Going into UFC 141, Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem are both used to wearing championship gold. Lesnar is a former UFC heavyweight champ, a national NCAA Division I wrestling champ and even a former WWE champion. Overeem gave up his Strikeforce heavyweight championship to come to the UFC, but he's also a K-1 kickboxing champion -- the only fighter to ever hold the K-1 title and a major MMA belt at the same time. For what it's worth, he's also the last DREAM heavyweight champion.
Tomorrow night they'll be fighting for the first crack at Junior dos Santos' UFC title and both men are talking a good game.
"This is the biggest fight ever and I can only be excited. Brock is a dream match, I think the fans will agree on that, and I never thought the fight would be possible because I was outside of the UFC, and now that I'm in the UFC, I'm just so excited," Overeem told Thomas Gerbasi.
"You want to end the year good," said Overeem. "I've had a lot of fights at year's end, and I'm used to it. I'm actually looking forward to the fight. It might sound crazy to some people, but I'm looking forward to the fight itself, the attention, the knockout that I'm gonna make, and it's gonna be great. I worked hard for this moment for the last four months. I've been dedicated, and December 30th is gonna come up and I'm looking forward to that."
For his part, Lesnar is claiming to be eager to get back in the cage as well.
"I was born this way. I was born a bad mother**ker and that's who I am. It ain't an act, and it's not a line. There's nobody out there like me. I was born to do this, and I'll fight whoever they put in front of me. I've proven myself over and over again that this is my way of life. Where does it come from? I don't know, it's just who I am," Lesnar told Gerbasi.
"I finally feel like I'm at home," he said. "Certain people are born to do certain things. Every day, there's somebody who's born for a specific job. It's Greek mythology - you handpick this kid and he's gonna be this. If it was back in the days, I would have been a gladiator. I'm just a modern day gladiator."
But the cruel reality of mixed martial arts is that only one man can win any given bout. The even crueler reality of a fight like Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem is that the loser is likely going to look really really bad. That's a special effect this bout has on both fighters: it could fundamentally solidify negative perceptions of the loser.
If Lesnar (the wrestler) wins, it will be because he's able to take Overeem down and maul him on the ground. If Overeem (the striker) wins, it will be because he's able to connect early with a strike and make Lesnar cower like he did against Cain Velasquez and Shane Carwin before getting the KO or TKO finish.
Either outcome will significantly reduce the loser to damaged goods in the eyes of fans. Despite tough talk, there's little either can do to avoid a stock drop should they lose. Both enter this bout with numerous questions about their liabilities. And both has the ability to exploit the other fighters weakness. Both enter this bout with a feel of 'could this be the straw that breaks the camel's back?'
MMA business analyst Dave Meltzer had some interesting thoughts on which fighter would suffer more from a loss, from the Wrestling Observer (subscription required):
Overeem will still fight and has plenty of opponents in the deepest heavyweight division UFC has ever had. But the aura he built over the last four years will be largely gone because it'll be two straight lackluster performances against the first two top level heavyweights he faced. Those who labeled him the typical Japanese creation of running over second rate competition will say this proves it, even though Lesnar brings with him certain athletic gifts unique to the sport.
For Lesnar, a loss, because it's very likely to be a knockout quick, would put a lot into question. It would probably end him as a mega draw. ...In reality, there is no shame in losing to either guy, but Overeem can stand the loss and build back from it better than Lesnar, because Overeem's way of winning, penetrating Lesnar's standing defense quickly, will make Lesnar not look good. There's a difference in perception about being beaten up while looking bad standing, and in being taken down by a power wrestler and not being able to get up, and losing that way.
It's the old 'there can be only one' dilemma that is fundamental to combat sports. Any intriguing bout brings together two formidable fighters, but any decisive bout leaves one man diminished. While that's the case with any fight, this main event will have far reaching effects.
We'll find out tomorrow night who wins and who loses and the ramifications will be huge, not just for the fighters, but for the sport itself. A Lesnar win will likely lead the UFC to a banner 2012 built off one or two million-selling pay-per-views featuring Lesnar fighting for the title. An Overeem win will mean a slower start to the year, but possibly a bigger long-term upside as the winner of a dos Santos vs. Overeem bout will be on his way to stardom.