If Alistair Overeem’s goal on Saturday night was simply to advance in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix tournament, mission accomplished. If he was also out to solidify his position as one of the world’s top five 265-pound MMA fighters? Not so much.
Overeem emerged from an awkward and stagnant bout with Fabricio Werdum with a unanimous decision victory over the weekend, but failed to impress in the process. Credit (or fault) Werdum for most of that, as his strange strategy of continually pulling guard and trying to cajole the enormous Dutch striker to follow him to the ground turned their fight into an cringe-worthy affair.
Petrified of getting caught on the mat with Werdum, the normally ferocious Overeem looked tentative and overly cautious in the standup game. He easily stuffed Werdum’s early takedown attempts, but once the Brazilian made it clear that he was going to do everything he could think of to hoodwink Overeem into a ground battle, whatever carefully laid plans the champion had seemed to evaporate.
Werdum’s game plan might have been brilliant, if he’d just done something with it. His line of attack (if you want to call it that) of pulling guard, scooting around the cage on his ass and at times literally begging Overeem to come into his guard so freaked out the champion that he retreated into a shell. If Werdum could’ve capitalized on Overeem’s indecision, he might’ve won. Too bad he was simply content to throw Hail Mary after Hail Mary in a strategy that looked far more desperate than it was.
It’s pretty hard to win a mixed martial arts fight by pulling guard. Even for a BJJ stylist as wickedly gifted as Werdum, you’re not going to score points with judges and fans when they see you routinely pratfalling onto your back with legs and arms spread wide. Basically, you’re limiting yourself to either winning by decision or losing. What’s worse, it all but admits to fans and analysts you know as well as they do that you have no other chance to emerge with a win.
Maybe the strangest part of it all was that Werdum didn’t look half bad in the striking phase. On the few occasions when he did let his hands go, he made good contact with Overeem’s chin with capable combinations. While he was never on the verge of putting the champ in trouble, it sure made a better impression than watching him scooch along on his backside for 15 minutes.
With Werdum unwilling to consistently engage on the feet and Overeem’s unwavering refusal to go to the ground, it was a stalemate. A case might even have been made for a draw – which would’ve called for one of the Strikeforce’s tournament’s new “sudden victory” rounds – but the judges were clearly more impressed with the limited work Overeem was able to do on his feet and in top position than with Werdum’s jiu jitsu tournament tactics.
Overeem will advance to face Antonio Silva in the semifinals. The winner of that bout will get the winner of Josh Barnett vs. Sergei Kharitonov. As of this writing, Strikeforce is even saying it plans to wrap up the tournament by February, 2012. That’s great news for fans, but it gives Overeem a limited window to prove he belongs among the heavyweight elite.