem many times over the years, but unlike most frequent main eventers, the gist of the article changes often. Most athletes find success with one style and stick with it for pretty much their entire career; there may be adjustments or singular new techniques, but the idea remains the same.

Overeem does not abide by these rules. He has a few techniques that remain in constant employ, but the veteran’s overall gameplan dictates how they are used, and it seemingly changes every few years.

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 against a younger puncher 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.

UFC 141: Lesnar v Overeem Photo by Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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.

UFC Fight Night: Overeem v Harris Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

He’s still a knockout threat, but his gas tank is better preserved.

Of course, Overeem’s defensive problems have to be mentioned. Regardless of what style is attempted, Overeem has a long proven problem of covering up along the fence. He does a good job of keeping his hands high, which can certainly save him from flurries, but this is Heavyweight MMA with tiny gloves. He does not have the protective shell that big kickboxing gloves offer, and it only takes a small opening for his opponent’s punch to end the night.

Leaning against the fence and covering up gives his foe too many opportunities, but it’s unreasonable to expect him to break the habit now.


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.

UFC Fight Night: Overeem v Arlovski Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

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.

In his last bout opposite Augusto Sakai, Overeem smartly — if dangerously — allowed Sakai to tire himself before wrestling. Along the fence, Overeem repeatedly attacked with direction changes, pulling Sakai across his knee to trip the big man (GIF). It was a risky tactic that could have given his foe top position, but it’s also a veteran move against a tired, large foe!

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.

UFC Fight Night: Overeem v Sakai Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

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.

Finally, Overeem’s combination of guard passing and top control was on display against Sakai. While standing over his foe, he repeatedly used the leg drag, which involves grabbing the foot with both hands and pulling it across his body to the hip. Often, Overeem would then land in the smash mount, with Sakai’s bottom leg stapled and top hip crossed over (see the above takedown .GIF). Intermixed with the leg drags were Superman punches, Overeem kept his foe stuck beneath him as the punishment added up.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Overeem is a very talented grappler, which definitely shows in his ground striking, control and passing. 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.


Overeem has a ton of depth to his skill set, which gives him a nearly unique level of accuracy and adaptability. He’s still several wins away from his unlikely golden retirement goal, but there’s always much craft on display to appreciate when Overeem steps into the cage.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 18 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 18: “Overeem vs. Volkov” 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.

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