Heavyweights in combat sports have an appeal that is undeniable. While mixed martial arts fans and boxing fans alike have equally suffered through some trying times in finding a suitable heavyweight to fill their need for powerful strikers within the division, there is usually some promising talent on the horizon that has the potential to become that type of attraction. Not since the days of Mike Tyson have we seen a devastating puncher who can attract people to a sport who aren’t necessarily committed to watching it on a consistent basis, but Alistair Overeem’s World Grand Prix final performance may be a sign of things to come.
In a mere one minute and seven seconds, Overeem destroyed his opponent, 40-year-old K-1 legend with a ferocious salvo of punches that had even the hardest of the hardcore K-1 fans gasping in awe. While it was predicted by many, including myself, that Overeem would walk his way through the competition and win the title, his path to glory wasn’t as easy as expected.
Tyrone Spong used his speed to frustrate Overeem in the quarterfinals, hurting him at one point in the first round and creating some doubt in Overeem’s abilities to win the crown. After the scare, Overeem regained his composure and secured the victory after knocking down Spong in the third round.
In the semifinals, Overeem met Turkish-Dutch fighter Gokhan Saki, who had narrowly defeated Daniel Ghita in the quarterfinals in a brutal war of attrition. Saki only lasted two minutes and thirty-three seconds in the first round as Overeem glanced a heavy kick off Saki’s right elbow, breaking it instantly. Other reports confirmed that Saki was also harboring a broken hand, and Mike Kogan, one of HDNet’s commentators, suggested that something was wrong early in the fight due to Saki’s hesitance to throw with the right.
It wasn’t the ideal situation for Peter Aerts as he had one of the toughest fights of his career in the semifinals against last year’s World Grand Prix champion, Semmy Schilt. Aerts implemented an aggressive gameplan of pushing foward and lunging punches at Schilt, and while it was a narrowly contested bout — Aerts’ relentlessness in the final frame paid off as he blasted Semmy with multiple overhands to secure the victory.
Aerts suffered a cut during the bout, and there was some question as to whether he would be allowed to continue. But Aerts wasn’t going to quit at that point, not when he was on the verge of making history and shocking the entire combat sports world. Unfortunately, Overeem, who had beaten Aerts in the final 16 leg in last year’s Grand Prix, was an insurmountable obstacle standing in his way.
Overeem’s demeanor changed from fight to fight, and Aerts met the most aggressive version of Overeem in the finals. He stalked Aerts with a sense of urgency that we hadn’t seen earlier in the evening, and it hinted at the possibility of Overeem pacing himself in his quarterfinal bout with Spong. There was no need for a governor on Overeem’s engine in the final however, and he exploded in a fury of combinations that disintegrated any notion that Aerts stood a chance.
Alistair’s performance in the Grand Prix certainly raises questions regarding his appeal and potential in in 2011. He’s obviously one of the biggest sports stars in Japan, and the win will only bring more attention to the fact that the ferocity he brings to a fight should translate to dominance in the mixed martial arts world. I’ll remain skeptical as to whether that will happen, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Alistair is one of the most exciting heavyweights on the planet.