Dallas, Texas has the basketball greats the Mavericks, the hockey stand-outs in the Stars, and multiple NFL Superbowl Champions the Cowboys, but on June 18 Strikeforce invades the American Airlines Center with the second half of their Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament with Strikeforce, DREAM, and K-1 champion and seemingly unstoppable muscle-bound behemoth “The Demolition Man” Alistair Overeem (31-12) taking on rival “Vai Cavalo” Fabricio Werdum (14-4) at the helm. Supporting the edge-of-the-seat main event is a star studded card of heavyweights with international star “The Babyfaced Assassin” Josh Barnett (21-5) taking on heavy handed “The Grim” Brett Rogers (11-2) and two Grand Prix alternate bouts. Former UFC heavyweight title contender and world renowned submission king “The Snowman” Jeff Monson (37-11) returns to the American spotlight as he is welcomed to the Strikeforce ranks by the undefeated OSU and Olympic team wrestler Daniel Cormier (6-0) and IFL veteran and heavyweight dark horse “The Grave Digger” Chad Griggs (9-1) meets former PRIDE veteran and kickboxing powerhouse “The Python” Valentijn Overeem (27-21). Outside of the tournament brackets, the return of the much loved “Conviction” Gina Carano (7-1) against undefeated Sarah D’Alelio (3-0) has been pulled due to Carano not receiving medical clearance from her doctor and as a result, former Elite XC Lightweight Champion KJ Noons (9-3) and “Gamebred” Jorge Masvidal (19-6) will fill the spot with a shot for the lightweight title on the line. The tournament may dominate the card itself, but it is the match between Overeem and Werdum that has the attention of the MMA world as the first man to record a recognized legitimate win over “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko (31-3) faces the man that MMA fans worldwide have wanted to see him face in a rematch of their 2006 PRIDE bout. Both fighters have come a long way since then; the dynamics have changed and it will be interesting to see which of these two warriors has progressed the most.
At First Glance: Alistair Overeem had a very busy year in 2010. From defending his Strikeforce heavyweight belt against Brett Rogers, to fighting his way through the K-1 Grand Prix Tournament to win the legendary title against Peter Aerts, to knocking out Todd Duffee (5-1) in just 19 seconds to win the interim DREAM title, Overeem has put in a lot of work to justify his status as one of the sport’s top heavyweights. Now Overeem is seeking revenge against the man who owns arguably the most shocking submission victory in MMA history – over Fedor Emelianenko – in Fabricio Werdum. Werdum hasn’t fought since his upset win over Fedor in August due to recovery from a surgery he underwent in January. The Brazilian “Vai Cavalo” owns a 2006 submission victory over Overeem, but for the first round of that bout it was Overeem with the upper hand. Ask both men and they will say the same thing: neither man is the same fighter that he formerly was. They respect each other but that won’t stop them from putting it all on the line to put the other to sleep and move on to the tournament semi-finals come tomorrow night. Up for grabs in the fight is more than just a pass into the next round of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix though, as a win for either man makes a solid argument for a place as the number one heavyweight in the world.
In Depth: When it comes to breaking down a bout between two of the best in their respected disciplines, it all boils down to where the weakest link is in each man’s game. Werdum has quite possibly the slickest Jiu-Jitsu in the heavyweight world outside of the UFC at this point. His opponent Overeem does have an overall edge though due to the greater variety of weapons he possesses, mainly his striking and World’s Strongest Man-level of strength. “The Demolition Man” is the K-1 Grand Prix champion, the title given to arguably the best full contact striker in the world. Overeem’s second advantage lies purely in his exceptional physical stature. Overeem is 6’5″ and 265lbs. of solid muscle, giving him the reach, strength, stamina, and height advantage over Werdum. The Brazilian, at about 20lbs. less than his competitor, could possibly make up the size by adding on some muscle to his frame but it would take years to match the power of Overeem. All of these factors coupled with the fact that Werdum was recently hospitalized and may not be at 100 percent have led to Overeem being a massive 5:1 favorite. Werdum has a wall of odds stacked against him when it comes to Overeem, but with a pair of recent and very solid wins over “Bigfoot” Antonio Silva (15-2) and Fedor he has proven that he is more than capable of overcoming nearly any advantage through a combination of guile and sheer willpower. It will still be a tall order, however, for Werdum who is at a severe disadvantage everywhere but on the mat. At range, Overeem has the clear advantage in reach and striking skill. In the clinch, Overeem’s combination of devastating knees and brutal power are a death trap. Werdum is a game opponent but likely the only way he will find this bout reaching the mat is when Overeem catches him with a big shot and leaves him stretched out on his back unconscious.
Wild Card: The longer the fight stays on the ground the more likely it becomes that Werdum will lock on a submission and finish “The Demolition Man” in short order. If Overeem drops Werdum and rushes to the mat to finish the job as Fedor did, he could find himself in that same Triangle Choke or worse, the same Kimura that ended his night in 2006. Werdum knows what he has to do to win and could frustrate Overeem into playing his game then outwork him on the mat. Trying to out-strike Overeem is a bad idea and Werdum knows it so any attempts to do so will likely be an attempt to bait Overeem to the canvas where he can work his magic and tie up the muscled striker.
The Verdict: Even in highly touted rematches between two of the top heavyweight fighters in the world, the grappler over the striker is generally considered the favorite. But with a striker of Overeem’s caliber that also packs an arsenal of fighting tools, it is difficult to confidently vote against him. “The Demolition Man” will likely use his varied and hard hitting striking to outwork and damage Werdum until he lands that punch that will be the beginning of the end of “Vai Cavalo”. Alistair Overeem is on his way to super stardom in the USA and finishing Werdum will seal his place in the talks of top heavyweights in the world. Overeem via TKO (Strikes), Round 1.