The holiday season is known for overindulgence. Watching the UFC is no different, as the promotion brings us yet another fight card stacked top to bottom with quality fights. But there is one fight in particular at UFC 218 on Saturday, Dec. 2, that stands out as the biggest – at least from a literal size perspective.
The co-main event at UFC 218 features one of the best heavyweight fighters of all-time, Alistair Overeem, taking on Francis Ngannou, one of the best heavyweight prospects to come through in recent memory. The winner of this fight is likely next in line for an opportunity at UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. Can Overeem secure himself a second chance at UFC gold? Or will Ngannou’s impressive ascent continue?
Strengths: As previously stated, Overeem is one of the greatest heavyweight mixed martial artists of all time, if not one of the greatest fighters, period. Overeem’s resume is second to none and includes a who’s who of MMA. Overeem is known best for his striking – in addition to his MMA career, Overeem has also been a champion kickboxer and three out of his last four wins have come by knockout. Overeem has finished just about half of his 43 career victories by knockout as well, and lands nearly four significant strikes per minute. For most people, standing and striking with a fighter the caliber of Overeem is not a wise idea.
However, Overeem also has an effective ground game to complement his striking. He has 17 submission victories on his resumé and stuffs 76 percent of takedown attempts made against him. So while you probably won’t be able to get Overeem down, he definitely has just as much ability to finish you on the ground as he does on his feet. Facing the likes of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Mark Hunt, Fabricio Werdum, Chuck Liddell, Brock Lesnar and Mirko Cro Cop has turned Overeem into one of the more well-rounded heavyweights in all of MMA.
Weaknesses: But as impressive as Overeem’s career has been, no one is unbeatable. When you live by the sword as Overeem tends to do with his striking, you can also die by that same sword. Overeem has many knockouts to his credit, but he’s also been knocked out 11 times. He was violently knocked out in the first round by Miocic in their title bout last year. When you have an opponent with the explosive knockout power of Ngannou, it would behoove Overeem not to take him lightly.
Which is another one of Overeem’s weaknesses. He is extremely confident in his abilities, but he sometimes become overconfident and arrogant. He can become utterly dismissive of his opponent, as he did leading up to his fight against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in 2013. Overeem did not take Silva seriously at all, and suffered a knockout loss for his troubles. There is also always the question of if Overeem has used performance-enhancing drugs, which has clouded some of his past performances.
Strengths: I believe Ngannou is the most dangerous fighter in the UFC’s heavyweight division right now, and just a scary guy in general (which I mean in the nicest way possible, for the record). He hasn’t lost since his second-ever pro fight in 2013 and is undefeated in his UFC career, with each win coming via finish. He has three consecutive first-round knockout wins, including a vicious knockout of a legend in Andrei Arlovski in Ngannou’s last fight at the beginning of this year.
Like Overeem, Ngannou also has a varied skillset. His 10 overall victories are almost evenly split between knockouts and submissions. It took Ngannou barely two minutes to submit Anthony Hamilton last year, and he recently relocated to the United States to further develop his training. So Ngannou will only get better. I don’t think Ngannou has hit his prime yet, and the idea that a fighter with three straight first-round knockout wins still has room to grow is simply frightening.
Weaknesses: Although Ngannou’s career looks to be on the upswing, Overeem will be his toughest test to date. Ngannou has had a pretty easy go of it so far in the UFC – as far as fighting in a cage goes. Ngannou has made it look easy with all of his knockouts and submissions, but someone with veteran moxie of Overeem should obviously be smart enough to not be sucked into Ngannou’s game and be simply content to exchange punches.
Can Ngannou handle it if Overeem is overly defensive and refuses to engage? Will he become impatient of Overeem is content to play it safe and pick his shots? If Ngannou becomes overeager and rushes in, that might be when Overeem chooses to show Ngannou he’s not the only dangerous striker in the UFC’s heavyweight division.
I’m very excited for this fight, and I do believe the winner should be the number one contender for the UFC heavyweight title. Ngannou has really impressed me during his UFC career, and just looks destined to fight for the title sooner rather than later. However, Overeem is an extremely intelligent fighter and will know what Ngannou does well and will not indulge him. Overeem’s experience and variety in his striking will be a key in this fight.
I believe Overeem is smart enough not to get sucked into a striking battle with Ngannou, where I think Ngannou’s power makes the difference and ends Overeem’s night early. But I also think Ngannou’s pressure will be the difference, and he will force the issue with Overeem and make him exchange strikes. It’s there that I think Ngannou can pepper Overeem with blows, rock him a few times and do enough to solidify his case for a heavyweight title shot.
Winner: Ngannou by unanimous decision
Image Credit: MMA Junkie