Home Science Education Alistair Overeem: The King Who Defeated Himself

Alistair Overeem: The King Who Defeated Himself

Technique Analysis Part I: Revisiting Alistair Overeem's UFC Bouts -- Stance, Knees, and Hand-Positioning.

Photo via fighterxchange.com

Context: In 2011, when Alistair Overeem entered the UFC , he was supposed to wreak havoc in the heavyweight division and be it’s king. After all, he’s the ADCC European Trials winner (2005) and was undefeated in MMA since late 2007. “The Reem” placed third in the K-1 World Grand Prix (2009) and became the champion in 2010. In addition to his kickboxing glories, he also won the heavyweight belt in Strikeforce and DREAM.

UFC: In a “spectacular” fashion, Overeem sent Brock Lesnar into retirement, and was slated to face the UFC champion at the time: Junior Dos Santos. But right before the bout, Overeem was caught for “high-testosterone”.

After a year of hiatus he faced Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, whom he beat up for two rounds, but then got brutally knocked-out.

Half a year later, “The Reem” was supposed to make a comeback against Travis Browne. After brutalizing Browne for four minutes, he was eventually defeated again.

While Silva and Browne’s wins definitely have merit, I do believe that for the most part, Overeem defeated himself. His vanity and desire for public approval affected his strategies, and his strategies led to his demise. To see the plausibility of this theory, let’s revisit his bouts in the UFC. 

Golden Principles in Combat: “Know yourself, know your enemy, and know the grounds on which you fight.” — Reed Kuhn: Fightnomics

Commentators on Lesnar vs. Overeem: “Alistair has no respect whatsoever for Brock’s standup” — Joe Rogan… ”I’m surprised Lesnar hasn’t just freight trained and looked to take Overeem down.” – Mike Goldberg

Actually… Overeem came into the bout prepared for Lesnar’s takedowns — meaning he had plenty of respect for his takedown abilities.

1. Stance — Center-of-Gravity (COG): Throughout the bout, take note of Overeem’s low COG. Keeping a lower COG is “built-in defence” for a shot. Most takedowns in MMA require penetration — to initiate a takedown and penetrate an opponent, one must change levels and transition to a lower COG .

During the transition, the shot needs to be directed at the hips, where the opponent’s COG is. In order to drive through the hip (for a double-leg), the shoulder (at the least) ought to be at the opponent’s hip level.

Overeems low stance allowed him to keep the COG below Lesnars’, ensuring a strong position; this discouraged a shot attempt. MMA is game of action and reaction: by staying lower, Overeem creates an extra time-frame to react against the powerhouse wrestler.

There was little Lesnar could to to make Overeem stand taller to open up the hips (e.g. straight punches, or effective kicks). While Lesnar tried to kick and punch, they either missed or were “petty strikes”. So “The Reem” got away with this stance, but his strategy had more subtleties.

2. Hand-Positioning and Right-Underhook: Overeem could afford to keep his hands-low to more easily underhook Lesnar, should Lesnar still attempt a takedown. This made Overeem look very impressive, while still maintaining plenty of utility — analogous to Anderson Silva.

Multi-Purpose: conveniently controlling the posture of Lesnar to create space for his trademark knees.

Frame 1-2: Overeem, with the right-hand, lifts Lesnar up to keep him straight and prevent him from changing levels for a takedown. With the left-hand, he controls Lesnar’s shoulder — pushing it (with hand/forearm) to force Lesnar into a squared upperbody stance — creating optimal space for a straight-left knee to the liver.

Frame 3-4: Overeem switches stance, pushing Lesnar up against the fence, and again squaring Lesnar up. He uses his right-underhook to wheel Lesnar’s weight distribution to open up the right-knee to the sternum (and to transfer weight onto the base leg — lead-left leg).

Rinse and Repeat

Further Discussion — Two Consistencies:

(a) Right under-hook into left-knee — this prevents the Lesnar from going for double leg, but perhaps more importantly in this case — the single on the lead left-leg ; (b) when Lesnar is near the cage, reducing the base and maneuverability, Overeem goes for the right-knee.

In frame 3, Lesnar tries to defend the knee with his right-arm, but it’s controlled by Overeem’s left-hand. You can see just how out-of-position Lesnar’s right-arm is in frame 4.

After these flush knees, Overeem had Lesnar flustered and hurt. So, alternatively, he was able to land a variety of other knee and punch techniques on Lesnar without needing to secure the underhook. *Read Jack Slack’s article on the “The Reem’s” other setups.

For the finish — a kick to the liver

Contrary to public opinion, Alistair Overeem did not take this bout lightly — instead, he had an intelligent gameplan while making it look like a breeze.

He Successful Fulfilled The Golden Principles:

Know yourself: elite level striking (in particular knees) ; know your enemy: elite level wrestling and top game ; and know the grounds on which you fight : keep the fight standing, hurt Lesnar with knees, and finish the fight. 

So, with such a spectacular win against a former champion, the public opinion was that Overeem is the real deal — “he can beat a former champion with his hands-down…”

Now consider this: In 2011, Anderson Silva had the highest stock, praise, and mystique in all of combat sports. Is it a stylistic coincidence that he fought with his hands-lowered? I say it’s highly correlated, and if you share the same sentiment…

I urge you to consider whether it’s also a coincidence that Overeem was praised for having his hands-lowered, and then go on to fight Antonio “Big Foot” Silva with the same style. Remember, this is someone who’s neverfought with this stylistic choice before — in fact, “The Reem” was rather well-known for his disciplined guard.

He didn’t do it against, Fabricio Werdum, Todd Duffee, Brett Rogers, Kazuyuki Fujita, and James Thompson — his last 5 MMA bouts — why would he all of a sudden start doing it against UFC opponents in the top 10? Did he want to prove a point and continue the praise of “K-1 Level Striking”? Is it plausible that he wanted to have wins so spectacular that it’d lessen the “hate” from the testosterone controversy?


As always, thank you for reading. To read Part II, the discussion on Alistair Overeem vs. Antonio Silva, follow this link. You can also read the final instalment – Part III: Travis Browne here. To stay updated, you can follow me on Twitter or add me on Facebook  – the links are located below.