by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
Rematches have always had a special significance in combat sports. More often than not, fans are treated to something new, while also retaining some or all of the original fight’s action.
Such is the case with the main event of the Strikeforce card this weekend in San Jose, as Vitor Belfort and Alistair Overeem lock horns in a rematch of their 2005 Pride Grand Prix fight.
While both fighters are very much representative of whom they were a year ago, the venue has changed, and with it comes an opportunity to see a different, yet familiar bout.
When these two fighters first met in April of last year, both were vying to become the top 205-pound fighter in Pride after having recent missteps. Belfort had recently exited stage right from the UFC after losing two fights in a row, and three out of five, since he returned to the UFC in 2002.
Overeem had just come off a one-sided unanimous decision loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at Pride 29 in February of 2005, which was just Overeem’s second fight back in Pride since his August 2003 knockout loss at the hands of Chuck Liddell in Pride’s first 205-pound Grand Prix.
So, when Belfort and Overeem were matched up against each other at Pride’s Total Elimination 2005 event, their bout was understandably not the most heralded on the card. Nonetheless, it ended up being a defining moment in each man’s career.
After nine minutes of mostly stand-up combat, the two surprisingly equally-matched fighters ended up in a scrum after Overeem knocked Belfort down. While struggling to get back up, Belfort’s head was left exposed, allowing the taller, lankier Overeem to swoop in and lock on a guillotine choke, giving Overeem the submission victory.
From that fight on, Alistair garnished possibly the most praise and respect of his career, as he proceeded to the semi-finals of the tournament before losing to eventual champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
Belfort, on the other hand, endured continued criticism and did not return to Pride. Instead, he took eight months away from action before returning at a Cage Rage show last December, defeating unheralded Anthony Rea.
As 2006 dawned, Alistair would continue to build on his momentum, defeating highly-ranked heavyweight Sergei Kharitonov, and then winning a fight in England before losing to Fabricio Werdum in the first round of Pride’s Open Weight Grand Prix on May 5th.
Vitor would remain on the shelf, missing a proposed match in Cage Rage, before ultimately signing with Strikeforce to once again fight Overeem.
The biggest changes that Belfort and Alistair face are the fact that they are fighting in a cage instead of a ring this time, and perhaps more importantly, they are fighting under American MMA rules this time. This change alone could very much favor Vitor, as it wasn’t too long ago that he was used to competing under these rules..
Having spent the majority of his career in the US, Belfort has tailored his game to fighting under these conditions. Conversely, Alistair has only experienced a cage atmosphere once, and he hasn’t been prevented from using knees on the ground in quite some time.
The change that could have the most impact on the rematch is the use of elbows to the head, which are not legal in Pride, but are legal in the United States Overeem has yet to experience being stacked on the ground and having elbows reigned down on him. Even in close quarters on the ground, Vitor could still slide an elbow over and jam down across Alistair’s face, without having to build momentum, and a strike like that could very well open up a cut.
Simply put, if Overeem isn’t ready to deal with being cut, it could be a very quick and disappointing night for him.
When Vitor and Alistair meet for the second time this weekend at the Strikeforce show in San Jose, fans will finally get to see the result of two fighters competing under two separate structures. Fans of MMA have wanted to know for a long time if there truly is a difference between a cage and a ring in terms of the end result of a given fight.
For Belfort and Overeem, this is an opportunity to score a victory over another highly regarded 205-pound fighter and build momentum for themselves in the process. The loser, on the other hand, may find himself falling further out of the MMA consciousness.
Either way, fans will get to see something familiar, something new, and possibly the spectacular ending that could have happened when Vitor Belfort and Alistair Overeem met the first time. If you take into account some of the recent rematches in MMA, a spectacular ending in this fight could be exactly what happens.