LAS VEGAS -- If Alistair Overeem
ever feared Brock Lesnar
-- or even respected his skills -- he never let it show. From the moment he walked out into the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday night, the former K-1 and Strikeforce
heavyweight champion looked supremely confident. Moments after the main event bout at UFC 141
began, it became clear that he had good reason to be.
The Dutch kickboxer stalked Lesnar across the cage, shrugging off takedown attempts and digging away at the former UFC
heavyweight champ's body with short knee strikes that quickly took their toll. At around the two-minute mark of the first round Overeem slammed a swift left kick into Lesnar's gut, prompting a delayed collapse to the mat from the ex-WWE wrestler.
From that moment on, the end couldn't come soon enough for Lesnar. He sat down on the mat with his back to the fence, covering up and offering no response as Overeem peppered him with right hooks from a standing position. When referee Mario Yamasaki finally called a halt to the bout at 2:26 of round one, it seemed almost like an overdue act of mercy.
After the bout, Lesnar declared himself officially retired from MMA
and promised fans that they'd never see him in the Octagon again. That news came as a surprise to UFC president Dana White, he said in the post-fight press conference, but then again, so did the result of the fight itself.
"Let me say, in front of everybody here, that I was wrong," White said. "I said it before Alistair came into the UFC and I said it leading up to this fight to myself because I never give predictions, but I thought Brock Lesnar was going to beat Alistair Overeem tonight. I did, and I was wrong. He looked damn good tonight. He made quick work of Brock Lesnar."
But while the outcome might have seemed unexpected to White, who publicly questioned the quality of Overeem's recent competition before signing him to the UFC, Overeem could not have been any less surprised with the way the fight went down, he told reporters.
"A funny thing was, I predicted it the evening before to my fiancee. ...I said, 'First I'm going to do this, then I'm going to do that, then I'm going to finish it with a liver kick.' I don't know if it's luck or if it's strategy, but it turned out that way and I'm just happy that it did."
Despite the quick ending to the bout, Overeem didn't escape completely unscathed. He was cut over his right eye early on by a Lesnar punch and came late to the post-fight press conference after having it stitched up backstage. He gave no indication during the fight that the cut bothered him in the least, but he admitted afterward that it only made him more motivated to finish quickly.
"I had blood coming into my eye," Overeem explained. "I couldn't see in my right eye. So I had to adjust a little bit, but that also made me put more pressure because I didn't know how severe the cut was. I didn't know...maybe there's going to be a medical intervention, so then I knew I need to finish this fight before we get there. That made me step my game up."
Assuming that Lesnar sticks to his retirement proclamations, the loss makes for a sour end to a whirlwind career. He began his MMA career just four and a half years ago, and racked up only eight fights, two of which were successful defenses of the UFC heavyweight title. Though there will undoubtedly be speculation about the possibility of him heading back to the WWE, White specified that Lesnar had retired "under contract," though he declined to get into the details of exactly how that will limit his future options.
For Overeem, on the other hand, the future appears to be wide open. Not only did he thump a former champion into an early retirement in his UFC debut, he also set himself up for a shot at current UFC heavyweight title-holder Junior dos Santos
Beyond that, he also sent a message to detractors who questioned his abilities and his accomplishments in recent years. Though he touted the unprecedented accomplishment of winning a K-1 World Grand Prix in kickboxing while also holding a major MMA title, others wondered whether his wins over inexperienced or aging opponents really had much merit. Only when we saw him against the elite of the UFC, people said, would we truly know what to make of him.
On Friday night we got that chance, and Overeem made a lasting impression. He demolished a former champ and made it look easy. He did exactly what he said he would do, and if he was surprised at all it was only at the fact that his win seemed to surprise others.
When asked how he felt about silencing his critics -- the most powerful and perhaps the most vocal of which was now his employer, standing next to him -- both Overeem and White couldn't help but smile, though likely for different reasons.
"I'm satisfied," Overeem said with a sly grin. "Pretty satisfied."