Yesterday, the UFC announced the return of its biggest star, former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. When the announcement broke in the Los Angeles Times, UFC fans everywhere breathed a huge sigh of relief. And who could blame them? We last saw Lesnar on The Ultimate Fighter, before an unfortunate return of his intestinal issues forced the big man to bow out prior to his scheduled fight with Junior dos Santos. There was speculation, as recently as last week, that the big man was gone for good.
Lesnar's return is big news. And he won't be greeted in his Octagon return by a soft touch. Alistair Overeem was widely regarded as the best heavyweight in the world outside of the UFC. His signature on the dotted line, to a long term contract at that, is big news. A title eliminator with Lesnar is even bigger. Fans have clamored to see Overeem, a top level kickboxer and MMA veteran, tested by the best - and they don't get much better than Brock Lesnar.
At first glance, the fight is a classic battle between grappler and striker, a throwback to the days of Mark Coleman and Maurice Smith. But it's actually a little more complicated than that. Overeem is no grappling neophyte and the heavy handed Lesnar has dropped some pretty tough opponents with punches. So how do these two mammoth heavyweights match up? Let's go to the breakdown.
Wrestling: Lesnar is a former NCAA champion and a monster of a man. His takedown is virtually unstoppable if he sets it up and gets deep enough. No one who has stepped foot in the cage with him has avoided being put on his back - including UFC champion Cain Velasquez. Overeem has pretty good takedown defense, but he's never seen a wrestler like Brock Lesnar. Advantage: Lesnar. In a big way.
Grappling: Here's where things get interesting. Overeem, best known for his success in the kickboxing promotion K-1, actually has more submission wins than knockouts in his decade plus MMA career. His strongest hold in the guillotine choke. Lesnar will have to think twice about a lazy shot on the Dutchman. If he can, Overeem will finish things quickly.
Lesnar, although no submission master, has been training for some time with catch wrestling expert Erik Paulson. When he gets control on the ground, Lesnar has mastered the ability to control his opponent's hips. Watch his second fight with Frank Mir for an example. If Lesnar puts Overeem down, it will be very hard for the striker to get back up again. He may not tap him - put positional control is just as much a part of grappling as submission. Advantage: Even.
Striking: As the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix kickboxing champion, Overeem can make a strong case that he's the best striker in the heavyweight division. He has power in both hands and his kicks are hard enough to break bones - just ask teammate Gokhan Saki. He's certainly not invulnerable. Overeem has been knocked out several times in his career, most notably by Chuck Liddell, but only once in an MMA bout since jumping to the heavyweight division in 2007.
Lesnar hasn't adjusted to the stand up game as quickly as his fans might have liked. He looked shell shocked against Shane Carwin and again in his bout with Cain Velasquez. A third performance that sees Lesnar turn and flee from heavy punches will leave serious questions about his MMA future. Porous defense not withstanding, Lesnar does possess heavy punches. He knocked down Heath Herring and pounded out former champion Randy Couture. If he hits Overeem flush, he can hurt him - but Lesnar will be best served striking only as necessary to set up a takedown. Advantage: Overeem.
Clinch: Overeem is devastating in the clinch. His knee, both to the head and body, can be a fight changer from this position. He's strong as an ox and does a good job controlling his opponent against the cage, or simply tossing them down like a rag doll.
Lesnar has been surprisingly vulnerable in the clinch. The smaller Couture controlled him here and it's not a good place to hang out against Overeem. Lesnar does have effective knees in the clinch, but if he finds himself here, the former champion will most likely look to secure a takedown rather than risk an exchange of blows with "Ubereem." Advantage: Overeem
Intangibles: This is where things get tricky. Lesnar has looked awful in his last two fights. He's also been battling his own body for what must feel like a decade. Is he fully recovered from his ordeal? Will he be able to train? As he approaches his mid thirties, the physical tools he's relied on so heavily in his life may begin to decline. How will Lesnar respond? There are huge questions surrounding Brock. How he answers them will decide if the Lesnar era is over before it started, or whether the former champion can return to glory.
Overeem will be making his Octagon debut. Despite fights in front of huge crowds in Japan and main event appearances in the States, it's safe to say this will be the biggest fight of his career. Will it all be too much for the veteran fighter? Advantage: Overeem.
Winner: Lesnar. Yes, I gave Lesnar the advantage in only one category. But that advantage, in the wrestling department, potentially negates all the positives Overeem brings to the table. If Lesnar were 100 percent, I wouldn't even hesitate making this pick. His injury and mental state, however, serves to make this potentially one sided fight quite interesting. I can't wait to see it play out.