As the year winds down, the most important of the remaining bouts for 2011 must be the heavyweight contenders' fight between Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem at UFC 141. But due to a host of contributing factors, it’s one of the most difficult matchups ever to handicap heading into Friday’s main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Here are some of the factors to weigh when placing your bets on the UFC’s next No. 1 heavyweight contender, who will challenge reigning champion Junior dos Santos in 2012.
Both have the tools to win. Overeem, a former Strikeforce and K-1 kickboxing champion, can outstrike Lesnar. But the 2001 NCAA Division I wrestling champ can ground Overeem and either hold him down or get a referee’s stoppage. This bout won’t be decided on style alone.
This factor buoyed to the top of the list, given that both have faced challenging personal issues during their training camps. Only eight months ago, Lesnar had major surgery to cure recurring diverticulitis, where a 12-inch portion of his colon was removed and repaired according to UFC president Dana White. On top of that, Lesnar hasn’t fought in over a year and missed out on an entire year of crucial personal development, so time to acclimate back into training and ring rust are very real considerations. Sprinkle in recent hunting charges filed against Lesnar in Canada (Lesnar resolved the charges and paid a fine last week) and there’s been a lot of added media attention that Lesnar would deem unnecessary, annoying and time-consuming. However, Overeem already has Lesnar beat in this category with a laundry list of distractions. The 30-year-old Dutch fighter filed a lawsuit against his former Golden Glory management team in November in Los Angeles, had to move his training camp at least once during his Las Vegas stay, left for Holland in mid-November to tend to his ailing mother in cancer remission, and has had to submit to additional drug testing overseas and stateside (once he arrived back for the fight) to fulfill his licensing requirements with the Nevada State Athletic Commission. No fighter will ever admit that extenuating circumstances like these have affected them mentally until after the fight; they don’t want to show any chinks in the armor -- but you can bet they’ve slowed down the physical preparation at the least.
The Bully Factor
Lesnar and Overeem have one thing in common: they both know how to use their size and presence in the cage to their advantage. Either could take center canvas at the opening bell and begin imposing his will and preferred discipline on the other. Both perform better when they have strong starts, but also tend to wane when they can’t secure the upper hand. The faster either establishes his dominance, that much harder it will be for the other to come back.
Overeem has flown from Holland to America and back again and switched gyms twice during his eight-week camp. Lesnar flew his coaching staff, including fellow UFC heavyweight kickboxer Pat Barry, to his private gym near his home and family in Alexandria, Minn., for one intensive camp in one remote, (hopefully) distraction-free location.
I’ll reveal my pick in the writer predictions this week, but what do you think?
-- Loretta Hunt