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Alistair Overeem salvages career, leaves Frank Mir’s future in doubt at UFC 169

Long-awaited Dos Santos vs. Overeem fight could be up next

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Tim Larsen / Associated Press

Frank Mir, right, and Alistair Overeem fight during the second round of a UFC 169 heavyweight mixed-martial arts bout in Newark, N.J., on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014. Overeem won by unanimous decision.

UFC 169

Jose Aldo, right, of Brazil and Ricardo Lamas of Chicago, IL fight in the first round of the Ultimate Fighting Featherweight Championship Mix Martial Arts bout in Newark, N.J. on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014. Aldo won by unanimous decision in five rounds. (AP Photo/Tim Larsen) Launch slideshow »

Alistair Overeem deposited Frank Mir on his back so often Saturday night at UFC 169 that it felt like only a matter of time before he cashed in on the position with a stoppage.

Overeem resisted investing too heavily in Mir’s vulnerable situations, however, because he feared fraud.

“That’s a lot of his strength,” Overeem explained at the post-fight press conference. “He goes down and you dive on him, you unload and suddenly you’re in a leglock. That’s why I kept so careful.”

The lack of a finish in Overeem’s unanimous-decision victory (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) over Mir diminished the performance in the eyes of some, including UFC President Dana White who said the bout was not what he expected. Overeem couldn’t disagree more.

He left the Prudential Center proud he’d shown progression in snapping a two-fight losing streak. Not following Mir too aggressively to the ground, where the local former heavyweight champion could show off his extensive Brazilian jiu-jitsu skill set after deceptively acting hurt, was a calculated approach.

Overeem felt carelessness was the biggest factor in upset losses to Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Travis Browne last year. The 33-year-old former Strikeforce champion was ahead of both fights, and close to finishing them at times, before judgment lapses left him susceptible to comebacks.

He wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes against Mir.

“I proved to everybody I’m back tonight,” Overeem said. “Frank is a very experienced fighter, his game plan was to take me down, but I’m a well-rounded fighter so I dominated him. This victory has motivated me a lot to go back to the gym and get ready for fighting again.”

Mir, who has lost four in a row in lopsided fashion, hopes he gets the same opportunity. While the 34-year-old was unavailable for comment following the loss, he strongly indicated earlier in the week that he wanted to continue with his fighting career regardless of the result.

It remains to be determined if the UFC is as enthusiastic about his future. White hinted the loser would no longer have a spot in the UFC months ago, but wouldn’t commit to anything after seeing the fight.

“It’s not a decision we make tonight,” White said. “We’ll go back and we’ll get together next week and figure out what we want to do.”

White already had something in mind for Overeem. He liked the idea of Overeem facing former champion Junior dos Santos. They’re known as two of the best strikers in the division and developed a rivalry when they were scheduled to fight at UFC 146 before the Nevada State Athletic Commission suspended Overeem for testing positive for elevated testosterone levels.

A win against dos Santos would likely spring Overeem into title contention, but he was noncommittal on Saturday.

“Every fight in the UFC is interesting to me,” Overeem said. “On that note, for now, it’s Holiday time. Then we’re going to sit together with the team and figure it out.”

It might sound like a strange time to celebrate the holidays, but Overeem skipped a lot of the festive periods the last couple months. Nagged by losing, Overeem never took any time off over the last year.

The sting of losing, and the desire to get back to winning, kept him in the gym on a nearly everyday basis.

“It’s been awhile,” Overeem said. “For me, it’s been a long year.”

He focused more on adjusting to his opponent than ever before. Against Mir, that meant shedding weight and working on his cardio.

Overeem didn’t gas out at all, unlike some other fights in his career, after 15 minutes of pummeling of Mir. He also never exposed himself to unfavorable circumstances.

Caution was the important instrument to stay in the black against Mir.

“Frank is always one of those fighters that stays dangerous until the end,” Overeem said. “I felt that until the end, he was reaching for a submission or something.”

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

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