Keys to Victory: Alistair Overeem vs Andrei Arlovski

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UFC Fight Night 87 is scheduled to be the promotions inaugural show in the Netherlands. Zuffa’s debut goes down this Sunday, May 8, 2016 at the Ahoy Rotterdam and features two of the heavyweight divisions’ most storied veterans. Those fighters, whose careers have spanned over a decade, are decorated competitors in various MMA organizations.

Keys to Victory: Alistair Overeem vs Andrei Arlovski

Arlovski, a former UFC champion, has fought in virtually every major organization before returning to the UFC in one of the sport’s most compelling comeback narratives. Once considered gatekeeper who was well past his prime, Arlovski danced with title contention after a four-fight win streak that was snapped by none other than upcoming title challenger Stipe Miocic. Now, his career hangs in the balance as he faces one of the most feared strikers to ever compete in combat sports.

Alistair Overeem has fought the who’s who in MMA and in kickboxing. Arguably amongst the heavyweight division’s most accomplished strikers, Overeem is a veteran of over 70 professional fights and has won titles in Strikeforce and DREAM, and is one of two fighters to hold a K-1 Grand Prix title and an MMA world title concurrently. Like Arlovski, Overeem has experienced the extreme highs and lows of a long career in fighting, from the glory of knocking out Brock Lesnar in his UFC debut at UFC 141 to suffering consecutive knockout victories to Antonio Silva and Travis Browne.

Both Overeem and Arlovski technically train at the same gym, Jackson-Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, NM, but will not present a conflict of interest for head trainer Greg Jackson. In an interview with MMA Mania, Greg Jackson explains why this situation will not precipitate internal conflict. Jackson indicates that he has learned from his mistake when Jon Jones fought Rashad Evans at UFC 145 back in 2012.

Jackson has stated that he will corner Arlovski, and that they have a very large gym, with each fighter training at different times.

Both fighters have flirted with a title shot in the heavyweight division, with the winner likely facing the victor of the upcoming title bout between Stipe Miocic and Fabricio Werdum. However, despite the fact that heavyweights tend to reach the zenith of their careers later than other divisions, there is little doubt that time is of the essence.

Overeem, who fights just nine days before his 36th birthday, looked excellent in his last performance, knocking out Junior dos Santos with a leaping left hook before finishing him with hammer fists. Notwithstanding that performance, he needs to capitalize on this opportunity and prove to the UFC and to the fans that he is still in his prime and poses a legitimate threat to the title.

Arlovski finds himself in an oddly similar position. At 37-years-old and coming off a knockout loss to Miocic, he needs a strong performance to establish himself as the next title challenger. A loss for either fighter could spell doom, especially considering the consequences of staying in the sport too long. Both fighters are fearsome strikers with devastating knock out power in both hands, and both will likely try to keep this fight on the feet.

The keys to victory for Andrei Arlovski are simple: he needs to be the quicker fighter, use good head movement and establish a strong jab early in the fight. Because he tends to get over-aggressive, he must exercise discipline and not just headhunt. Assuming he shows up in good shape, he needs to utilize proper footwork to keep himself just out of the striking range of Overeem. Footwork is key, since standing and lingering in the pocket is likely to leave openings for Overeem’s patented knees of destruction, which he throws to the head and body with reckless abandon.

Arlovski can avoid those knees if he keeps moving his head and immediately throws uppercuts whenever Overeem looks to clinch or close the distance. Overeem has the tendency to wade in, hoping his opponent will lean into the clinch where he can throw those knees and send his opponent crashing into the canvas.

Arlovski has a good chance to win this fight by knockout, especially if he maintains forward pressure and emphasizes speed over power. Overeem has demonstrated a vulnerable chin, and Arlovski doesn’t need to land with 100% to put the towering Dutchman down.

Likewise, Arlovski himself has demonstrated a questionable chin, and Overeem only needs one opening to shut the lights off with a pinpoint strike. Typically a slow starter, Overeem has the propensity to plod forward, relying on his ability to counter rather than evade entirely. Therefore, Overeem needs to be vigilant to utilize lateral movement, mixing up his footwork with shuffles, slides, and skips rather than his simply raising his lead leg as a knee shield and inching forward with his back foot. Overeem has some holes in his defense, which Ben Rothwell exploited perfectly in Overeem’s last defeat inside the octagon. He can learn from this mistake, however, and shore up his defensive striking to frustrate the Belarusian warrior and bait him into over-extending himself.

Overeem has superb kickboxing and a vastly underrated ground game, so it would be wise to mix up his striking with the occasional takedown attempt. He has excellent foot sweeps and solid top control, as he thoroughly demonstrated in the one-sided drubbing of Frank Mir (a common opponent) at UFC 169. One interesting point is that Overeem controlled Mir on the ground, dishing out vicious ground-and-pound and dominating the fight, while the most Arlovski could do was stifle Frank Mir’s venerated ground game.

If the fight does hit the floor, expect Overeem to have the advantage, possibly opening up some cuts on Arlovski with his elbows and ground-and-pound. Arlovski isn’t known for his offensive jiu jitsu, and will most likely try to hold on and stall to prompt a referee stand-up rather than work escapes and submissions. Overeem has an excellent base and is very difficult to sweep, so don’t expect Arlovski to throw up any scissor sweeps or triangles from his back.

By most accounts, Overeem stands at a healthy -220 favorite, which is entirely justifiable if you look at each fighter’s last performance. The main event bout is nonetheless difficult to call, given the unpredictability of the sport, let alone the heavyweight division, where one shot can dramatically alter the course of the fight.

Taking all of these factors into account, don’t be surprised to see Overeem play it safe as he did in the Mir fight at UFC 169 in order to secure a victory and perhaps the next shot at the heavyweight title.

Alistair Overeem by Unanimous Decision

 

Main Photo: LAS VEGAS, NV – MARCH 04:  (L-R) Opponents Alistair Overeem and Andrei Arlovski face off during the UFC Unstoppable launch press conference at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 4, 2016 in Henderson, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)