The first UFC show of September goes down this weekend in Las Vegas, as UFC Fight Night 176 sees Alistair Overeem face Augusto Sakai in the main event.
Yet again it’s a somewhat strange card, with a number of fights moved to this card from the UFC’s previous shows due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including the co-main event. Whether we’ll see more changes as the week goes on is a question mark but right now, it seems likely.
Here are the predicted outcomes for UFC Fight Night 176: Overeem vs. Sakai.
#1 UFC Heavyweight Division: Alistair Overeem vs. Augusto Sakai
This main event is a big fight, and not just because the combatants are two of the UFC’s largest Heavyweights. It could also have genuine title ramifications, as while it’d be a stretch to imagine Overeem getting another crack at UFC gold, if Sakai can beat the Dutchman and look impressive in doing so, then he’d probably be within a couple of fights of a title shot.
It’s a big ask, though. While Overeem isn’t as intimidating as he was in his ‘Ubereem’ heyday, he’s now settled into a role as arguably the Heavyweight division’s toughest veteran. Last time we saw him was during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic back in May, as he faced Walt Harris in the main event of the UFC’s third show in Jacksonville, Florida.
That fight saw Overeem demonstrate a new wrinkle in his game – largely an ability to recover from what looked to be a fight-ending shot.
It’s probably fair to suggest that referee Dan Miragliotta was perhaps a little more lenient than other UFC officials might’ve been, but ‘The Reem’ – who is usually considered chinny – still came back from a bad knockdown to take over the fight and eventually TKO Harris in the second round.
Prior to that fight, Overeem had been on a pretty strong run, taking out Sergei Pavlovich and Alexei Oleinik before falling to Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Even that fight was somewhat controversial, though. Overeem was winning comfortably before ‘Bigi Boy’ caught him with one big shot to finish him late in the fifth round.
‘The Reem’ has been around for so long now – nearly a decade in the UFC alone - that basically, everyone knows his strengths and weaknesses. Despite dropping size over recent years, he’s still physically powerful and one of the better athletes in the division. He’s a tremendous technical striker, both from the clinch and from range. And his wrestling is sneakily good and his ground-and-pound ruthless. He also possesses a nasty range of submissions, particularly his guillotine choke.
However, he’s always struggled to cope with heavy hitters. Earlier in his UFC career it appeared that his issue stemmed from his K-1 days, where he’d defend strikes by covering up using the larger kickboxing gloves – a tactic which didn’t translate well to MMA. However, nowadays it just seems – unsurprisingly – that at 40 years old, he doesn’t weather punishment very well any more.
Overeem’s other weakness might be his cardio, as he has shown a tendency to tire out in recent fights. However, given the plodding nature of most of his opponents, that doesn’t tend to matter.
So how does he match with Sakai? Personally, I’d say pretty well. The Brazilian is 4-0 in the UFC thus far, and like most Heavyweights, he’s a big hitter. 11 of his 15 career wins have come by KO or TKO, including two in the UFC. He’s also outpointed two solid fighters in the form of Blagoy Ivanov and Andrei Arlovski.
However, it’s worth noting that he’s a slower, plodding fighter – hardly a surprise for a guy who cuts weight to make 265lbs – and has a worrying tendency to stand around and wing big punches with little in the way of defense. And in his lone career loss to Cheick Kongo, he found himself grounded and easily controlled.
The issue for Sakai here then is that he’s going to have to find a way to land a big shot without falling prey to Overeem’s wide array of offense, including his takedowns, clinch work and heavy shots from the outside. It wouldn’t be so bad if the Brazilian had the option of looking to keep ‘The Reem’ at distance to outpoint him, but even that would be hard considering Overeem has a 3” reach advantage.
In the end, I just don’t think Sakai is an elite-level UFC Heavyweight and in all honesty – Rozenstruik loss aside – the only losses Overeem’s suffered recently have been to elite-level, UFC title contenders. I think this will probably go the same way as Overeem’s fight with Pavlovich – he’ll get inside, bully Sakai to the ground and finish him off from there.