Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Alistair Overeem could well be on the way out.
That is the thought occupying most minds in the mixed martial arts community this morning after the Dutchman put on the worst performance of his recent career against heavyweight journeyman, Ben Rothwell.
From the opening bell, Overeem looked jumpy—even timid—as he circled the ring. He threw a couple of nice oblique kicks into Rothwell's lead leg which clearly upset the ambling giant, but otherwise there was little evidence of Team Jackson / Winkeljohn's intervention in The Reem's career at all.
In fact, Overeem showed exactly how one shouldn't fight Ben Rothwell. Rothwell is a big guy, with heavy hands, who can take a shot better than anyone in the division. He walked through Mark Hunt's hardest overhands and uppercuts for three rounds, why would Overeem think he could get it done with the old swing-and-run any better?
If ever there was an opponent who needed to be taken to the fence and given that old Overeem magic with knees to the midsection, it was Rothwell. Rothwell has been stopped just twice by strikes—both by method of attrition more than any one strike.
Overeem would run around the outside of the octagon, swing in an overhand, and then try to duck away. Rothwell, to his credit, looked to time Overeem's ducks with uppercuts and was able to wobble him early on as The Reem looked to duck into a clinch with no set up. You will remember this as exactly the way Overeem got himself stunned and subsequently finished against Antonio Silva.
After looking for the uppercut as Overeem came in, one strike at a time, Rothwell switched to an overhand of his own, timed The Reem coming in, and knocked him out easily.
Boom! Cross counter!
The criticism is always of Overeem's chin but—while there may be some truth in that—there have been fighters with worse chins who have not been knocked out as often. Certainly, speculation abounds about Cain Velasquez's chin, the difference is that he doesn't allow his opponents even the chance to hit him.
The truth is that when he was competing in both mixed martial arts and kickboxing, Overeem would kickbox in the ring, and get in close and smother his opponents in the cage.
For all his kickboxing chops, Overeem was always a ground and pounder, and a clinch fighter in mixed martial arts. The clinch work, the knees, the trips and the guillotine were his breadwinners—the punches just got him in close enough to do it. When he came to the UFC as a K-1 grand prix champion and under a contract which forbade him from partaking in kickboxing bouts, Overeem suddenly decided he was going to try to be an elite striker in the cage, full time.
If you have seen Overeem at his best in mixed martial arts—against Brett Rogers, Paul Buentello, Sergei Kharitonov, etc—and at his best in K-1, you will know that they are very different fighters. Against Travis Browne, Overeem showed us this smothering clinch fighter again, and it was the scariest he's looked in ages, but again got caught lumbering around on the outside.
I hope we can see Overeem come back and fight every bout as he did in the first half of his fight with Travis Browne. If not, he will retire as perhaps the most talented mixed martial artist to never win a major title—certainly the most talented heavyweight not to.
Mousasi versus Jacare
In the main event of the card, we were treated to Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza at his best as he wrestled Gegard Mousasi to the mat and worked for submission attempts until he finally secured the tap with a guillotine choke in the third round.
Mousasi, for his part, looked as mysterious as he always does. His talent was evident, as was his legendary composure, as he shrimped and turned and wriggled to calmly stay out of everything Jacare could throw at him until he was exhausted.
Most fighters would kill for this kind of composure under fire.
Yet, once again, Mousasi just couldn't get it going. When the fight was on the feet, he would throw flicking jabs, then get taken down. When he got back up, he would go right back to throwing flicking jabs.
The jab is an incredible weapon—the greatest tool in a striker's arsenal, and the flicking jab is particularly flustering if a fighter can do it well. Yet three or four jabs a round do not win fights. It wasn't until late in the game, once he was already tiring, that Mousasi started following his jabs with right hands occasionally. This is clearly a fighter who will look incredible when everything is going his way—as when his opponents can't take him down and have to stand on the end of his snapping jab as Ilir Latifi did—but isn't the kind of fighter who can turn a bout around with his back to the wall.
There were plenty of great moments in this bout as Mousasi showed admiral submission defense against a top-of-the-food-chain grappler. One thing which always surprises me is how often Mousasi, by pushing his opponents out, can convince them to stand over him—knowing that he loves to upkick. Jacare had previously been knocked out by one of these upkicks and, while he clearly remembered and stood well clear, ended up standing in the path of Mousasi's kicks several times.
The bout was full of cool little moments like this one, where Jacare's constant offense met Mousasi's ability to survive.
Odds and Ends
Elsewhere on the card the great finisher, Joe Lauzon picked up yet another stoppage, this time by way of cut against Mike Chiesa. The cut was opened by a brutal knee which caught Chiesa in the soft tissue above the eye in the middle of an awesome flurry of blows from J-Lau. You had to feel for Chiesa because this fight was easily the best he has looked to date, and while he had taken some shots he didn't look to be getting outclassed.
Plenty of fans complain about cut stoppages—and especially in MMA about elbows only causing cuts—but there's a reason some of the best fighters ever have aimed for them. Not just for the stoppage, but to hurt an opponent's confidence, to set a ticking clock on the bout, and to blind them a little to work that comes later.
Dozens and dozens of great Thai boxers have used their elbows to open cuts, Muhammad Ali made an art form of opening up cuts with his jab, and there's a reason that fighters like Evander Holyfield get so good at placing their head in the line of their opponent's face. There's a skill to it and it must be appreciated. Fights certainly aren't stopped just because the blood looks bad on television.
What impressed on me tremendously was Joe Lauzon's escape from back control and transition right into mount and then back control of his own. It simply showed so much experience and savvy, particularly against an opponent, in Chiesa, who is known for his back control.
Finally, it wouldn't be right to talk about a good night of fights without mentioning Bellator's event. Bellator's card left me in two minds because it simultaneously highlighted what I love about Bellator, and what I despise about it.
On the one hand, there was the brilliant fight between two young guns, Pat Curran and Patricio 'Pitbull' Freire. Curran is a favorite of analysts because of his excellent defense and counter striking which gave even the great Eddie Alvarez a hard time landing blows. Pitbull is a fan favorite because of his power and aggression.
Freire surprised Curran with his counter left hook and dropped the American three times en route to a one sided decision. It is fights such as this one which make me glad to stay plugged into the noise of MMA outside of the UFC. Certainly either man would be fantastic to watch against the UFC's division.
On the other hand, the marketing for the Tito Ortiz versus Stephan Bonnar fight was painful to watch. Bellator looked at the success of daft pro wrestling and soap style drama in Chael Sonnen, and in Quinton Jackson versus Rashad Evans, and decided they needed more of it—and it had better be scripted.
Scott Coker recently took over as president of Bellator from Bjorn Rebney. When he signed Emmanuel Newton versus Joey Beltran, he made it clear that he was going to do with Bellator's champions what he did with Nick Diaz in Strikeforce—sign mismatches which are entertaining enough that people will still start buying into the champ regardless. I had hoped that Coker would do away with all the professional wrestling nonsense that Rebney began with Tito Ortiz and Quinton Jackson, and continued with Jackson and Muhammad Lawal.
This cringe worthy promo from last night left me bitterly disappointed.
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