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Overeem Underwhelms, But Don't Count Him Out for No. 1 Just Yet

Perhaps it's the nature of a sport in which the athletes only participate an average of two times a year that forces us to jump to conclusions based on little evidence, but there's a difference between jumping to a reasoned conclusion and leaping into wild speculation.

Not surprisingly, Alistair Overeem's critics are out in full force after the Strikeforce heavyweight champion went all 15 minutes with Fabricio Werdum in a fight that can only be described as disjointed and awkward.

Clearly, it was not the performance that Overeem was hoping for in the quest of establishing himself as the top heavyweight on the planet. But it also shouldn't be used as proof that he'll never get there.

No sport's athletes ride waves of momentum like mixed martial arts. A few solid performances in a row and you're the next big thing, and a couple losses in a row has the world thinking time's passed you by. What then to think of Overeem, who packages a superhero physique with world-class striking skills and a somewhat mythical aura built in his years competing outside of the U.S.?

Prior to Saturday, there were two schools of thought regarding him. One believed he was just as good if not better than any heavyweight in the UFC, and was perhaps MMA's uncrowned, undisputed champion. The other thought he was mostly hype and bluster, with a recent record blown up on wins over retreads and never-has-beens.

At least we figured we'd learn something about him when he faced Werdum, a rock-solid if unspectacular fighter who had once before beaten him.

It turns out though, that we learned nothing. In fact, judging from the post-fight reaction, we might have unlearned a few things. The two came in with such diametrically opposed plans that a fight between them hardly materialized. Werdum wanted a jiu-jitsu match and Overeem wanted to kickbox, and there seemed to be no happy medium. Have you ever had a moment when you leaned in for a kiss and your target turned away? Has your boss ever walked into your office right as you were picking your nose? Yeah, the fight was that level of awkward. For 15 minutes.

We knew what we were in for after a single round. Werdum clearly had only one thing on his mind. According to my stats, he was 0-for-8 on takedown tries, butt-flopped to the ground twice, tried pulling guard four times, and begged Overeem to join him on the ground once. Generally speaking, when your set-up move is taunting someone from your back, you might have a problem.

Because of Werdum's single-minded strategy, Overeem's head had to be spinning a little bit. It was clear Werdum cared nothing about style points, so Overeem was doomed to keep things ugly, too. The fight's flow never really improved, and most of it was quite similar to the first.

Many have used the lackluster fight and Overeem's inability to finish a defensive-minded fighter as proof that he would be in over his head against the UFC's best -- namely, champ Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos. But as usual, MMA math does not apply. There is zero chance that a fight between Overeem and either one of those fighters would look like his fight last night. Werdum is a very special case, one of MMA's best submission grapplers, who clearly had only one plan to defeat Overeem.

A bout between dos Santos and Overeem would be in some ways the most exciting potential heavyweight fight to be made, because it's quite likely both would spend the entirety on their feet until one of them goes down for good. Dos Santos is a very confident striker and has complete trust in his chin. And Overeem is a K-1 champ. Which one is going to blink first and try a takedown? It wouldn't happen very often, that's for sure. With Overeem free from worrying about takedowns, and in a fight that evolves into a striking match, do you really think Overeem has no chance to win?

The Velasquez-Overeem matchup would have quite a different dynamic. The beauty of Velasquez's performances is that he's equally capable of mixing in powerful kickboxing, wrestling and grinding ground-and-pound with his endless gas tank in a way no other heavyweight can. In that way, he can keep opponents off-balance and on the defensive. Overeem would have his hands full trying to stay one step ahead of Velasquez, and stamina might be an issue if the fight went long, but if Velasquez keeps things standing just a bit too long, we've seen him hurt before, so who's to say Overeem can't do it?

Of course, before any of that happens -- if it ever happens at all -- Overeem has to win twice more in this Heavyweight Grand Prix. Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva is next for him, and a win would lead him into the finals against the Josh Barnett-Sergei Kharitonov winner. For the record, he's still the odds-on-favorite to capture the tournament.

Overeem has two more fights to try and win you back, two more fights to build the excitement for a possible bout against the eventual UFC champion. You forgave Anderson Silva for Thales Leites when he KO'd Forrest Griffin. You forgave Lyoto Machida for his slow karate style when he started knocking people out. And you'll forgive Overeem if he finishes his next fight. There are bumps on every champion's road to becoming No. 1. When they're only opinions, they can be fixed in a flash. If he scores two knockouts in a row, memories will be wiped, with doubt replaced by excitement, and disappointment replaced by demand for a unification match. Saturday night was no masterpiece for Alistair Overeem, but maybe, just maybe, that is still to come.