The Reem fans were waiting for arrives

February, 2, 2014
Feb 2
12:46
PM ET
By Mike Huang
ESPN.com
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You could see it in their faces. The difference in damage, that is.

With an impressive unanimous decision over Frank Mir at UFC 169 on Saturday, heavyweight Alistair Overeem fought for his UFC life and perhaps salvaged his standing in the sport of mixed martial arts.

In a battle reminiscent of Mir’s punishing 2009 loss to Brock Lesnar at UFC 100, Overeem pummeled Mir relentlessly while standing and on the ground. Overeem’s strategy was clear: be more efficient with his striking and push Mir against the cage to use his size and weight to smother Mir in front of a crowd of 14,308 at the Prudential Center in Newark.

Even when Overeem had top control over Mir just on the periphery of the circle, he would methodically push Mir toward the cage, where Mir sat powerless against Overeem’s massive leverage. This technique effectively rendered Mir’s jiu-jitsu inert, as Overeem would sit squarely on Mir’s upper body while raining down punches and elbows and staying clear of Mir’s legs and hips.

It had the look of a schoolyard bully taking a kid’s lunch money. The result was Mir’s face bashed to a pulp, highlighted by a massive hematoma above his right eye.
[+] EnlargeFrank Mir vs. Alistair Overeem
Ed Mulholland for ESPNAlistair Overeem paced himself in a strategic win over a hapless Frank Mir.

Overeem, on the other hand, looked immaculate and rather fresh by the end of the fight. Indeed there was something very different about this Alistair Overeem. His strikes were surgical and precise, he wasted little movement in stalking Mir around the Octagon and his conditioning was noticeably improved since his losses to Travis Browne and Antonio Silva in 2013.

“It’s been a while, yeah. For me it’s been a long year,” Overeem said. “I just never stopped training. Basically 10 months straight. So I’m going to enjoy a nice, long holiday. It feels great to be back on the winning track in the UFC.”

Further, even Overeem’s supreme confidence in his abilities seemed muted with a tinge of humility. He paid homage to Mir shortly after his fight.

“Frank is one of those fighters who stays dangerous to the end,” Overeem said. “I felt he was searching for a submission. And that’s his strength. He looks like he’s damaged, rocked. Goes down and you dive on him and unload and suddenly you’re in a leg lock. That’s why I kept [him under] control.

This new version of Overeem now resembles the world-class mixed martial artist UFC fans figured they would see upon his arrival in the league in 2011. His debut win over a shell of Lesnar at UFC 141 proved little and didn’t fully showcase his array of kickboxing and grappling skills. However, against Mir, it was all on display -- the combinations, stiff jabs, huge overhand rights, knee and leg strikes.

Presumably, this renewed, well-conditioned and focused version of Overeem has staved off notions that he teetered on the brink of being cut from the UFC. Overeem’s titanic size and personality bolsters the UFC’s heavyweight division, which is currently light on both. He remains a draw, and his dismantling of Mir could be the catalyst for a fast rise up the heavyweight rankings. But don’t expect him to drop any weight.

“What you do is you look at who you are fighting and you adjust,” Overeem said. “Obviously Brock was a big guy so you want to pack on a little bit more muscle. But if you look at the top of the division, Cain [Velasquez] -- 240 [pounds] -- I might drop some, but I’m big. If drop too much, it’s not going to be good.”

Meanwhile, Mir looks as if he could be finished in the UFC. The loss to Overeem marked his fourth straight defeat -- once again in overwhelming fashion. To be sure, Mir has run a veritable gauntlet of heavyweights over the last two years, falling to Josh Barnett, Daniel Cormier and Junior dos Santos.

Still Mir, who turns 35 in May, might have seen better days. The longtime veteran has fought in the UFC since 2001, but most believe this could have been Mir’s swan song.

For Overeem, perhaps consider this an upgrade. He called out Lesnar in his postfight interview, but said he was interested in anyone the UFC puts in front of him, including dos Santos.

“I proved to everybody I’m back tonight. Frank is a very experienced fighter, his game plan was to take me down, but I’m a well-rounded fighter, too, so I dominated him,” Overeem said. “This victory has motivated me a lot to go back to the gym and get ready for fighting again.”

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