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Overeem easy to like on Vegas UFC card

By Lou Finocchiaro  () 

This week’s UFC production again comes from the Apex Center in Las Vegas. The scheduled 10-fight slate features two heavyweight bouts, one light-heavyweight battle and two other competitive fights in which combatants weighing 170 pounds or more will compete in the smaller 25-foot octagon. Big names and marquee athletes besides headliner Alistair Overeem are missing from this card, yet several matchups are compelling from an investment standpoint. 

Favorites in the UFC 2020 stand 183-90-9 (64.8%).

Of the 282 bouts, 132 have ended via finish (46.8%) and 148 via decision (52.4%), with two no-contests.

Last week Insight the Octagon roared back into the win column. Full-unit releases of Aleksandar Rakic-Anthony Smith Over 1.5 and Zak Cummings + 100 hit the board, while Smith (.5u) lost, pushing 2020 profitability to 25-16 + 12.5u.

This week’s main event is an important heavyweight bout, as the winner will be propelled into top-6 standing while the loser will fall into a deep pool of mediocre heavyweight talent.

Alistair Overeem -138 vs. Augusto Sakai + 118, heavyweight (265 pounds), main event

Here’s another case of an aged world-class fighter squaring off against a much younger, more explosive, up-and-coming challenger.

The challenger is Sakai, 29, the grandson of Japanese immigrants to Brazil. Sakai’s advantages are his youth, power and explosion. He is a striking-based fighter specializing in Muay Thai with a purple belt in BJJ, so he wants to stand and strike and has shown absolutely no need to grapple in his UFC stint.

Since being discovered with a KO victory in Dana White’s contender series in 2018, Sakai has won four straight UFC bouts. Sakai enters this bout with huge momentum and heavy hands, but he’ll be giving away much to his older adversary.

My take after reviewing Sakai’s history is that he has not faced anyone with nearly the level of fight acumen, experience or weaponry of Overeem. Sakai’s wins came against one-dimensional fighters who never threatened him with wrestling, clinch work or refined striking and movement. Sakai will be seeing something he has never seen inside the octagon.

Overeem is a highly decorated mixed martial artist. His wealth of experience and his superior kickboxing/Muay Thai background have made him a dangerous force in the light-heavyweight and heavyweight divisions of every organization in MMA since turning pro in 1999.

Overeem is extremely dangerous anywhere a fight goes. Of his 46 professional wins, 24 have come via KO or TKO and 17 via submission, which leaves just five decisions. He lands 3.66 strikes per minute while receiving only 2.1. That is important because Overeem’s glaring weakness is a propensity to get popped on the point and go out, which is highly undesirable for any fighter, let alone a 40-year-old heavyweight.

In this bout, Sakai will look to pressure, crowd and bull Overeem into a brawl so he can try to catch the Dutchman with power hooks, uppercuts and crosses. Sakai must knock out Overeem to win.

For his part, Overeem will use movement and his 3-inch arm-reach advantage to punish the pedestrian power puncher as he attempts to make his way inside the pocket to engage. Part of that movement will be laced with a vicious leg-kick attack for which Overeem is famous. As Sakai becomes frustrated trying to engage with the movement and precision of his more refined opponent, he’s bound to begin overcommitting himself as he strives to engage in a brawl. This is where Overeem will be most dangerous.

In this five-round fight, I believe Sakai has one or 1 1/2 rounds to find Overeem’s chin. If he cannot hammer him early, I believe Overeem systematically will cut this man to ribbons. I can even envision Overeem taking a spent Sakai to the mat for a submission.

This bout opened Overeem -215, and Sakai money has poured in. This creates great value on a savvy, competent and still top-6 heavyweight contender.

If Overeem wins, his opportunity to attain the last fighting title that has escaped him over his 21-year career lives. With a loss, those aspirations are dashed.

Overeem -138

I’m ready to pounce now, but this line is dropping like a hammer in a lake. I’m taking Overeem at his lowest possible price and will do it before weigh-ins. But as of now -138 is a buy if it gets no lower.

The total in this fight is lines 1.5 Over -190.

Lean Over

Alonzo Menifield -130 vs. Ovince Saint Preux + 110, light-heavyweight (205 pounds)

These men were to meet a couple of weeks ago, but on the day of the fight, Saint Preux’s COVID-19 test came back positive. The bout had to be postponed until organizers decided it was OK for them to meet safely.

A standard practice for my due diligence each week is dialing into fighter interviews. The information garnered helps determine where these athletes are mentally, physically and emotionally. I’ll pay specific attention to determine whether Saint Preux shows any adverse effects from being infected.

Just two weeks ago, these two were brought in to be the co-main event for Frankie Edgar vs. Pedro Munhoz. So, provided each was able to train somewhat normally, I expect a competitive battle between two large, agile, athletic men in a small cage.

At 37, Saint Preux is a brown belt in BJJ and an exemplary athlete. He wrestled in high school, played football for Tennessee in college and then turned his attention to MMA. He is 24-14 professionally but 2-4 since 2018. His losses have come only to top-end talent, and he does experience success against the division’s middle and lower tiers.

Menifield, 33, is 10-1 professionally and a pure power striker who enters this fight off a shellacking at the hands of Devin Clark. The sculpted Menifield learned much in that loss and now gets a chance to compete with a fighter who has an advantage in experience and a more complete, refined fighting arsenal but who will not be nearly as explosive or powerful. 

Menifield will need to be guarded early in his striking engagements. Rushing in to initiate striking may leave him susceptible to takedowns, something Menifield must avoid at all costs. His plan will be to work inside on Saint Preux and wage war with him standing and from inside the pocket.

Meanwhile, Saint Preux will want to use movement and striking only long enough to get the larger, younger striker to the floor, where his power and explosion are limited and where Saint Preux can do damage from the top position.

Two weeks ago, I said Saint Preux should be the slight favorite. Provided he has been able to resume normal training over the last 14 days, my opinion has not changed. But it will take me deeper into the week to uncover that information.

Menifield opened -140 a couple of weeks ago. This week he opened nearly where he was when the bout was postponed at Menifield -130 to Saint Preux + 110.

The total is 1.5 rounds, Over -135.

Saint Preux is a target and will be confirmed pending weigh-ins.

Thiago Moises -185 vs. Jalin Turner + 165, lightweight (155 pounds)

This fight displays the artistry that can be mixed martial arts. Moises is singularly gifted as a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. He is awkward and inconsistent trying to compete on the feet. But if he can grab a leg, an arm or a neck, his opponent will be overwhelmed before tapping out, breaking appendages or being put to sleep.

In his last fight, Michael Johnson was cutting Moises to shreds on the feet for the entire first round. Moises tried unsuccessfully to close distance on the adroit Johnson, which was the only way he could drag him to the floor. But Johnson’s movement and precision striking kept Moises on the outside and in full receipt of damage.

At the beginning of the second round, Moises looked like Ed Reed on a safety blitz and literally tackled Johnson before he knew what had transpired. The astonished Johnson, already on the mat, struggled deeper into his opponent’s clasps. Before he knew it, Moises had applied a heel hook, and Johnson tapped. Fight over.

Turner resembles Johnson. He’s unusually large for a lightweight and will hold distinct striking advantages should he be able to keep this fight standing. Turner is 4 inches taller, he’ll hold massive arm- and leg-reach advantages over his Brazilian counterpart and, like Johnson, is a southpaw.

This bout comes down to whether Turner can keep it standing and pepper Moises with strikes from the outside while moving and angling. I don’t think Turner will employ much kicking — one grab of his long legs and this fight is over.

Moises, on the other hand, must find a way to navigate through Turner's movement, length and precision striking to grasp, clasp, rattle and roll with him on the floor. There Turner will be as outclassed as Moises is on the feet.

Fascinating matchup.

 

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