By Steve Davies – mmabay.co.uk
‘UFC 141: Lesnar vs. Overeem‘ goes down tomorrow night, December 30th, as heavyweight titans Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem collide for a shot at the title in what should be an explosive end to 2011. The rest of the main card is looking pretty tasty too, so allow MMABay to break down the main five fights of the night and see who will triumph in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Brock Lesnar (5-2, 4-2 UFC) vs. Alistair Overeem (35-11, 0-0 UFC)
he Lowdown: More than 500lbs of bad intentions will fill the Octagon this Friday night as former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar looks to prove his health problems are in the past by steamrolling former Strikeforce kingpin, Alistair Overeem, for a shot at the title in 2012.
The former WWE superstar and Team Death Clutch cornerstone enters a pivotal fight in his still-young career having battled diverculitis on several occasions – spending over a year on the treatment table since losing his title to Cain Velasquez at UFC 121. Lesnar was blitzed by the smaller, more agile wrestler that night but had previously rallied from a first-round drubbing to submit an exhausted Shane Carwin to defend the gold.
The 6ft 3in, 265lb behemoth will be pitting his immense wrestling power and lethal ground and pound against former K-1 world champion, ‘The Demolition Man’ himself, who makes his long-awaited UFC debut on Friday night. The horse-meat fanatic was last seen eking out a lacklustre decision over Fabricio Werdum in the Strikeforce GP, only to be forced out of the tournament by an injury and conveniently signed to the UFC instead.
A good move in business terms, as Overeem did have a slight chance of losing to Antonio Silva and as a result would perhaps not have been the draw he is now. The 6ft 5in Dutchman has been training at Xtreme Couture in preparation for the hulking wrestler, a wise move considering Overeem’s lack of experience with such fighters.
The Verdict: While this is a suitably titanic main event to end 2011, it’s a horrible one to pick. There are two scenarios that stand out – first, Lesnar bull-rushes the knockout artist and sucks the energy out of him with takedown attempts before launching into a trademark ‘donkey kong’ attack on the ground. Alternatively, Brock finds the towering Overeem stronger than anyone he’s faced thus far, struggles to get a grip and cowers under the vicious strikes of the muay thai wrecking machine.
Let’s not forget though, Lesnar has some big power in his own hands despite being a poor striker and if Overeem gets tagged as often as he was by Werdum, he himself might end up in big trouble. But the chances of Lesnar throwing down are slim, and we’ll definitely see him drive for the double-leg early on. Overeem can throw knees up the middle for fun aiming for the knockout but Lesnar will at some point get the Dutchman on his back, which will be the turning point of the fight. Overeem is no novice on the mat and extremely strong and all it will take is one stand-up for things to sway back in his favour. But this writer cannot shake the idea that Overeem’s gargantuan muscles will begin to tire VERY quickly with Lesnar riding in top position and the wrestler will capitalise in round two.
Backing a losing Lesnar is to fall into the hype machine of the UFC. Backing a losing Overeem is to fall under the spell of any fighter doing his business outside of the Zuffa monopoly. This writer goes for Lesnar, with a systematic break-down of a tiring Overeem that resembles his destruction of Frank Mir second time around. Lesnar, (T)KO, 2nd round.
Nate Diaz (14-7, 9-5 UFC) vs. Donald Cerrone (17-3, 4-0 UFC)
The Lowdown: Two of the downright nastiest lightweights on the UFC roster prepare to throw down in the co-main event with the winner possibly finding themselves in title contention and for ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ season five winner, Nate Diaz – this is personal. We’ve all seen the confrontation that saw Diaz knock off the stetson Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone and this weekend, the Stockton thug will try to finish the job.
Diaz’s brief fling with the 170lb division was brought to an end in 2011 as back-to-back decision losses (dominant ones, at that) to Dong Hyun Kim and Rory MacDonald sent the ‘less famous’ brother back to 155lbs in September. At UFC 136, Diaz turned in perhaps the best performance of his life – dropping and wounding former PRIDE sensation Takanori Gomi before submitting him with a deft armbar late in round one.
For ‘Cowboy’, 2011 has been a breakout year and the Jackson’s MMA lightweight has torn through the division with four straight wins this year. Cerrone’s last two victories were something else, as he first proved that Brazilian Charles Oliveira was far from ready for the big guns – pounding him out with shots on the mat in the first round in August.
At UFC 137 in October, ‘Cowboy’ was outstanding as he beat German kickboxing machine Dennis Siver at his own game by rattling him and dropping him with a headkick before sinking in a picture-perfect rear-naked choke. The Colorado rancher needed just over two minutes to halt Siver’s four-fight streak and with another dominant showing, Cerrone might swagger into title contention, stetson and all.
The Verdict: Great piece of match-making from Joe Silva and if all goes to plan, ‘Fight of the Night’ bonuses will be dished out to these two aggressive but technically sound lightweights. In the stand-up battles, Diaz’s boxing goes up against Cerrone’s muay thai and arguably superior power – a war that the Californian is unlikely to win. On the ground, both are excellent grapplers with finishing ability but could well cancel each other out – that being said, Cerrone’s the better wrestler of the two and could feasibly win the ground battle through positioning and control. It’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out brawl to end all brawls and after three rough and ready rounds ‘Cowboy’ will be the one celebrating. Cerrone, decision.
Jon Fitch (23-3-1, 13-1-1 UFC) vs. Johny Hendricks (11-1, 6-1 UFC)
The Lowdown: Wrestlers collide on the main card as perennial number two welterweight Jon Fitch aims to stake an undeniable claim at a second shot at the title by outfoxing rising star, Johny Hendricks. Fitch has not fought since UFC 127 in February when he was surprised by the new and improved ‘NCAA’ B.J Penn who took him down several times and won the first two rounds before dropping a 10-8 third, resulting in a draw.
Fitch’s record is hard to argue against and his sole UFC loss is still at the hands of champion, Georges St Pierre. The American Kickboxing Academy stalwart was on a five-fight win streak prior to his fight with Penn, but almost a year on the shelf with injury could make a tussle with Hendricks a daunting prospect for the Indiana native.
Decorated wrestling convert Hendricks has looked solid since he brought his wonderful beard to the Octagon in 2009 and the Team Takedown welterweight holds impressive stoppages to his name over Amir Sadollah and fellow blue-chip wrestler, Charlie Brenneman. At the end of 2010, Hendricks dropped a decision to Rick Story – the first loss of his career – but 2011 has seen the Oklahoma native stop T.J Waldburger in round one and eke out a split decision over Mike Pierce.
The Verdict: Hendricks is a tricky matchup for Fitch – he’s quicker, a better wrestler on paper and has faster, harder hands. However, Fitch has shown time and again that credentials and the like mean nothing to him and the veteran will be back to the grindstone on the weekend doing what he does best – wearing down opponents and squeezing out decisions. If Hendricks opts to stay on the outside and put his combinations together, he can expose Fitch’s average striking game to good effect. But the underdog’s wrestling has not translated brilliantly to MMA (see his loss to Story, or a few of his wins for that matter) and Fitch is simply too strong and crafty to let this one slip through his fingers. With GSP sidelined, Fitch could get a shot at the Condit/Diaz winner in 2012 with a win here and he should have the guts and grit to get the job done. Fitch, decision.
Vladimir Matyushenko (26-5, 7-3 UFC) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (12-1, 4-1 UFC)
The Lowdown: Seasoned veteran will meet top prospect at 205lbs this weekend as two-time former UFC title contender Vladimir Matyushenko looks to continue an unlikely renaissance that has seen him win consecutive fights inside the Octagon. ‘The Janitor’ had no trouble at all with BJJ maestro Alexandre ‘Cacareco’ Ferreira at UFC 122, elbowing out a stoppage early in round one before needing just 20-seconds to knock out grappler Jason Brilz at UFC 129.
The Belarussian’s wrestling prowess was not needed in either fight but Matyushenko might have to fall back on his A-game this weekend if he finds Swedish knockout artist Alexander ‘The Mauler’ Gustafsson too much to deal with. The 24-year old prospect’s only loss was to blue-chip wrestler Phil Davis and Gustafsson has won three in a row since, looking more impressive with each victory.
The 6ft 4in Swede used his impressive boxing to out-strike elite muay thai stylist Cyrille Diabate before submitting the veteran, following up that win with a swift submission of knockout artist James Huna at UFC 127 in February. Gustafsson’s finest moment so far came in August when he stopped Matt Hamill with punches and elbows in round two, something even the likes of ‘Rampage’ Jackson couldn’t do. ‘The Mauler’ can go from prospect to contender this weekend but only the best get past ‘The Janitor’.
The Verdict: Matyushenko rarely uses his wrestling these days but he’ll have limited success slugging it out with the younger, faster Gustafsson whose hand-speed and reach can put the veteran on queer street. Never a double-leg artist, Matyushenko relies on the clinch and dirty boxing to set up his takedowns but Gustafsson’s takedown defence has looked good for the most part and I don’t see the youngster being drawn into a close-quarters brawl. This one could look like ‘The Mauler’s fight with Matt Hamill as the Swede is given a few scares but begins landing cleaner shots en route to a second round knockout in his coming-out party. Gustafsson, (T)KO, 2nd round.
Nam Phan (17-9, 1-2 UFC) vs. Jimy Hettes (9-0, 1-0 UFC)
The Lowdown: There’s a main card berth for featherweight prospect Nam Phan who is coming off a three-round dismantling of veteran Leonard Garcia at UFC 136, taking the decision victory that was stolen from him ten months earlier. ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ season twelve graduate breathed a sigh of relief as the split decision loss to Garcia was followed by a more dominant one to Mike Thomas Brown, leaving him 0-2 going into the rematch with ‘Bad Boy’.
Phan’s well-oiled striking and stable takedown defence will be tested this weekend by unbeaten prospect Jimy ‘The Kid’ Hettes who is looking for his second UFC victory in Las Vegas. A decorated judo player, Hettes has submitted all nine of his opponents including another former TUF contestant, Alex Caceres.
Hettes and ‘Bruce Leroy’ put on a sloppy but exciting show in August with the 24-year old Hettes eventually tapping the fan-favourite with a second round rear-naked choke. The Pennsylvanian gets a tidy bump in competition this weekend and a win would mark him out as one to watch at 145lbs.
The Verdict: Phan may not be a world-beater but his wealth of experience gives him the upper hand against somewhat wild, unrefined prospects like Hettes. ‘The Kid’ looked scrappy and a little directionless at times against Caceres and was lucky to be fighting an equally raw prospect that night. Phan is a different kettle of fish – the Asian fighter will have little trouble out-striking Hettes and as long as he can defend the takedown, it should turn into target practice for Phan as the fight progresses. A humbling first defeat lies ahead for the up-and-comer. Phan, decision.
That’s all for the main card of ‘UFC 141: Lesnar vs. Overeem‘, airing at 3am on ESPN UK for our British readers and from all at MMABay, have a great New Year and keep it messy, but safe!
By Steve Davies