Is Overeem Underrated?

Alistair Overeem at Pride GP 2005 Round 1

Alistair Overeem at Pride GP 2005 Round 1

If you would have taken a poll at the beginning of this year that included input from the entire MMA community of fans, media, fighters, and professionals, more than likely Alistair Overeem would have not been ranked top 10 and possibly not even top 25. Yet here we are, down to four men in Pride’s 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix and Alistair is among three fighters that would have assuredly made that list including the man who probably would have topped it. So the question begs to be asked, is Alistair Overeem the most underrated 205lb fighter in the world?

On physical merits alone it would be hard to think that Overeem would go so overlooked. At a towering 6’5″ Alistair literally stands head and shoulders above the competition. It’s mind boggling to think how someone so tall could pack 205lbs into such a frame, but somehow Overeem does it. More so, when there are athletes who are abnormally tall for their positions, a low weight normally means a stick figure’s build, but not Alistair. Overeem is extremely well muscled and cut, he is what most people would consider the prototypical build for an athlete of any size or weight. His physique allows for grace, power, and precision, all the things that are essential to surviving in a contact sport.

His size gives him a natural thing that cannot be taught, reach. With long, powerful legs and a wide wingspan, Alistair can reach in and hit opponents at distance with great snap, all the while remaining away from the striking range of his opponents. With knees that can reach to the ceiling, there is almost nowhere an opponent can be safe from Alistair’s stand up assault.

Not only does his length allow him an advantage striking, but long limbs allow for him to envelop his opponents on the ground, strangling them among a mass of limbs, counter smaller opponents’ movements and keep a wide base. Most fighters when caught in their opponents guard have to lean forward to land effective strikes, but Alistair is able to strike with power while sitting straight up, avoiding being pulled down for stalling or submissions. Also his reach allows for him to secure submissions easier like triangle chokes, with long legs he can wrap one around his opponent and get that all important locking of ankle and back of knee that is essential to securing the maneuver properly.

So if it isn’t physical attributes that kept Overeem from everyone’s radar early in the year, could it have been his fighting style? In an era where especially in the US that the KO is king, you would figure that a Dutch kickboxing phenom could easily stand out from the pack. Over the last decade Holland has turned out some of the greatest strikers in both MMA and Kickboxing. From MMA’s ultra charismatic Bas Rutten to K-1 legend Ernesto Hoost and current kingpin Remy Bonjasky, there has been no shortage of champion caliber fighters hailing from Holland, and Overeem has proven he can be in that company.

Having been trained by Team Golden Glory mastermind Cor Hemmers, Alistair’s technique is pure Dutch striker. Stiff punches and hard leg kicks that primarily set up high kicks and the infamous clinch, where opponents are fed a steady diet of bone crushing knees to the body and head. If that’s not enough there’s always the trademark of the Dutch fighters, the flying assault, from feet to shins to knees, it’s not uncommon to see a Dutchman leave the ground and go airborne. It is that controlled form of almost reckless abandon that has made these strikers among the most feared in the world.

One would think that with a pedigree such as Overeem has, it would be easy for him to be one-dimensional like so many other strikers turned MMA fighters, but that’s not the case with Alistair. Many people forget that in his 26 MMA fights Alistair has never been submitted while having finished off over half his opponents, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt Vitor Belfort, with a various array of techniques. So good is Overeem on the ground that he was to be Holland’s official light-heavyweight representative to this year’s Abu Dhabi World Championships, the Mecca of submission fighting. If not for his involvement in the Middleweight GP, we could have just as possibly seen Overeem take his division title and even the absolute title instead of a member of the world renowned Gracie family.

The only place that it may be possible for people to have doubted Alistair is something almost completely out of his control, his exposure. While fans may know that he’s 21-5, many of those fights have not been on major MMA stages and the ones that were could paint the wrong image of a fighter that for the most part has dominated his whole career.

Consider that over a stretch between December of 2000 and June of 2003, the now 25-year old Overeem won 12 consecutive matches and has won 17 of his last 19 fights. In that time only three fights have gone to a decision, that shows that Alistair is an action fighter and leaves it all out in the ring win or lose. This is a rare and admirable trait nowadays where it seems fighters have become increasingly cautious as to not risk losing their contract status with major MMA promotions.

It is his performances in his major televised appearances in the last two years that might have lead many to believe he’s not as good as he’s proving to be now. In his last three PPV fights with Pride heading into this year’s Middleweight GP, Overeem hardly looked the fighter he has within the tournament.

Starting with a loss to Chuck Liddell in the opening round of 2003’s Middleweight GP, some people forgot that it was Overeem that was controlling the early action and had even knocked down the current UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion before Liddell recovered and knocked him out. Against Hiromitsu Kanehara at Pride 28, Overeem seemed so concerned with landing the high knees out of the clinch that he had forgone set-up techniques and in the process looked very one-dimentional. Luckily Overeem managed to cut Kanehara and take the win, but he failed to showcase his true talent. Finally in what was originally to be a “win and you’re in” type match between Alistair and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira for a birth in the Middleweight GP, Overeem looked unprepared for what Nogueira brought to the bout, ultimately resulting in a unanimous decision loss. This led many to believe that Overeem had backed into a spot in the GP rather than earning it.

However since entering the 2005 GP Overeem has truly looked the role of “The Demolition Man.” He’s quickly asserted himself on long standing MMA veterans who many had favored in both bouts against him. First against Vitor Belfort where Alistair withstood the barrage of Belfort’s patented lightning fast strikes and counted by knocking down Belfort before applying a guillotine choke for the win. And now against Igor Vovchanchyn, one of the fan favorites in the tournament, Overeem has again shown that he’s not someone to be underestimated. In the quickest fight of the night Overeem blitzed the undersized Ukrainian with a viscous assault of knees before again applying a guillotine choke, this time in the standing position, for the win.

And now here we stand, the final four are set and Overeem is among them. Many people could have foreseen Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Ricardo Arona, and defending Middleweight GP Champion Wanderlei Silva as _ of the equation, but now there is one variable few counted on. Alistair Overeem may, for the moment, be among the most underrated fighters at 205lbs, but not because he has failed in any way. It is because many people have simply overlooked him and not seen him for the fighter he may very well be, the most well-rounded Middleweight GP participant remaining as we head towards Final Conflict 2005 in August.