That’s right, boys and girls, it’s time for another (Rotter)dam good edition of the Downes Side. It’s only fitting because Rotterdam is known as the “Gateway to Europe,” and the Nostradamus of MMA is your gateway to enlightenment.
Luckily, the gate to this weekend’s fight night has a low price of admission. Live from the Ahoy Rotterdam convention center, there may not be pirates, but there will be some of the UFC’s finest. In the main event of the night, heavyweights Andrei Arlovski and Alistair Overeem battle for a spot in the title picture. We’ll break down that fight and a few others of note.
Fight Night Rotterdam prefight videos to watch: Overeem vs Arlovski Unstoppable preview | Must-see KO: Struve takes down Morecraft | Free fight: Arlovski vs Ian Freeman | Free fight: Overeem vs. Brock Lesnar | Great submission! Nelson chokes out Thatch
RUSTAM KHABILOV VS. CHRIS WADE
We’ll start in the lightweight division with the match between Rustam Khabilov and Chris Wade. Once on the cusp of a title shot, Khabilov lost two straight fights to Benson Henderson and Adriano Martins. He bounced back with a decision win over Norman Parke in February and looks to keep the momentum going. Chris Wade has quietly accrued a 4-0 record inside the Octagon. A well-rounded fighter with both kickboxing and wrestling experience, his only four finishes have been submissions (two guillotines and two RNCs).
Both fighters are capable on their feet, but their striking is a means to the grappling end. Khabilov relies on a powerful overhand right to hurt opponents (obviously), but also to initiate the clinch so he can work his sambo magic (FYI: don’t ever invite a sambo magician to perform at your birthday party). Wade has technically sound kickboxing, but he can be a bit lazy in how he retreats his kicks. He lets them hang a bit too long after attacking and leaves himself open for counters.
As far as the grappling is concerned, Khabilov embraces suplexes while Wade uses a mixture of throws and single legs. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll be able to throw Khabilov, but he should finish something in the middle of the Octagon. For all of Khabilov’s pedigree, his defensive wrestling does have holes and he repels takedowns at only a 50% rate. Wade won’t hit any big knockout blows, but his work rate and timely takedowns will help him grab the unanimous decision.
KAROLINA KOWALKIEWICZ VS. HEATHER JO CLARK
Next, we move to the women’s strawweight division for Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Heather Jo Clark. Kowalkiewicz comes off an impressive debut win over Randa Markos. A volume striker who does well in scrambles, she can be prone to tactical errors. A veteran of The Ultimate Fighter Season 20, Clark fights for the first time since her official UFC debut over Bec Rawlings in December 2014. Originally a grappler, she did show sharper boxing her last time out, but it has been a while since her last outing.
Kowalkiewicz strings combinations together, but she doesn’t have a lot of power behind her strikes. She also keeps her hands considerably low. The way she lets her left hand hang by her waist could make her a prime target for Clark’s counter right hand. There’s no guarantee Clark will be as effective with her counter strikes as she was her last time out, though. “Rowdy Bec” was loading up on her strikes and telegraphing moves. Clark should find some early success, but she fades as fights progress. That should give Kowalkiewicz the opening she needs to win on the judges’ scorecards.
ALBERT TUMENOV VS. GUNNAR NELSON
We move to welterweight for Albert Tumenov and Gunnar Nelson. After dropping his UFC debut to Ildemar Alcantara, Tumenov has rattled off five straight victories (including three KOs). A technical boxer with excellent head movement, he lands significant strikes at an incredible rate of 4.23/minute. My favorite Icelander since Ólafur Jóhann Ólafsson, Gunnar Nelson has dropped two of his last three. Sure, one of them was a hard fought battle against Demian Maia, but you can’t buy Hákarl with second place money.
Both fighters may have disparate striking styles (Tumenov with boxing and Nelson karate), but they utilize them in similar manners. They both attack in bursts. Nelson’s fight with Brandon Thatch being the most indicative of this type of attack. The key here will be who commands the distance: Tumenov crowds his opponents. He stays in tight boxing range and only kicks when his opponents retreat. Nelson leads with his hands, but he needs more space than a traditional boxer. He pushes off his legs and lunges. I see him struggling to get his spacing and to let his hands go or convert the takedown. Tumenov punches his way to the decision win.
ALISTAIR OVEREEM VS. ANDREI ARLOVSKI
Time for the main event! Much like superhero comic books, the heavyweight division proves that no one is truly dead. Alistair Overeem was once considered a “bust” and washed up. Yet, he’s won three straight fights, including knockouts over Stefan Struve and Junior Dos Santos. Andrei Arlovski is another guy who’s proven that we often give up too soon on fighters. The 37-year-old’s Cinderella Man story may have hit a bump with his recent loss to Stipe Miocic, but a win here could place him right back in the title picture.
The biggest change in Overeem over the course of his last few fights has been patience. He’s much more deliberate and thoughtful when he chooses to attack. He’ll go long stretches without even throwing a strike. This tactic does confuse opponents, but it also places him in bad situations. He’ll get caught flat footed and pushed against the fence. Arlovski has a more active attack, but it’s less diverse. Overeem kicks at different levels and mixes in devastating knees. Arlovski primarily fights as a boxer.
The “glass jaw” misnomer has been unfairly applied to both of these men. Before Miocic, Arlovski hadn’t been KO’d since 2011. Having said that, it would be surprising to see this fight go the distance. Overeem can wait rounds away, but his power advantage will be too much for “The Pit Bull” to overcome. “The Reem” takes this by second-round TKO.