LAS VEGAS -- UFC president Dana White doesn't usually bother to comment on the typical pre-fight bluster that comes falling out of fighters' mouths in interviews and press conferences before the big night, but even he couldn't resist taking the bait this time.
When Alistair Overeem was asked at the UFC 141 pre-fight presser whether he expected Brock Lesnar to stand and trade with him on Friday night, the Dutch heavyweight confidently asserted that Lesnar "will have to stand up with me, because he's not going to get that takedown."
I'm not sure if Overeem had forgotten that he was talking about a former NCAA Division I heavyweight wrestling champ here, but White certainly hadn't.
"For Alistair to think that Brock can't take him down is crazy," White said afterward. "Brock can and probably will. The question is, can Brock keep Alistair Overeem down?"
Of course, that's only one of the questions in a heavyweight main event that seems to have far more unknowns than knowns. Between a former UFC champ who's just coming back from a colon-chopping surgery, to a dual MMA and kickboxing champ who spent the last few weeks being pestered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission about unfulfilled drug test requests, there's no shortage of wild variables in this one. But as Friday night's fight draws near, it's almost impossible to say which will play a significant role and which will amount to nothing at all.
For instance, is it going to matter that Lesnar hasn't fought in over a year due to recurring bouts of diverticulitis, or that he didn't deal particularly well with getting punched in the face even before then? Or is that negated by the fact that Overeem relocated his training camp once after splitting with his management, and then again a few weeks later so he could go home to the Netherlands to be close to his ailing mother?
And those are just the extracurriculars. That doesn't even include what actually went on in their respective gyms during the past few months.
Preparing for Lesnar always seems like a tricky business, because where are you going to find a sparring partner with that mix of size, speed, and wrestling acumen? If you had all that going for you, you probably wouldn't need to hire yourself out as a sparring partner. If you were just like Brock Lesnar, you'd be Brock Lesnar.
It works in the other direction too. Lesnar touts his striking training with Pat Barry, a 5-foot-11 kickboxer who's lost three of his last four in the UFC. But how exactly does that prepare him to trade blows with the 6-foot-5 Overeem, who won the K-1 World Grand Prix last year and hasn't lost an MMA bout since 2007?
"I can tell you this," Overeem said at Wednesday's press conference. "Pat Barry's not my level in the striking."
Even if Barry was roughly as good as "The Reem," it still leaves Lesnar to adjust to a serious difference in height, reach and striking angles when he goes from looking down at Barry in the gym to looking up at Overeem in the cage.
But maybe all these variables and unstable ingredients make for the perfect alchemy for the last UFC fight of 2011. After all, it's been a crazy year. The UFC tightened its stranglehold on the MMA market in 2011, and also wielded that power for good as it offered health insurance to its fighters for the first time. It continued its slow creep into the mainstream sports consciousness of the American public, and landed on network TV with a seven-year deal that might just take it the rest of the way.
Few could have predicted all this at the start of the year, so why not go out with a fight that's essentially a coin flip? Why not gamble on the big boys in Vegas?
Heavyweight bouts are usually unpredictable enough, if only because of the sheer firepower involved. With all the questions and doubts hanging over these two behemoths, you might as well give up on picking a winner and just hope the octagon is solid enough to contain them.