In a division where almost every opponent has vicious knockout power, ask yourself, do you want to stay and trade in the pocket with a powerhouse? Alistair Overeem answers that question with a big no and it’s transparently visible in the way he’s been fighting the past few fights against the UFC’s most powerful strikers.
Alistair Overeem has become more methodical lately. He’s implemented a lot in his game to avoid power, and that is what we’re going to explore today. First, we’ll see where things started to change.
Brief History of Style changes
Overeem started his run in the UFC with a strong mindset of invincibility coming off a win from Brock lesnar. It wasn’t until loss to Antonio “Big Foot” Silva that Overeem was humbled by a threatening fact – at this level of competition, everyone is a potential threat to putting your lights out.
So, what does it mean to stay in trade in the pocket? well, basically a slug-fest which entails exchanging strikes. This often means that you will give punishment, but the problem with that is that you will also receive it. You can eliminate the receiving part significantly by making a few adjustments, and that’s just what Alistair did in his fight with Junior Dos Santos.
Against Big Foot, Overeem fought in the majority of his stance in orthodox. The stance match up with pretty much orthodox vs orthodox. He utilized more jabs and was willing to press forward while being comfortable staying in the pocket when the opponent decided to unload offense. Overeem was comfortable being stationary to face his opponent but eventually ate a few bad shots that lead to him getting viciously knocked out.
Moving forward, Alistair faced off against another powerful striker in Roy Nelson. This time, Alistair made some new adjustments and added new tools in his game. Overeem was more elusive this time, making sure not to stay in the pocket too long to avoid exchanges and even added oblique kicks to his game to fight from a safe distance, earning points and keepintg pressure at bay.
Fast forward today, after having faced Junior Dos Santos recently, Alistair has showed even more changes. Overeem has become even more cautious and careful in the actions he took in that fight. This time around, Overeem kept the same elusive and dynamic movement that proved to be successful against Roy Nelson. Likewise, Overeem made sure that if he was going to unload his offense, it would be that one shot that would be significant, and as soon as he give his shot, he would quickly look to reset, rarely ever stringing together a combo.
Overeem Vs Dos Santos Begins
To give you an idea of how different Overeem approached his fight with Dos Santos, this was one of the few fights, and may be the only fight where jabs were non-existent in Overeem’s arsenal. In addition, Overeem had fought nearly the entire fight exclusively in southpaw — a stance you don’t see Overeem usually utilize. There was, however, a reason why staying in southpaw gave Overeem an advantage; An advantage that saved Alistair from being in the danger zone of Junior Dos Santos (JDS) power.
The Offensive Approach
Let’s get right into it. By observing Overeem’s habits, there’s one particular tendency that he showed. When Overeem approached with his cross, he utilized stance shifting to allow himself to hit an angle where JDS could not answer.
The benefit of using the shifting cross like Alistair demonstrated is that he can now change his stance to orthodox. What this does is that it allows him to slip to keep his head outside of Junior’s Lead foot after throwing the cross. Note that Junior has no viable tools to hit that angle; his position is too far for the cross to reach over, the lead hook would not be able to reach, and even the jab couldn’t reach that angle when he tried to return a strike. In addition, kicks from Juniors power side would not be able to reach the head.
Naturally speaking, the more traditional thing to do after a cross is to return back to your neutral stance. Usually, when returning the head back to a neutral stance, it’s generally a good time window where your head is finally in an angle where the opponent can counter you back.
Example: This is just a southpaw vs southpaw example, but it works fundamentally the same to explain this concept; after throwing a slipping cross, the head returns back to a neutral position where the opponent waits to counter.
Going back to Overeem, he ensured that the fight was in his favor by making sure that he kept elusive to avoid close range exchanges and made sure his offensive approaches also denied Junior exchange opportunities. He minimized Junior’s chances to unload his own offense in leading or countering.
Let’s look at another similar case where avoiding power was important. If you ever caught John Dodson’s first fight with Demetrious Johnson, Dodson managed to catch Johnson with powerful counters from their first fight. Dodson is well known for his power, so Johnson adjusted the angles he hit. He could be seen utilizing stance switching to hit a better defensive angle on Dodson.
A few notable tools used included were strikes from a distance, often firing off kicks and disengaging.
Counter To The Check Hook
Overeem even had a few nice moments of landing clean shots with good range manipulation. Here, in the following example Alistair kept a low crouched position. This worked in his favor because Dos Santos looked to hit a simultaneous check hook counter aiming at that low crouch area where the head was. Alistair hit his own rear simultaneous counter left hook to meet Junior’s check hook. The only difference was that Overeem changed head elevation while throwing his rear hook, giving Junior a difficult time precisely landing where the head was.
Just an observation. Here Alistair uses the double shifting cross TJ often uses. The footwork and execution wasn’t quite as clean and fluid, but we could see how it served Alistair a dynamic method of approaching while keeping constant head moment.
Alistair still has some issues when it comes to getting cut off into the cage. He had this problem against nearly anyone who could manage to pin him into the cage.
Alistair begins to enter his defensive shell and becomes more willing to absorb punishment while waiting for openings to counter back rather than dynamically moving and actively working to transition out of that position.
Dos Santos managed to cut Overeem off into the cage and finally worked some combos but allowed Alistair to circle off and didn’t continue following up to keep him there.
Overeem was elusive but there’s a drawback to being too evasive with his shuffle stepping away — it’s harder to land counters when the opponent isn’t there to hit. It wasn’t until Alistair utilized head movement instead of evasive footwork that he was able to land that one big counter shot to catch Dos Santos.
The crowd had moments where they weren’t receptive of how the fight went, but when you really look at what Alistair Overeem was able to do, he played an effective and creative game tailored for a division filled with powerful powerful titans. He brought the fight on his own terms as much as he could.