Augusto Sakai is looking to claim the scalp of heavyweight great Alistair Overeem when the two men collide in the main event of UFC Fight Night on September 5, but will he be successful and thrust himself into the title picture or can ‘The Reem’ make it back-to-back wins as he looks to force his way back into contention?
Sakai has enjoyed a perfect run since putting pen-to-paper on a deal with the UFC two years ago. A second-round knockout of Marcos Conrado on Dana White’s Contender Series landed him a deal with the premier promotion in mixed martial arts, but his debut was hardly smooth-sailing as he was forced to overcome a broken right hand to knock out Chase Sherman in the third round.
He followed that up with a controversial split decision win over former champion Andrei Arlovski, and there were no question marks surrounding his third UFC win as he took less than a minute to dispatch Marcin Tybura. A split decision win over Blagoy Ivanov in May then cemented his place in the top 10 in the heavyweight division, and now he gets set to fight an all-time great knowing that a victory could propel him into the top five and move him within a win or two of a crack at Stipe Miocic.
While Sakai has been establishing himself in the UFC, Overeem has been continuing in incredible MMA career that dates all the way back to October 1999. The London-born Dutchman has compiled a 46-18 record while fighting a who’s who of fighters for the best part of 20 years, but while he has held kickboxing and MMA crowns around the world, the one thing that has eluded ‘The Reem’ is the UFC heavyweight title.
The 40-year-old knows that winning the belt would be the icing on the cake for his Hall of Fame career, but he has had just one opportunity so far and that resulted in a first-round knockout at the fists of current champion Miocic back in 2016. That loss is one of four in his last nine fights, but while it would be fair to say that his best days are behind him, Overeem remains a major player in this division because every time it looks as though his days as a contender may be over, he responds in fashion.
Overeem took out Walt Harris in the second round of their bout back in May and he has now gone 3-1 in his last four fights, winning each of them via TKO, to maintain his place in the top 10. And it could be argued that he should be 4-0 during this run because his sole loss to Jairzinho Rozenstruik was somewhat unfortunate. ‘The Reem’ appeared to be on his way to a decision victory over the big-hitting Brazilian until he was caught with a huge shot in the final four seconds of the bout that caused his lip to pretty much explode and forced the referee to step in.
It was a heart-breaking loss, but it hardly damaged his stock and he was able to rebound by stopping Walt Harris last time out. A loss to Sakai would be a massive blow to Overeem however, so can he avoid it?
I believe he can. Sakai may be on a hot streak right now in terms of results, but edging a controversial split decision over a washed up Arlovski hardly set the pulses racing and an unconvincing win over a man like Blagoy, who was not even ranked at the time, does little to suggest that he can get the better of Overeem.
‘The Reem’ is not what he once was, that is clear for all to see. He can certainly be knocked out, but the simple fact is that out of these two fighters he is a much more well-rounded and accomplished fighter. He can knock you out, he can outpoint you and he can make you tap. Overeem can do it all, and over the past few years he has shown a much more calculated approach to his striking that has helped him remain a top heavyweight despite his age and the fact that he has now lost seven times inside the Octagon. I expect to see another smart, intelligent performance here from Overeem that sees him avoid any late heartbreak.
In fact, I expect him to make a statement by stopping Sakai via either strikes or via submission – 41 of his 46 wins so far have come inside the distance, with only one of his fights in the last five years going to the judges’ scorecards. Sakai does not have the ability to last that long with Overeem.