Headed into Friday night's UFC 141
main event, the question of just how good Alistair Overeem
is remains one of MMA
's heated topics. His supporters point out that he's won titles in Strikeforce
, DREAM and K-1. His detractors suggest he's done most of that while facing non-elite competition.
In some ways, both sides have valid points. Perhaps his performance against Brock Lesnar
will provide answers about his place among the heavyweight elite, but until then, it's worth a look at his recent history.
Overeem shifted divisions to heavyweight for good in 2007, and since then has lost only once. On the strength of an 11-fight unbeaten stretch, most heavyweight rankings have him listed between Nos. 2-4. What's obvious about that stretch is that he's been fairly dominant. Seven of his last 10 fights have lasted less than two minutes. But less obvious is that he has seemed to benefit from great timing. His bout with Lesnar will mark the seventh time his last 11 fights he'll be facing an opponent coming off a loss, an unusually high number for someone competing at a championship level.
In Lesnar's case, he's not just looking to rebound from a defeat, but from an illness and surgery that cost him more than a year of his athletic career.
It's not the first time Overeem has faced down an opponent walking in with little momentum. In fact, of his last 11 opponents including Lesnar, the only one who could boast of any real momentum heading into their bout was Fabricio Werdum
, who had won four of his last five and had just become the first man to defeat Fedor Emelianenko
in nearly a decade. That victory propelled Werdum to the No. 3 spot on the FightMatrix.com rankings
at the time, the highest ranking opponent Overeem has faced during his current stretch until Lesnar.
During his last 10 fights, Overeem has faced three fighters who were ranked in the top 10 at the time, as ranked by FightMatrix's computer formula. Aside from beating Werdum in a somewhat lackluster decision, he steamrolled No. 8 Brett Rogers
in May 2010 and fought to a no contest with No. 8 Mirko Filipovic
in September 2008.
The rest of the 10 bouts were mostly a mix of mediocrity, veterans on the way out, and unestablished prospects. Five of the 10 fighters Overeem's faced during his streak are no longer active in MMA. Three opponents -- James Thompson
, Gary Goodridge and Lee Tae-Hyun -- did not even crack the top 150 at the time they fought Overeem. Thompson walked into his bout with four straight losses, Goodridge -- then 42 years old -- had lost three in a row, and Tae-Hyun, who was only in his third pro fight, lost in 36 seconds and never fought again.
Tony Sylvester was ranked No. 131 when Overeem fought him. Not surprisingly, he lasted all of 83 seconds. Kaz Fujita was 39 years old and No. 102. Overeem finished him off even quicker, in 75 seconds.
Mark Hunt was a fairly credible opponent. He came in 5-3 but was unranked because he hadn't fought MMA in over 18 months. Still, he tapped to a keylock in 71 seconds.
Lesnar currently sits at No. 3 on the FightMatrix rankings, one spot ahead of Overeem (by comparison, MMA Fighting rankings have the two flip-flopped
). Whichever you accept, it still marks his second straight time battling a top five foe. At the time of publication, Overeem was considered a slight favorite in the matchup.
Even with a win over Lesnar, Overeem likely won't silence all the questions observers have raised about him. His recent record is too dotted with non-elite opponents, and some will wonder if Lesnar truly competed at full strength. Despite the skeptics who dismiss his resume because of that, there is no question Overeem has dominated the opposition he's faced and has shown elite ability in several dimensions.
With most of MMA's top heavyweights under the UFC banner -- or soon to be there, given the recent Strikeforce announcement that they're discontinuing the division and sending their talent to the octagon -- Overeem has a chance to erase every last criticism of his in-cage ability.
Here's a closer look at his last 10 bouts and the competition he's faced to vault up the rankings.Opponent:
Fabricio WerdumPrevious five fights:
First bout since beating Fedor EmelianenkoFightMatrix.com ranking at time of fight:
No. 3Overeem's ranking at time of fight:
No. 8Age at time of fight:
Decision win Current career record:
Todd Duffee Previous five:
Accepted fight on 2 week's noticeFightMatrix ranking:
No. 58Overeem's ranking:
19-second KOCurrent career record:
Brett Rogers Previous five:
First fight since being KO'd by FedorFightMatrix ranking:
No. 8Overeem's ranking:
TKO, 3:40 of Rd. 1Current career record:
Kaz FujitaPrevious five:
Two straight defeatsFightMatrix ranking:
No. 102Overeem's ranking:
75-second KOCurrent career record:
James ThompsonPrevious five:
Four straight losses FightMatrix ranking:
33-second submissionCurrent career record:
16-14, 1 no contestOpponent:
Tony SylvesterPrevious five:
Sylvester's only career fight vs. a top 20 opponentFightMatrix ranking:
No. 131Overeem's ranking:
83-second submissionCurrent career record:
Gary GoodridgePrevious five:
Three straight lossesFightMatrix ranking:
Submission, 1:42 of Rd. 1Current career record:
Mirko Cro CopPrevious five:
Cro Cop had lost two of his last three priorFightMatrix ranking:
No. 8Overeem's ranking:
No contestCurrent career record:
27-10-2, 1 no contest (retired)Opponent:
Mark HuntPrevious five:
Overeem took the fight on short noticeFightMatrix ranking:
71-second submissionCurrent career record:
Lee Tae-HyunPrevious five:
N/A (third pro fight)Prior fight:
Only 1-1 before Overeem fightFightMatrix ranking:
36-second KOCurrent career record:
1-2 (retired)TOTALSOpponents in previous five:
28-19 (.596 win percentage)Average age:
33.1Combined career record:
131-78-4 (.630 win percentage) Top 10 opponents Overeem faced:
3Unranked opponents Overeem faced:
4Average Time of Fight:
9-0, 1 NC