When UFC president Dana White called Brock Lesnar in September, and the latter agreed to fight on Dec. 30 against Alistair Overeem, White noted that it would be a five-round fight.
Lesnar said, "That’s fine, because it’s not going five rounds."
Aside from both being two of the most physically impressive heavyweights the sport has ever seen, Overeem (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) and Lesnar (6-foot-2 ½, 270 pounds) have almost nothing in common other than the belief that their battle for the next UFC title shot at Junior Dos Santos will end decisively, and probably quickly.
"I’m prepared for five rounds," said Overeem (35-11, 1 no contest), "I’ve been doing the five rounds forever now it seems. But looking at myself, the type of fighter that I am, looking at Brock, the type of fighter he is, looking at both our characters, we’re aggressive.
"We’re not the type of guys who back up," said Overeem, the only man in history to hold a world championship in a major MMA organization (Strikeforce) and in the premier kickboxing organization (K-1) at the same time. "We’re fighters. We want to finish fights. And yes, I’m going to be doing that on Dec. 30. I expect him to be doing that, so I don’t see really going past the first or the second round. The second round maximum."
"I feel the same," said Lesnar (5-2). "This is a heavyweight fight that we’re both going in to finish. I don’t foresee it going five rounds."
While statements like that from heavyweights may come across as hyperbole, few expect anything different.
The fight, billed in some places as the best heavyweight striker (Overeem, at least, has the credentials as the winner of the K-1 World Grand Prix last year, the highest level kickboxing competition in the world) against the best heavyweight wrestler (arguable, but Lesnar, Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier are likely the three best heavyweight wrestlers in the sport), is actually pretty simple to handicap, and it comes down to a few questions.
Can Lesnar take Overeem down, keep him there and damage him, mentally break him and finish him from that position? Can Overeem either stop Lesnar’s takedowns, or at least get up from them quickly enough to get enough time standing to get the knockout? Can Overeem catch him on the takedown with a knee or a guillotine?
Any prolonged standing greatly favors Overeem. And after being an eye witness to the Dos Santos title win over Cain Velasquez in just 64 seconds back on Nov. 12, Lesnar is probably going to be unlikely to fool around for too long standing against a fighter who has finished seven of his last ten opponents out in less than two minutes.
Before Overeem’s somewhat disappointing performance in winning a decision over Fabricio Werdum on June 18, the "Dutch Demolition Man" hadn’t been to the second round in a fight since 2007. That was back in the days when he was a small light heavyweight. With the exception of the Werdum fight, the new Overeem has been a killing machine the likes of which has never been seen at the top ranks of the 265-pound weight class.
But that streak led directly to the wide dichotomy of viewpoints on Overeem. His supporters label him the best heavyweight in the game, pointing to his quick finishes, and his skill set. His takedown defense as a heavyweight has looked strong. While thought of as primarily a kickboxer, four of his last eight quick wins have come via submission, and with his long but powerful arms, he’s the master of the guillotine.
His detractors say his record of quick finishes is padded, fattened up on cans on the Japanese circuit. His record in kickboxing shouldn’t count because it is a different sport. His takedown defense may look good, but as a heavyweight, the closest thing he’s faced to a wrestler was a past-his-prime Kazuyuki Fujita, who is world’s away from Lesnar caliber.
Detractors also point to Werdum as being the only top-15 heavyweight Overeem has faced in his streak, and he didn’t look impressive there. To be fair, Overeem came into that fight with a broken toe and Werdum’s style of continually dropping to his back to try and bait Overeem into a ground war made it impossible to look good. And they point to his 11 career losses as a sign that when he’s challenged he either gasses or folds.
For all of Overeem’s experience, Lesnar has fought and beaten a far tougher variety of heavyweight opponents.
Still, Overeem comes into UFC 141 as a 9-to-6 favorite, the first time in Lesnar’s career he’s the underdog. Yet many of the top heavyweights, like Frank Mir and Daniel Cormier, strongly favor Lesnar.
But for all the questions about Overeem, there are just as many about Lesnar.
Lesnar is coming off a long fight with diverticulitis, a disease that has consumed his life for two years and even threatened it at one point. It’s his first fight back since surgery on May 27. While Lesnar says he feels younger, and better than he has in years, the question at 34 is did the disease and time rob him of the speed and physically dominating wrestling that was his most amazing attribute as a fighter? Plus, his composure after being hit is in question after his last two fights, in which he was nearly finished by Shane Carwin, and then was finished by Cain Velasquez.
"All I can say is that I’ve had a great camp and this is the best I’ve felt in a long time," said Lesnar. "If I had to put a percentage on it, I don’t even know."
Marty Morgan, who has worked with Lesnar since his college wrestling days, said Lesnar’s strength levels going into this fight are far above what they were while preparing for any of his fights in at least three years.
In Overeem’s weight gain from 224 pounds when he beat Paul Buentello for the Strikeforce title in 2007 to 262 pounds when he won the K-1 World Grand Prix one year ago, he’s faced the kind of steroid allegations that Lesnar has heard since college.
This led to a major ordeal in recent weeks. Overeem had a hearing before the Nevada Athletic Commission after a delay in taking a random drug test ordered on Nov. 17. He missed the 48-hour deadline to take the test because he flew from Las Vegas to Holland to be with his sick mother and missed getting the message.
Finally, on Dec. 14, Overeem took a test in the U.K., and came up clean. The commission ordered him to be tested once more before the fight, when he arrives in Las Vegas after Christmas.
Lesnar, unlike most in MMA who are consumed by the latest gossip, keeps himself isolated for the most part. He doesn’t have Internet at his home. He only has television to watch hunting shows and when it comes to the plethora of MMA on television, he rarely watches, usually just to see fights that one of his friends are in. He only became vaguely aware of any Overeem's testing controversy on Dec. 14, and has barely given it a thought.
"I just heard about it yesterday," Lesmar said last week. "I’ve been dealing with the same accusations my whole life, being part of the spotlight and with the Internet and everything nowadays, and being social media, everybody knows everything. It’s part of the lifestyle. It comes with the territory. So I’ve been used to it for many years now. So I don’t even follow as much about what is going on with Alistair."
Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
• Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski learned from hyper-competitive father
• Video: NFL Week 16 locks to win
• Podcast: Five biggest soccer stories of 2011
• NHL's mystery of the missing 100-point scorer
• Tennis star Novak Djokovic has sights set on Hollywood