The UFC’s quest for global domination continues when the company breaks ground in yet another new country. This time, the organization’s latest Fight Night card, UFC Fight Night 87, comes to us from the land of Rembrandt, van Gogh and legal marijuana, otherwise known as the Netherlands.
A few of the country’s favorite sons will compete on this card, including a couple of heavyweights. Dutch native Alistair Overeem continues his march toward a UFC heavyweight title shot by taking on Andrei Arlovski, while Stefan Struve looks to get back on track in front of his fellow countrymen when he faces Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. The card features a few other notable fighters, including Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Rustam Khabilov, Nick Hein and Kyoji Horiguchi.
Overeem is coming off a second-round knockout of former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos last year and, surprisingly, will face Arlovski for the very first time, despite both fighters being longtime MMA veterans who have competed all over the world. Struve has only won one of his last three fights, one of which was a knockout loss in the first round to Overeem. Will the “Skyscraper” climb over “Bigfoot,” who’s also only won one of his last three?
Mother’s Day also shares the day with this card, so what better way to show Mom you love her than by exposing her to some UFC heavyweights pummeling each other senseless? I mean, right?
The action kicks off at 10:30 a.m. ET with three fights on UFC Fight Pass. Then, it’s off to Fox Sports 1 at noon ET for the four remaining preliminary bouts, followed by the six-fight main card at 2 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Zach Aittama are here to get you ready for this rare Sunday afternoon action.
Headliner Andrei Arlovski is a former UFC champion whose title reign ended more than a decade ago, but he has experienced a career resurgence that put him very close to a title fight before he suffered a quick loss to Stipe Miocic in January. Is Arlovski’s late career revival done, or can he edge his opponent, Alistair Overeem, and get his momentum back once again?
Aittama: Arlovski’s career was all but over more than five years ago following his fourth consecutive defeat, which came at the hands of Sergei Kharitonov. He was fighting to get back on track after dropping three straight fights to Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, Brett Rogers and Fedor Emelianenko.
Arlovski looked sharp in the early going against Fedor, the fighter once touted as “1 in 6 billion” and the holder of the Pride heavyweight title. Arlovski’s confidence was building with each defended takedown and landed right hand, which he threw with authority on more than one occasion. Arlovski was in the driver’s seat. That is, until an ill-advised flying knee attack went terribly wrong. Fedor timed Arlovski’s attack perfectly, landing his right hook with every bit of power from the tips of his toes. Arlovski fell face first in devastating fashion.
The loss was the start of a skid that would bring out the questions about Arlovski’s future. His bout with Kharitonov was what many believed to be his last run at the top. Kharitonov put Arlovski down with a short uppercut and lunging right hook before capping off the brutal knockout with a left hand to a downed Arlovski against the fence. The scene was reminiscent of Arlovski’s career at the time. Done. Over. Dead.
Arlovski had other plans, however. He began his return back to prominence with win after win and knockout after knockout. He won seven of his next eight fights — strange rule debacle in ONE Championship aside — and was set for his return to the world’s biggest stage. Arlovski earned victory in his Octagon return against Brendan Schaub at UFC 174, but the split decision was contested by many, including a less than satisfied Arlovski. He wouldn’t get his due as a potential title challenger until he knocked out the top-five ranked Travis Browne in one of the best rounds of the year in 2015. Arlovski fought through adversity, getting badly hurt with a monster right hook and fighting his way back for his own knockout win. He was riding high and back in the title mix.
Arlovski had his title hopes halted with a less than thrilling win against Frank Mir. The uneventful fight surely played a role in Arlovski having to fight once more before unquestionably earning his shot at current champion Fabricio Werdum, a fighter Arlovski beat eight years prior. That one more fight happened to be against the heavy-hitting Miocic, and Arlovski’s career revival went out like his chin in January.
Even if Arlovski’s career is still shrouded in doubt, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could land a right hand and knock out Overeem. Or land a takedown and control from the top. These possibilities will be limited, however.
Overeem is one of the most technically skilled and hardest hitting heavyweights in all of MMA. The Dutch striker has been on a UFC title hunt himself, but he has had a few setbacks on his path to UFC heavyweight gold. He was all but ready to lock horns with former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos at UFC 146 before he tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone.
Overeem was a frequent topic in discussions as a potential user of performance-enhancing drugs to bulk up from a relatively skinny 205-pound fighter to a massive, muscled super-human by the name of “Ubereem.” It was during that time that Overeem made his name. During a stretch of 11 fights and four years, Overeem destroyed all of his opponents and left their carnage in his wake. He won the K-1 World Grand Prix and finished nine of his 10 wins before making his UFC debut against Brock Lesnar at UFC 141. Overeem decimated the former champion with knees and a kick to the body. He earned his shot at dos Santos at UFC 146, but the failed test left him waiting.
Overeem was once again in line for a potential title shot, this time against champion Cain Velasquez, before tasting defeat for the first time in 12 fights when he faced the aforementioned Bigfoot. Overeem controlled the first two rounds against Bigfoot before the Brazilian delivered one of the best comeback knockout wins in UFC history. Overeem went on to lose again in his next bout when he was on the receiving end of Browne’s foot in his face. Overeem’s title hopes were all but gone.
Overeem put on a strong performance against former UFC champion Mir before losing to rising top-10 heavyweight Ben Rothwell. The knockout loss would be Overeem’s last, but the fight will forever be a reminder that anything can happen when heavy leather is thrown.
Overeem’s last three performances have shown that his hard work at Jackson-Winkeljohn is paying dividends. He was confident on the feet, comfortable in his abilities and, most importantly, executing his game plan with minimal mistakes. His collected striking approach has led to a better accountability for his weaknesses and further understanding of his strengths. Overeem may be able to flip a switch and go berserk like he did in the “Ubereem” days, but his best results against top competition have come from a well-executed technical game plan. Expect Overeem to meet Arlovski — a teammate, but not an everyday training partner — with a similar approach.
Arlovski has had his ups-and-downs, much like Overeem. Depending on the outcome of this fight, one of these men could be on their way to a shot at the title. The likely candidate is Overeem and his UFC-leading 74.5 percent significant-strike accuracy. Overeem finds the sweet spot, puts Arlovski’s title run on hold and starts his own run at the title.
Huntemann: Once again, I have to follow up an epic tome by my colleague. I mean, what else can I really say that hasn’t already been said? But I reckon I’ll give it the ol’ college try.
Arlovski was one of MMAs’ feel-good stories last year. He was the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes to march toward a title shot in his second stint in the UFC and at the age of 37. The heavyweight division seems particularly beneficial for older gents, doesn’t it? I guess it’s because when you’re a heavyweight, you don’t really have to worry about cutting weight, which gets more difficult as you get older (trust me, I know). But I digress.
Unfortunately, Arlovski’s feel-good story came to an abrupt and violent end earlier this year when he was knocked out in the first round by current No. 1 contender Miocic. I was all set to declare Arlovski’s comeback story all but dead, but, with further reflection, I think I was being a bit hasty to do so. There is no shame in losing to Miocic, even if it was via a first-round knockout. Miocic has only lost twice in his career, and his second loss should have been a victory against the aforementioned dos Santos.
The point is that Miocic is an incredibly impressive fighter and possibly the next great heavyweight. It’s not like Arlovski lost to Tank Abbott or Kimbo Slice. Arlovski is still in the top five at heavyweight, and Overeem looks primed to be next in line for a title shot. If Arlovski knocks off Overeem, then the phoenix can rise one more time. Arlovski’s comeback has been one of the more enjoyable things to watch in MMA and something that’s been sorely needed in a sport rife with recent controversies and other eye-rolling events. I don’t think the old guy is quite done yet.
The other top-billed fight in the lineup features heavyweights Stefan Struve and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. Are these two men settled into gatekeeper roles, or can the winner of this fight parlay his victory into an eventual title bid?
Huntemann: When I think of gatekeepers in the UFC’s heavyweight division, I think of guys like Frank Mir, Roy Nelson and Josh Barnett. I don’t necessarily consider Struve or Silva to fit into those camps, mostly because I think Struve is still a little too young for the role. He’s 28, but it just seems like the guy has been fighting forever. He could have one more run at the top in him before he joins the rest in Gatekeepersville.
Silva, on the other hand, might be on the chopping block if he comes up short against Struve. While he has a unique look and size (they call him “Bigfoot” for a reason), as well as a crowd-pleasing style (his fight with Mark Hunt is still one of the best you’ll see), Silva’s fight against Hunt is the only fight of his since 2010 to not end in a knockout or TKO, win or lose. Bigfoot has undergone a tremendous amount of punishment in his career, and it’s starting to show with some of his recent performances.
If Struve is victorious, then his road to a possible title shot is much easier than if Silva wins this fight. If Silva wins, he’ll keep his job in the UFC, but he will still be a gatekeeper. Then again, we’ve seen guys like Arlovski and Mir charge toward a title shot at even this late stage of their careers, so who’s really to say what the future holds?
Aittama: If you were to ask me this question this time last year, the future would not be hold much for either fighter. Ask this question two years ago, or even three years ago, and I would probably give you the same answer.
Silva has won just once in his past six fights since falling to Velasquez at UFC 160 in his first and only bid for the UFC heavyweight title. Struve has lost three of his past four fights and had one fight canceled when he couldn’t make it out of the locker room. Neither man is exactly flying high at this point in their careers, and for different reasons.
The effects of Silva’s loss of a therapeutic-use exemption for testosterone-replacement therapy in 2014 was noticeable. He tasted defeat in brutal fashion against Arlovski and Mir. Silva went from a fighter that took all of Hunt’s best shots over the course of a 25-minute, back-and-forth classic to one who couldn’t make it a combined five minutes against the aforementioned heavyweights. He returned to the win column against the now-retired Soa Palelei, but Hunt obliterated him in the rematch at UFC 193 in November.
Struve’s fight with Matt Mitrione was canceled when Struve fainted in the locker room and was unable to continue to the Octagon. The cancellation came 16 months after Struve had surgery on his broken jaw. The fractures were courtesy of a big Hunt left hook that sent Struve crashing to the mat. Before the loss, Struve racked up four consecutive wins, with his most impressive against Stipe Miocic just before the Hunt fight. Hunt stopped Struve’s title hopes in their tracks once, and UFC Fight Night 87 headliner Alistair Overeem furthered his wait with a first-round ground-and-pound knockout finish at UFC on Fox 13. Struve impressed with his reach and stiff jab against former UFC interim champ Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira en route to one of his best wins. Then, he had one of his worst performances in his next bout against Jared Rosholt.
With both fighters trending downward, they are firmly entrenched as heavyweight gatekeepers.
I know my colleague believes the distinction doesn’t hold with Struve, but I tend to disagree. Struve has been in the UFC for almost seven years. He has fought and beaten the fighters outside of the elite, but he has also fallen short of the elite. By definition, I’d lump Struve in the gatekeeper discussion with the likes of Nelson, Mir and Bigfoot.
Silva has been fighting top fighters for about the same amount of time as his upcoming opponent. His Strikeforce debut came against current UFC champion Werdum. Silva holds wins over some of the best heavyweights in the world, including Fedor, Arlovski, Overeem and Browne. And Bigfoot has only lost to the best of the best in the division, including Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, Hunt and others. In fact, all of Silva’s losses have been to top-10 fighters. Again, that’s right in line with the definition of a gatekeeper, especially in the aging heavyweight division.
This is a tough fight to pick, even when putting the heavyweight wild card aside. Struve is a well-rounded fighter with a wealth of experience, but the same can be said for Silva. Struve has a knack for fighting back from adversity to win fights. This very well could be the case against a fighter who has seemed to have lost a step. Silva is an excellent grappler and a very large heavyweight. If Struve leaves his chin out there to be hit, Silva certainly won’t hesitate. He won’t hesitate to take hold of top control and pass Struve’s highly active guard game.
The winner of the fight has a case to making their way back to the title, but it will be a tough climb back for either man.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz finds herself opening a televised main card for the second time in a row, this time against Heather Jo Clark. Kowalkiewicz’s signing was ballyhooed by the UFC, and it’s likely the company wants her to eventually challenge her fellow countrywoman Joanna Jędrzejczyk for the strawweight title. If Kowalkiewicz defeats Clark, should she break into the strawweight top five and be considered for a title shot?
Aittama: Kowalkiewicz was impressive in her Octagon debut against Randa Markos on the national television broadcast of UFC on Fox 17. She controlled the fight in every area, forcing Markos to take a passive approach with her sharp counter striking. Markos’s face took the brunt of damage, displaying the disparity of skill between the UFC newcomer and the top-10 ranked Markos. The 30-year-old Kowalkiewicz showcased her well-rounded game throughout the exciting 15-minute decision victory.
The Polish veteran brings an undefeated record into her bout with Clark, yet another The Ultimate Fighter 20 cast member. Clark has had ups and downs in her career before entering the Octagon. Her most recent fight against Bec Rawlings was her first win in the UFC, and it’s a potential building block for future improvement.
However, that fight took place nearly 18 months ago. The time outside of the cage will certainly play a role in Clark’s performance on Sunday. Ring rust is real, and Clark will be forced into the fire against the skilled Kowalkiewicz. This is Kowalkiewicz’s fight to lose, and it’s unlikely she does.
Now to the question. With a win, Kowalkiewicz will certainly be on her way up the strawweight ladder. She won’t be ranked in the top five, however. Clark resides outside of the top 15, and Kowalkiewicz has yet to fight many of the top fighters in the division. Kowalkiewicz will most likely have to wait in line unless she gets another big win following a victory over Clark.
Huntemann: I’ll answer this question in two parts.
Should Kowalkiewicz move into the top five at strawweight if she defeats Clark? I could see an argument for it. If she defeats Clark as impressively as she defeated a tough fighter like Markos, then I could see the UFC moving her up in a division that’s still looking for a star to place opposite Jędrzejczyk.
However, it’s much more likely that Kowalkiewicz simply moves into the top 10, but doesn’t quite crack that top-five plateau. As my esteemed colleague stated, Clark has fought once in the last 18 months. A victory over her doesn’t really necessitate a slingshot up the strawweight ladder.
If Kowalkiewicz is victorious in this fight, should she be considered for a title shot? Probably not. Rose Namajunas should be next in line to face Jędrzejczyk or Claudia Gadelha for the belt. The fact that UFC President Dana White thinks Namajunas “needs another fight or two” before a title shot is absurd, frankly. Maybe White is still holding a grudge that Namajunas dominated Paige VanZant, another one of his handpicked stars.
The “another fight or two” requirement should apply to Kowalkiewicz. Hopefully the UFC learned its lesson from pushing VanZant too much and too soon and takes a more measured approach with Kowalkiewicz, who has all the tools to become a star. She definitely can fight. She looked mighty impressive against Markos, especially with her counter striking and ground game. And let’s face it, Kowalkiewicz is a very attractive woman. That certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Kowalkiewicz is still finding her voice on social media and with promoting herself, but so did Jędrzejczyk at first. Now Jędrzejczyk is one of the more enjoyable personalities to follow in all of MMA. There’s no reason for the UFC to rush Kowalkiewicz like it has done with other fighters. We’ve seen what’s happened to those who were anointed when it was probably before their time. Patience is a virtue.
The “Featured Fight Pass Prelim” headliner features top-five flyweight contender Kyoji Horiguchi and striking specialist Neil “2 Tap” Seery. Is this a great opportunity for more exposure for the rising prospect Horiguchi, or is this fight a relegation back to the prelims? With a win, where does Horiguchi go from here?
Huntemann: The flyweight division is basically on lockdown. It’s being held hostage. Thanks, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson.
I don’t mean that in a bad way either. Johnson is just so dominant, so very dominant, that anyone else in that division is simply treading water, running in place, insert your own cliché here. Johnson’s first-round TKO of Henry Cejudo at UFC 197 should kill the hopes and dreams of any other flyweight looking to make an impact.
That includes Horiguchi.
The Japanese fighter came so close to going the distance with Johnson, but he instead has the dubious distinction of being submitted with one second left in the fight. The loss didn’t really hurt Horiguchi’s stock, though. He’s still ranked highly and could actually find himself in line for another title shot if he gets past the always tough Seery. Joseph Benavidez and John Dodson both got multiple title shots against Johnson, right? So, why not Horiguchi too? There’s really no one else for Johnson to defend his belt against at the moment, unless you think Jussier “Formiga” da Silva has the missing key to dethroning the Mighty Mouse.
Aittama: Horiguchi is one of the very best fighters in the division. If he puts together another extended winning streak, then I agree that he could get a future second chance at the title. I’d go so far as to say he would deserve it if he notched two or three more solid wins — much like I believe the aforementioned Benavidez has earned his fourth crack at the flyweight title with five consecutive wins.
Winning is the recipe to getting another shot at Johnson. In this fight with Seery, Horiguchi is ready to break out his mixers and crack some eggs. Seery is a skilled boxer that can certainly hold his own when under fire, but Horiguchi brings a level of knockout power that is unmatched at 125 pounds. Horiguchi, 25, is making all of the right choices to become a future champion. He spent much of the past few months training with American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla. The move to train in America wasn’t new for Horiguchi, who has trained with the American Kickboxing Academy in the past and returned to hone his craft for this upcoming fight.
The questions of what improvements we see in the future will be apparent when Horiguchi steps into the cage in Rotterdam. He has world-conquering power in his left hook and right hand, weaponry he has built upon his base karate style since the age of five. He is a dynamic athlete that navigates distance with the best of them. His explosive fight-ending attacks have laid claim to victim after victim since he made his debut in 2010. Horiguchi has knocked down or finished his opponents an outstanding 19 times. It’s no wonder Mighty Mouse wanted to stay away from Horiguchi’s devastating strikes in their nearly 25-minute championship bout.
Horiguchi returned with a win against Chico Camus, and he will return to the win column on Sunday against Seery. Don’t blink. This fight could be over quickly.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Aittama: The best fight on this card is a welterweight battle between prospects Albert Tumenov and Gunnar Nelson. This fight is on the main card, but it’s my sleeper fight because it wasn’t discussed in our first four questions. It would have been criminal if we hadn’t touched on the best fight on this card. Yes, I’ll say it again. It’s the best fight on this card.
Tumenov, 24, is already one of the most refined prospects in any UFC weight division. Not many of the world’s top prospects are ready for the jump to fighting elite talent just two years into their UFC career. Tumenov, on the other hand, has been calling for the best fighters in his division for quite some time. As the self-proclaimed best striker in MMA, he is making a claim that is not without some merit. While I believe Lorenz Larkin revealed a little of what leaves Tumenov exposed defensively, the Russian striker did land effective strikes at a high volume for much of the fight. The decision win was Tumenov’s fifth straight inside the Octagon.
Nelson has been fighting under the UFC banner for a little bit longer than Tumenov. Two years longer, to be exact. Nelson has picked up five wins inside the Octagon, but he was upset by Rick Story and lost a decision to Demian Maia within his past three fights. Nelson’s most recent falls against two top fighters in the weight division have come with a bit of a surprise — well, maybe not in the case of Maia, who was clearly the better grappler of the two, but certainly in the Story fight where Nelson was a nearly four-to-one favorite.
The story of this fight is simple. Nelson is a skilled striker with an intriguing karate-style approach, but he will be in danger as soon as he falls into Tumenov’s preferred boxing range. Tumenov is such a skilled technician with his hands, but Nelson brings a clearly superior ground game into this contest. The fighter that can fight his own fight will have his hand raised.
Tumenov has impressed with his destruction of Alan Jouban, Matt Dwyer and Anthony Lapsley during his winning streak. However, those names bring out questions of whether or not he is ready for the elite. I think he is.
Huntemann: Keep an eye on the fight between Rustam Khabilov and Chris Wade.
Khabilov has beaten some tough customers in his UFC career, including Jorge Masvidal and Yancy Medeiros. Wade is undefeated in his four UFC fights and is coming off a first-round submission victory.
This fight is being contested at lightweight, which is probably the deepest division in the UFC. It’s highly unlikely that the winner of this fight would receive any kind of consideration for a title shot, but Khabilov will be a good litmus test for the one-loss Wade to see if he might be worth a spot in the lightweight top 15 and due for some fights against bigger names.
Khabilov can already boast experience fighting some of the best, by virtue of his fight against Benson Henderson. While Khabilov came up short in that one, he knows what it means to be in there against truly top-level competition.
Pair this card with…
Huntemann: Some flowers. This card takes place on Mother’s Day, and most families will gather to celebrate this annual holiday. So chances are, you’ll have a family dinner obligation to attend, and it’s likely your family members — particularly your mom — don’t share your passion for MMA. However, if your mother is an MMA fan, count yourself among the lucky ones and settle in with ol’ Mom to enjoy some fights on her special day. And if your mom isn’t a fan? Well, those flowers will come in handy when you show up late for dinner, all because you wanted to watch this card.
Aittama: Family. This fight card is lacking in American name power, but each and every fight is matched to produce fun for the whole family. The crowd and early morning television viewers will be entertained from the first fight of the “night” and all the way through the main event. Keep the fighting in the family and cherish your time sitting in front of your television on Sunday morning.
|Fight||Aittama’s Pick||Huntemann’s Pick|
|Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 2 p.m. ET)|
|HW: Alistair Overeem vs. Andrei Arlovski||Overeem||Overeem|
|HW: Stefan Struve vs. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva||Struve||Struve|
|WW: Gunnar Nelson vs. Albert Tumenov||Tumenov||Tumenov|
|Women’s BW: Germaine de Randamie vs. Anna Elmose||de Randaime||de Randaime|
|LHW: Nikita Krylov vs. Francimar Barroso||Krylov||Krylov|
|Women’s StrawW: Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Heather Jo Clark||Kowalkiewicz||Kowalkiewicz|
|Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 12 p.m. ET)|
|LW: Chris Wade vs. Rustam Khabilov||Khabilov||Wade|
|MW: Magnus Cedenblad vs. Garreth McLellan||Cedenblad||Cedenblad|
|LW: Nick Hein vs. Jon Tuck||Hein||Hein|
|LW: Yan Cabral vs. Reza Madadi||Cabral||Madadi|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 10:30 a.m ET)|
|FlyW: Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Neil Seery||Horiguchi||Horiguchi|
|WW: Leon Edwards vs. Dominic Waters||Edwards||Waters|
|FlyW: Willie Gates vs. Yuta Sasaki||Gates||Gates|