As title eliminators go, the one between heavyweights Brock Lesnar and newly signed Alistair Overeem is about as big as they get. The UFC did the fans a solid by booking it to blow out the big New Year’s show in Las Vegas at UFC 141 on Dec. 30. It’s a fantasy matchup with all kinds of comic book appeal -- reigning champion against former champion ... the battle of the thoraxes (one sworded, one sordid) ... the shifting of tectonic plates where the winner gets a title shot.
In other words, Lesnar-Reem is must-see TV. Which means it has a lot in common with every other Lesnar fight. Only different.
Whether you like him or you don’t, the 2.1 million pay-per-view buys Lesnar did in two fights in 2010 means we’ll pay to watch him either way. He draws attention from everywhere -- MMA hard-cores go in for nuances, outsiders go in for spectacle, everybody else tunes in out of curiosity. Yet, when he steps in against former Strikeforce champion Overeem, the drama will just as likely center on the oldest of inherent dramas -- that of the unknown.
Nobody knows how Lesnar will look coming back from his second bout with diverticulitis. All the way up to the point that Lance Pugmire broke the news of Brock's return in the L.A. Times, there were plenty of people thinking we had seen the last of him in the cage. Now he’s not only coming back, but he’s ahead of schedule. The first optimistic projection was that he’d be ready by early 2012, yet he answers the UFC’s call to close out 2011. It’s a testament to Lesnar’s heart to come back at all. The last time we saw him against Velasquez at UFC 121 he looked impatient, bullish and finally overmatched. How will he look after 14 months away, time he spent rehabbing and contemplating his future?
And for many, the same can be said of Overeem, who has fought on U.S. soil just five times in 47 professional bouts. The big knock on Overeem coming in will be that he hasn’t faced any quality fighters in the last five years, even if he has punished scores of journeymen (Lee Tae-Hyun, Tony Sylvester, Kazuyuki Fujita, et al). In his one big showcase to open the Strikeforce GP, he scraped his way past Fabricio Werdum. He didn’t smash him. He got by. And he was handled on the feet for portions of that fight against someone who was believed to be a far inferior striker.
Which Overeem shows up? Was that the real Overeem, or an injured one? Before Werdum, the “Demolition Man” had finished eight fights in a row in the first round (with the Filipovic no-contest somewhere in the middle). Which is real? And on the other side, Lesnar has only seven professional fights. There are still plenty of question marks hovering over him, as well.
The fight has been in fans' imaginations for a long time, and now we get to see it play out. It’s a matchup that can’t help but be fueled by hunches, biases and the combustive potential of matching brute strength against brute strength, rather than your typical tale of the tape analysis. And you know what? That alone makes it totally compelling.