Heading into the UFC, Alistair Overeem (36-12-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC) was being built to be the next big star of the heavyweight division. The hype of Overeem grew after his first UFC fight, where he retired the former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar in the first round with a kick to the body. Fast forward to his next fight where he was dominating Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva for two rounds only to be knocked out within 25 seconds of the third and we now have a man who was only asked one question at the pre-fight press conference, and that question was by Ariel Helwani asking how it felt to not be asked any questions after being touted as a star. Overeem is arguably one of the best pure strikers in MMA, being the only fighter in the UFC that held belts in both K-1 and MMA simultaneously, and he is looking to get back on the path to being the UFC heavyweight champion.
His opponent at UFC Fight Night 26 in Boston, Travis Browne (14-1-1), has been making a name for himself as a very mobile, unorthodox striker in the heavyweight division, with his most notable performance being his superman punch knockout of Stefan Struve (how many superman punches are there at Heavyweight?). Browne moves around the cage with superb footwork like no other heavyweight. Prior to Browne’s knockout of Gabriel Gonzaga he had been TKO’d by “Bigfoot” Silva resulting in the first loss of his career, though he tore his hamstring in the middle of the fight which cost him a chance at victory. Browne has finished 12 of 14 fights, 5 of which were finished within the first minute which is a testament to his intensity. Browne will look to shoot up the ranks, potentially earning himself a number one contenders match with a win in this fight.
It is quite clear that Overeem is the more technical striker. In 2009 Alistair placed third in the K-1 Grand Prix losing to Badr Hari, and in 2010 Overeem went on to win the entire tournament. On a technical level there should be no fighter in the heavyweight division that could beat him on the feet, but as we saw in the Bigfoot fight there are always other factors. Because in MMA the gloves are much smaller, a striker’s guard is less effective resulting in more shots getting through. Overeem’s striking defense is not the same as it is in kickboxing, as in MMA he is not able to block as many punches due to the smaller gloves which has left him stunned and TKO’d on a numerous occasions (see the Bigfoot and Liddell fights, for instance). With a fighter as tenacious as Browne, it would be very possible for him to find and test the chin of Overeem.
Prediction: Alistair Overeem def. Travis Browne via TKO in round 2.
Overeem is coming into this fight focused and with bad intentions. The kickboxing superstar will not allow his focus to shift from Browne in this fight and this will not allow Browne to find an opening in the insanely technical striking game of Overeem. Overeem will look to make quick work of Browne with his superior striking and send the message to the rest of the heavyweight division that he is still a force to be reckoned with, though I believe the footwork and movement of Browne will allow him to survive until round two.