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Alistair Overeem, Brock Lesnar headline UFC New Year’s card in Las Vegas

UFC 141 should provide top contender for heavyweight belt

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Sam Morris

A champion again, Brock Lesnar carries his belt out of the octagon after his heavyweight title fight against Shane Carwin Saturday at UFC 116 on July 3, 2010. Lesnar won with a second-round submission.

The UFC abruptly killed rumors surrounding two of mixed martial arts’ most feared heavyweights, Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem, Tuesday afternoon.

The promotion announced it had signed Overeem, the former Strikeforce champion, to a contract and booked a fight against Lesnar, a former UFC champion, for his introduction.

Lesnar (5-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC) and Overeem (35-11 MMA, 0-0 UFC) will meet in the main event of the annual New Year’s Eve weekend card, which is slated for Friday Dec. 30 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and expected to serve as UFC 141.

“I’ve always watched Brock fight because I think his fights are very entertaining,” Overeem said. “He comes in and brings it. He’s a big guy who is very aggressive, but (fighting him) was always kind of out of reach. I was not fighting in the UFC and he was, so I never really thought about it realistically.”

Until the last few days. That’s when it became apparent to Overeem that a deal with MMA’s largest company was imminent.

The news ends a tumultuous two months for the Dutch kickboxing champion. Overeem had to pull out of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Tournament after an opening round victory because of the timing of the semifinals, which take place Saturday in Cincinnati.

He was subsequently released from Strikeforce, but began talking with the UFC. Reports came out almost on a daily basis regarding the progress of those discussions, but Overeem found it easy to sit back and let the conversations play out.

“I knew it was about to come because negotiations were going well,” Overeem said. “I’m very happy. My team is very happy. We’re very proud to be fighting in the UFC and against all the top guys. I think the fans will love to see these fights.”

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Alistair Overeem, top, punches Paul Buentello in a 2007 Strikeforce heavyweight title fight. Overeem is one of four fighters remaining in the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament.

Overeem confirmed suspicions that the matchup will serve as a No. 1 contenders bout. The winner of Lesnar vs. Overeem will likely face the heavyweight champion, which will be crowned on Nov. 12 when Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos clash in Anaheim, Calif. on FOX.

“I see myself against all these guys,” Overeem said. “All of these are exciting matchups. All of these are big, strong guys who have their credentials. There are so many good matchups in the UFC.”

To casual fans, the news of Overeem’s signing is secondary compared to Lesnar’s return. Lesnar hasn’t fought since losing his belt to Velasquez at UFC 121 via first round TKO last October.

A diverticulitis flare-up forced Lesnar out of a scheduled bout with dos Santos at UFC 131. Erroneous Internet reports last week indicated Lesnar was leaning toward retirement after recovering from the disease for a second time, but UFC President Dana White called the claims “far from the truth”.

“The guy’s working on a farm in Canada all summer,” White said last week. “He’s 100 percent.”

Lesnar will soon return to his DeathClutch Gym in Alexandria, Minn., to resume training. Overeem said he hadn’t decided where he would hold his training camp now that he was in the UFC.

He’d like to choose somewhere in America, but could wait until his second octagon bout. Overeem wants to get back to training immediately, meaning his usual spot in the Netherlands with Golden Glory might be most desirable.

Overeem wants to prepare for a five-round battle, even if he doubts it will last that long.

“It’s going to be an aggressive fight,” Overeem said. “It’s definitely not going the distance.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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