Fighter On Fighter: Breaking Down ‘The Reem!’
Well-traveled contender, Alistair Overeem, will look to have his hand raised opposite submission ace, Aleksei Oleinik, this Saturday (April 20, 2019) from inside Yubileyny Sports Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Longtime fans of Overeem are aware of the many different stages of the Overeem’s career and fighting style. If we’re going way back to the early 2000s, we’re talking about a skinny Dutchman who fought at 205 pounds and threw lots of step knees. Somewhere around 2008, Overeem bulked up to a monstrous size, muscling foes around and destroying them with pure power. Overeem’s most recent success saw him adapt his body for the competition once more, settling on a more reasonable size. Dubbed “Econo-Reem” by fans, “The Demolition Man” really committed to the concept of all-the-way-in or all-the-way-out, sprinting around the cage and hoping to catch foes running into something. All good things must come to an end though, as two consecutive knockout losses saw Overeem switch it up once again to more of a wrestling/clinch-focused approach ahead of his last bout.
Assuming he sticks with that approach, let’s take a closer look at Overeem’s skill set:
A former professional kickboxer and K-1 champion, Overeem is a true knockout artist. Overeem’s time in the ring proved to be very useful in improving his one-shot power and overall technique, although fighting for so long with big gloves did have a negative influence on his defense for some years.
As “Econo-Reem,” Overeem operated as an in-and-out kickboxer. His entire game was made up of attacks either from the kickboxing range, punches to suddenly close the distance, or clinch work. Since Overeem is reasonably tall and long striker with so much kickboxing experience, he’s quite good at range. There are very few Heavyweights who want to exchange kicks to the body and legs with the powerful Dutchman.
From that long distance, Overeem’s primary goal would be to find a home for one major strike before his opponent could land anything. At the edge of his kickboxing range, Overeem kept his arms wide and stance low. Moving often and switching his stance, Overeem was gauging reactions and testing patience. This is a man with over 70 total professional MMA and kickboxing bouts -- he’s experienced enough to quickly analyze his foes.
While looking for finishing opportunities, Overeem takes every chance to slam the legs or body. In extremely Jackson-Winkeljohn fashion — the camp who helped create “Econo-Reem” — Overeem has also added several linear low kicks to his game. Regardless of whether he’s throwing a stomp kick to the thigh or an oblique kick, Overeem is simply making it more difficult for his opponent to close the distance.
As mentioned, Overeem is looking to find his kill shot. In terms of kicks, that’s undoubtedly his left kick to the body. Usually fired from his Southpaw stance against an Orthodox opponent, Overeem can cause his opponent to crumble if this kick lands cleanly to the mid-section (GIF).
In an interesting example of Overeem’s ability to read opponents, Overeem set up a crane kick wonderfully opposite Andrei Arlovski. He had already landed hard left body kicks and right low kicks on Arlovski, so the Belarusian was looking out for those strikes. When Overeem raised the right leg, Arlovski expected the low kick. Then, Overeem switched to kick with his left leg, and his foe expected the body kick.
Instead, the kick whipped straight up the middle into the chin (GIF).
This style of Overeem saw him earn a title shot and score some big finishes, but there were costs. For one, running laps around the cage and exploding into power shots is an exhausting fighting style for a Heavyweight. In addition, it became a bit predictable, as Overeem tended to fire a hard body kick or cross almost every time he tried to land something big.
In his last bout with Sergey Pavlovich, Overeem was more straight forward with his attempts to close distance. The power kicks, cross counter, and sudden combinations are still options while Overeem is at distance, but Overeem had more of a focused goal of landing in the clinch. Since Overeem is now training at Elevation MMA with former foe and decorated wrestler Curtis Blaydes, it makes sense that Overeem is now gravitating more towards wrestling exchanges.
To get to the clinch, Overeem kept his feet far more planted and his hands high. Advancing behind that high guard, Overeem looked for opportunities to club his foe with the left hook or right hand. By overreaching and smacking the side of the head with those punches, Overeem was able to hang on afterward and land in the clinch.
Overeem’s clinch work is devastating. Overeem’s left knee to the stomach -- from range or from in the clinch -- is infamous, and it’s dropped or finished some very talented fighters. Inside the Octagon, Overeem is exceptionally dangerous if he’s able to force his opponent into the fence. From that position, Overeem excels at hand-fighting and controlling his opponent’s posture, as he’ll patiently create the opportunity to drive his knee through his opponent’s liver (GIF).
In this week’s technique highlight, we discuss a pair of setups Overeem uses from the clinch to deliver brutally painful knees to his opponents. As Overeem looks to wrestle more, these knees will only become available more often.
It remains to be seen quite how well counter punching will factor into Overeem’s new approach, but Overeem’s destruction of dos Santos remains the best example. Early on, Overeem barely threw any punches, but he did score with a couple hard left overhands. By lunging in from a distance that dos Santos could not effectively strike from, “The Reem” was able to do damage while keeping his opponent’s accuracy quite low.
As Overeem’s distance control frustrated his opponent, he became more effective. By the second round, Overeem was chaining kicks together and landing far more frequently. His left overhand was more accurate, and he usually exited safely by rolling or ducking away afterward. The finish came in an instant, an a true example of a veteran fighter who thoroughly understood his opponent’s movement and timing. Switching to Orthodox after fighting most of the bout in Southpaw, Overeem pressured his shaken opponent, waited for the jab he knew was coming, then slipped inside and blasted his opponent with a left hook (GIF).
Overeem’s defensive flaws are about as well known as his brutal offense. Earlier in his UFC career, trying to shell up a hold a tight guard in small gloves — particularly with his back pinned to the fence — repeatedly proved to be a terrible tactic. That’s less of a problem recently, but Overeem does whip punches forward in a lunge somewhat often. This can leave him out of position and off-balance, a flaw that Francis Ngannou capitalized on.
Throughout his recent career, Overeem has generally found takedowns when he pursues them, which is why it’s nice to see Overeem double down on that tactic. To be frank, most Heavyweights without a wrestling background are simply terrible wrestlers. Overeem can throw those men down to the mat, maintain top position without exerting himself, and win without taking further damage.
Sounds like a win for the veteran.
Overeem likes to land takedowns from the clinch, but he often shoots to get there. After changing levels and driving into his opponent’s hips, Overeem will looking to move up into the clinch. From there, he’ll often simply begin his assault on the mid-section, but Overeem has also spun around to the back clinch or overpowered his opponent to the mat in the initial entrance with a body lock.
Once in the clinch, Overeem can throw his foes with body locks but has always looked for the outside trip. It’s a favorite of his, and he used it well against Arlovski, hooking his foe’s leg and dropping his body weight down to the ground. Overeem’s takedown of the Belarusian was especially well setup as he had just landed a knee, shifting Arlovski’s focus from wrestling.
Against a solid wrestler in Pavlovich, Overeem dominated the clinch position. He landed serious knees to the body, nearly landed a takedown by stepping outside and blocking the knee with his own from the body lock, and later did trip Pavlovich to the mat by landing a knee from the double-collar tie and then tripping his foe as he moved to pull away.
Once on top, Overeem’s ground striking is devastating. He delivers ground-and-pound very much like the veteran striker he is, waiting for his moment. Overeem will take the time to secure good posture above his opponent whether within the guard or passed it. Once standing above his foe, Overeem will drop the hammer (GIF). Against Stefan Struve, Overeem did a very great job of controlling one of his opponent’s hands while striking with the other, pounding his opponent into unconsciousness (GIF).
Overeem is a very talented grappler. He’s found success in grappling tournaments and has finished 19 of his opponents via submission. That said, Overeem hasn’t submitted anyone since 2009, so this section will be fairly brief.
The most well-known technique in Overeem’s arsenal is undoubtedly his guillotine, which accounts for a majority of his submission finishes. While it’s undoubtedly a dangerous weapon, it’s really not complicated — Overeem grabs the neck and tries to separate it from his opponent’s body. His guillotine is surprisingly simple, but Overeem is long-limbed, powerful and aggressive with the technique, which is more than enough to make him dangerous.
Overeem has been one of the top Heavyweights in combat sports for at least a decade now. His legacy is well-established, and Overeem could retire at any point now. Overeem has accomplished great things, but his days of potentially capturing the belt are likely done. At the same time, Overeem does deliver a unique type of technical violence in each and every one of his fights, so this bout — along with every other Overeem fight — is certainly worth-watching until the 38-year-old combatant hangs up the gloves.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.