The two fighters in the main event of Friday night's UFC 141 in Las Vegas (10 p.m. ET, PPV) are plenty big. That goes for their stature, as Brock Lesnar cuts weight to make the 265-pound heavyweight limit and Alistair Overeem, at nearly the same size, is the only fighter on the planet who looks like an exaggerated, idealized version of a plastic action figure. There's going to be a whole lot of muscle squaring off on the night before New Year's Eve.
But when they enter the octagon, with a shot at heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos hanging in the balance, both Lesnar and Overeem will be weighed down by some heavy baggage.
Lesnar has not fought since Cain Velasquez demolished him for the heavyweight belt in October 2010. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with a relapse of diverticulitis, the abdominal ailment that had sidelined him for nine months while he was champion. Brock underwent surgery eight months ago, and many in the MMA community -- fans and fighters alike -- passed along their best wishes for his recovery from the life-threatening illness. But with Lesnar (5-2) having been a polarizing blowhard ever since joining the UFC, he's seen far less support for his fighting career after he crumbled against Velasquez following an early beatdown by Shane Carwin.
Overeem has doubters, too, despite having not lost in four years. But who's he beaten? Fabricio Werdum, not seen in the UFC since being destroyed by Dos Santos in a little over a minute. Todd Duffee, another Dana White discard. Brett Rodgers, who terrorized Strikeforce until he was put in with real fighters. And so on. That's the game the skeptics play with Alistair (35-11, 1 no contest), because he's been fighting in Strikeforce, Dynamite, Dream, and other promotions that don't bear the initials U, F and C. Like it or not, Dana's roster is the collective alpha male of MMA.
That's just the beginning of what Overeem and Lesnar face. Because of their bulk, accusations of steroid use have been flung in their direction -- particularly Alistair's -- despite the fact that neither has ever failed a drug test. (But if you've ever seen the lean Overeem who fought at 205 pounds in Pride, you can understand the whispers.) Then there's the criticisms of their fighting styles. Because Lesnar is a former NCAA Division 1 champion wrestler and Overeem is a K-1 champion kickboxer, they're both accused of being one-dimensional -- especially Lesnar. But don't forget that Brock won the UFC belt with a TKO of Randy Couture that was set up with a punch, not a takedown. And Overeem, while admittedly most dangerous as a striker, has 19 career submissions.
Of course, they're not perfect fighters. Overeem had ended nine straight bouts in the first round before facing Werdum, and during that three-round decision we learned why "The Demolition Man" tries to get out of there as quickly as possible: He gassed out badly. Lesnar showed an amateurish inability to defend himself while under fistic attack in his last two fights. It wasn't that Brock's chin was suspect -- he took a lot of punches and the lights didn't go out -- but he simply didn't have an answer, other than to cover up and cower. If Lesnar can put that flaw behind him Friday night, he'll take the fight into deep waters and we'll get to see whether Overeem has addressed his flawed cardio.
Or we'll see who's fallen farther.
7: Total MMA fights.
1: Fight that has gone the distance.
434: Days it will have been, come Friday night, since he last fought (TKO loss to Cain Velasquez on Oct. 23, 2010).
2: Decisions among his 35 career wins. He has 14 wins by KO and 19 by submission.
11: Fights since his last loss (September 2007 KO by Sergei Kharitonov).
51: Difference, in pounds, between what he weighed for his last fight (256 vs. Fabricio Werdum in June) and for his final light heavyweight bout (205 vs. "Shogun" Rua in February 2007).
What we should expect: One guy will be looking to take the fight to the ground as soon as possible. The other guy will be doing all he can to keep the fight standing. (You know who's who.) The fight's outcome will be determined simply: Which behemoth will be more successful at keeping the other where he does his best work and his opponent is a fish out of water, and who'll fare better at facing down adversity? Lesnar is going to get hit, but can he score a takedown while eating a punch? Overeem is going to get taken down, but can he work his way back to his feet? I expect Lesnar to put Overeem in a bad position early, and I have my doubts that the big, strong Alistair can shed the Brock blanket.
Why we should care: The winner gets a shot at UFC champion Junior dos Santos. That's incentive enough to watch, but beyond that, this is the quintessential matchup of striker vs. grappler, with each guy at the very highest level of his specialty. Beyond that, Overeem, as a UFC newcomer, is a mystery. Lesnar always gets the blood boiling, win or lose.
"It's an honor for me to get in the octagon to kick his ass."--Brock Lesnar at a UFC press conference announcing the fight
"His weaknesses are my strengths. Brock definitely doesn't like to get hit, and that's exactly what I'm gonna do to him. I'm gonna hit him, and I'm gonna hit him as hard as I can. And I'm pretty good at it."--Alistair Overeem in a UFC video
"He's in over his head. He doesn't understand the beast that he's going to enter the octagon with."--Lesnar in a UFC video
"I'm gonna beat Brock up. It's gonna take me no more than two rounds to do that. ... I would put my money on a knockout in the first round, but personally I can guarantee a knockout in the second."--Overeem in a UFC video
"He says he is going to knock me out inside two rounds. That's his dream. The reality is that if I execute my game plan, Alistair Overeem cannot win this fight."--Lesnar during a UFC 141 media conference call
Riding high: The only three fights Donald Cerrone has lost were for the WEC lightweight championship, with two of the defeats coming against Ben Henderson, who will challenge Frankie Edgar for the UFC belt in February. Since the second Henderson loss, "The Cowboy" has been on a roll, with six straight wins, four of them earning him bonus checks for exhilarating performances. In facing Nate Diaz in the co-main event, he'll be taking on another guy who won't back off. Nate has been up and down -- he's lost two of his last three -- but you can't argue with his last performance, a dominant first-round submission of Takanori Gomi.
In other news: They say the cream always rises to the top. But that's not always so in the UFC matchmaking office. Jon Fitch, one of the sport's pound-for-pound elite and the second-best welterweight in the world (hello, Georges St-Pierre), has lost just once in 24 fights (to St-Pierre), but his grind-it-out style apparently makes him not worthy of the spotlight. So he'll toil in mid-undercard against Johny Hendricks. The two-time NCAA Division I champion wrestler would seem to have an edge on the mat against Fitch, who tends to dominate opponents with his grappling. So it'll be interesting to see how Jon approaches this fight.