Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The MMA Files - EXTRA - Alistar Overeem goes "Dutch" on Brett Rogers

Do they serve crow in The Netherlands? I know the Dutch eat some interesting food, with interesting names. Horsemeat is a delicacy, and how can anyone forget the famous fact about eating French fries with mayo as relayed by Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction?
Well, if crow is on the menu, vegetarian or not, I am going to have to tuck in. After many, many months of disparaging the talents and the constitution of Strikeforce’s heavyweight champion on this blog and elsewhere, Alistair Overeem returned to the American MMA scene in great style on Saturday, totally overwhelming Brett Rogers and defeating him in just over three minutes.
Rogers was never in the contest. Overeem seemed to intimidate the bigger man from the opening bell. After a short, awkward dance with the champion, Rogers repeatedly got backed into the cage. Only once did “The Grim” come forward into the center, and for his troubles, Overeeem rewarded him with an enigmatic, judo-like throw that sent his man to the canvas as though he were stuffed with feathers. From there it was a matter of the champion relentlessly keeping Rogers on the ground with downward strikes, then softening him with vicious knees before unloading with a long (perhaps overlong) volley of wild, slashing punches to the head. Veteran MMA referee, John McCarthy final rescued Rogers at 3:40.
The victory over Rogers accomplishes a small thing and a big thing. The small thing is that it obviously derails Roger’s championship dreams for the foreseeable future. The overheated, often fawning praise for his beating the late-career Andrei Arlovski (who also lost on Saturday night) and the frankly silly hype surrounding his bloodying the nose of Fedor Emelianenko in November created the aura of false contention. The promotion, hungry and desperate for a legitimate heavyweight stable, pushed Rogers into title contention far too early. Now Rogers will have to seriously recalibrate his career trajectory, and address his lacking skill set.
The big thing to come out of Saturday night is the arrival of a true dominating heavyweight champion on the MMA scene to compete with the UFC’s big boys. Zuffa can claim the lion’s share of the elite of the heavyweight world, a boast it could not make even five years ago when PRIDE was still a going concern. Right now, six of the ten heavyweight’s on Yahoo Sport’s divisional rankings are under UFC conracts. In the top five, Fedor stands alone above the UFC’s champ, Brock Lesnar, who is then followed by five UFC contenders. Prior to Saturday night, Overeem was a lowly number nine, just above Fabricio Werdum (Fedor’s next opponent) and under “Big Nog” Noguerira, who is three and two in his last five fights.
In fact, Rogers himself is ranked at number seven. It is damn strange to have a contender who has lost his most recent bout be ranked above the promotion’s division champion. But such has been the long , strange road from winning to defending champion for Overeem, who began his professional combat sports career over eleven years ago competing in K1 kickboxing and small MMA shows in the Netherlands. The Rings promotional organization gave young Alistair (then, just 19) the chance to travel the world to fight. The competition was less than elite until he entered PRIDE, where he initially dominated as a middle and light heavyweight. But his three year, twelve fight winning streak hit a brick wall known as Chuck Liddell during the PRIDE middleweight grand prix of 2003, thus dashing his hopes for his first major MMA title.
Despite the loss, Overeem remained extremely popular in Japan, which was in the throes of a mainstream love-affair with the new sport. The big Dutchman’s flashy strikes, kicks, and chokes provided great fodder for sporting culture that rewards showmanship.
His next run at the middleweight crown took him through Vitor Belfort and Igor Vovchanchyn on his way to the finals and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. However, Overeem was again denied, this time by TKO in the first round. Afterward, even by his own account, “The Demolition Man” entered a kind of professional wilderness. A handful of victories followed by an unprecedented four and five record over the span of 2006 and 2007 seemed to suggest that a once promising career was quickly imploding. Desperate shifts heavyweight then back down to light heavyweight and a return to his K1 roots in the Netherlands generated a sense of a man who was not quite sure where to go in his career.
PRIDE now having officially closed shop, Overeem found himself at a critical crossroads. His contract was not optioned by the UFC so he did not make the transition from ring to octagon as had his fellow PRIDE superstars like “Rampage” Jackson, Wanderlai Silva, Mirko “CroCop,” and later, “Shogun” himself. It was during this time that Overeem was offered a fight by the American kickboxing promoter, Strikeforce, to fight for their inaugural MMA heavyweight championship. This time there would be no months-long tournaments. Nor would there be a soul-crushing opponent. Strikeforce gave Overeem Paul Buenetello, an intenerate ring veteran with a 27 and 12 record. It was as close as Strikeforce could come to simply giving their title belt to Overeem. Strikeforce was hungry for a heavyweight star. Up to that time, their biggest name in the division was Tank Abbott.
Overeem dominated his man for two rounds before “The Headhunter” tapped due to a vicious knee thrown to his midsection. Thus Overeem earned his first world title.
That was November of 2007. It would be two and half years – almost to the day – before Overeem would defend the title. In that time, he toured the world again, taking money fights with punching bag opponents like James Thompson and Gary Gooridge. His one high-profile fight during this time, a long-overdue dream match with CroCop, was declared a no-contest after Overeem repeatedly nailed the Croatian in the groin with his knees.
Overeem also returned to K1 fighting with a vengeance in 2009, fighting four matches for the world grand prix tournament (he would eventually lose to Badr Hari). It was during this strange era that Overeem went through a physical transformation, gaining 30 pounds of body-builder quality muscle. Rumors of steroid use, coupled with a delay of his Strikeforce return due to a hand injury, further tarnished the already fading glory of Overeem’s “comeback.”
But then came the night of May 15, 2010. Just two days shy of his 30th birthday, Alistair Overeem entered an American MMA cage in St. Louis, Missouri and showed the world what it a comeback should look like.
It should look like you never left.
Now talk has turned predictably to Fedor, who, for many, is the uncrowned champion of all MMA. After the match with Rogers, Overeem was artlessly asked who he wanted to fight next, a question usually reserved for contenders. Overeem quickly responded “Fedor.” Beating Fedor is much bigger than any title belt, and probably bigger than any single promotion. In other words, the Strikeforce heavyweight championship makes Overeem a contender for a “shot” at the Russian, not for any title, but for his status. It would be the biggest match in Strikeforce history, and may well mean a seismic shift in the sport’s history should “Demolition Man” take out “The Last Czar.”
But for now, Alistair Overeem is the defending champion, and the glory is his alone.

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