Alistair Overeem showed a wrinkle in his game that most UFC fans haven’t seen, using his wrestling and vicious ground-and-pound to finish Augusto Sakai by TKO in the fifth round Saturday in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas.
The finish came at 26 seconds of the final round.
Overeem, a former K-1 kickboxing grand prix champion, has been most known for his striking, with devastating knockout power in his hands, all-around technical acumen and brutal knees.
On Saturday, in his 66th career fight, Overeem took down Sakai at the end of the fourth round and did serious damage with punches and elbows from the top.
“I was actually focused on maybe a submission,” he said in the postfight news conference. “But I kind of saw that the damage was kind of substantial with the ground-and-pound. I was like, ‘Oh well, this is working. Let’s stick with this.'”
He didn’t waste any time going back to that in the fifth. Overeem came right out of the gate and used an unorthodox single-leg takedown to put Sakai on his back. From there, Overeem ripped three consecutive jaw-rocking elbows, and referee Herb Dean had to step in to call the bout.
“I was very well-prepared,” Overeem said, “and we did it again — at 40 years of age.”
ESPN had Overeem ranked No. 10 in the world at heavyweight coming in. The card took place in front of no fans at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, the facility right across from the UFC’s corporate campus.
Saturday’s fight was a technical, back-and-forth battle that was tactical and grueling at the same time. Sakai was the more aggressive fighter, backing Overeem up several times in the early rounds with hard combinations and knees. Overeem was able to weather all those storms.
“Just cruising,” Overeem said.
Sakai did some damage. He caused a swelling near Overeem’s left temple with winging right hooks against the cage and worked the body well in the first three rounds. In the fourth, Sakai sliced open Overeem’s forehead with an elbow in the clinch. Overeem, known for his clinch work, got outworked in that position in the early rounds.
Overeem got the fight to the ground in the third round and had success there with hammerfists from the top. Before the third, Overeem was content to stay standing with Sakai, but once he saw he could put Sakai on his back, that was what he kept going back to. Overeem bloodied Sakai with ground-and-pound in the fourth and won the fight that way, with those nasty elbows, in the fifth.
Two judges, Sal D’Amato and Junichiro Kamijo, had Overeem ahead, 38-37, going into the fifth round. Both had Sakai winning the first two rounds, Overeem winning the third and Overeem taking the fourth, 10-8. Judge Derek Cleary had Overeem winning the second, third and fourth rounds, including the fourth by a 10-8 score.
When asked what he wanted next, Overeem joked that it’s time for a break, that training camp was “gruesome.” But he said he’d likely be back toward the end of next year or in early 2021.
“I love fighting,” Overeem said. “It’s been my passion for 23 years.”
Overeem (47-18, 1 NC) is considered one of the best heavyweight fighters of all time. The Netherlands native is a former Strikeforce and Dream champion. Overeem, 40, owns career wins over former UFC champions Fabricio Werdum (twice), Brock Lesnar, Andrei Arlovski, Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir and Vitor Belfort (twice).
Since 2018, Overeem has been training with the likes of Justin Gaethje and Curtis Blaydes with Elevation Fight Team in Colorado, which has caused somewhat of a career resurgence. “The Reem” is 4-1 now since joining up with Elevation.
Sakai (15-2-1) had put together a nice run in the UFC. He had won six straight coming in, including victories in his first four UFC fights. The Brazil native was coming off a split decision win over Blagoy Ivanov in May.
Overeem, a surefire future UFC Hall of Famer, has won four of his past five bouts, all by KO/TKO. His nine UFC knockouts are tied for fourth most in UFC heavyweight history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He has 42 finishes in 47 pro wins. On Saturday, Overeem outlanded Sakai, 45-19, over the last two rounds, according to UFC Stats.
When asked how close to a title shot he was, Overeem said “I’ll need another win. … But it also depends on the other landscape. But another win.”