There was a time in the not too distant past when Alistair Overeem was the most feared heavyweight fighter in the world, and it was a distinction well earned.
The Dutch juggernaut absolutely lived up to the nickname he held back then - “The Demolition Man” - as he steamrolled a laundry list of formidable opposition across various stages around the globe.
With each punishing knockout he delivered, the more the aura of his invincibility grew. With each new title the towering striker collected, his visibility rose, and when Overeem finally made his long awaited and highly anticipated arrival to the UFC in 2011, there was a palpable energy circulating around the MMA community that his run of dominance would continue.
The former Strikeforce heavyweight champion arrived to the Octagon riding a 12-fight unbeaten streak that covered a four-year span and etched names like Fabricio Werdum and Mark Hunt into his already impressive resume.
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The buzz surrounding Overeem’s arrival reached a fever pitch when it was announced that he would be facing former heavyweight titleholder and fellow wrecking machine Brock Lesnar in his official promotional debut at UFC 141, and that buzz quickly turned into a full on explosion when he dismantled the former WWE superstar turned UFC champion in less than a full round of work.
In the aftermath of his decimation of Lesnar, the keys to the proverbial kingdom appeared to be sitting at his feet, but a suspension and losses in three of his next four outings would cause the tides of his career to shift violently in a different direction. Where Overeem was poised to potentially become one of the greatest fighters in the history of his division, it suddenly appeared as if the best of what he had to offer was behind him.
It was in this stretch, as the shadows of doubt hung at their heaviest, when Overeem’s inner resilience came to call, and he became determined to battle his way back to prominence at all costs. The feared striker made the decision to move his training to the world-renowned camp at Jackson/Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the results have been substantial.
“Going to work with Greg Jackson and the team in Albuquerque was instrumental for me,” Overeem said. “There is a great environment there and it was exactly what I needed to do to get back on the winning streak and get back to being where I need to be in the division.”
The former multi-organizational champion has notched back-to-back victories over seasoned talents the likes of Stefan Struve and knockout artist Roy Nelson, and he looked impressive in the process. Although his raw power used to be the biggest weapon that folded up one opponent after the next, the experienced veteran has adapted his game to increase the speed and versatility of his attack.
“Continued growth is the key to success in every sport,” Overeem said. “You have to have the attitude where you are always pushing to get better than you were the day before. You also have to take care of your body and be mindful of how hard you push yourself, but always looking to progress at the same time.”
He’s feeling better than he’s ever felt, and this evolution led to his pursuit of a fight that has been hovering in his periphery for the past three years.
While Junior Dos Santos is no longer holding the belt he had when the two were initially set to collide at UFC 146 in May of 2012, that doesn’t lessen the rivalry between the two heavyweight wrecking machines in the slightest bit. There have been plenty of verbal barbs launched between the two camps over the past three years, and Overeem is determined to silence “Cigano” once and for all when the Octagon door closes this Saturday in Orlando.
“I’m very relaxed and loose,” Overeem said. “My team is here from Holland and I’m ready to go. I’m ready for this fight and we have the perfect game plan. My preparation and cardio are all where they need to be. I’ve been training for this fight ever since the Roy Nelson fight because I knew my next fight was going to be “JDS” so I just kept pushing through and here we are. I’m ready to go out there and perform on Saturday.
“In my opinion this is a fight he didn’t want. I was watching some of his interviews back in August and he mentioned a lot of other names but mine. I was like, ‘Hey…what about me?’ The entire world wants to see this fight, and as a fighter you want as many eyes in the world as possible to see you fight.
This was the biggest fight out there and I was just baffled why he wouldn’t want this fight to happen. He wasn’t pushing for it so I decided to push his buttons a little bit. I was successful at doing that and now we are going to step into the Octagon here in a few days.”
Furthermore, with Dos Santos’ perennial contender status firmly in check, Overeem sees a victory over the former titleholder as a surefire way to ramp up his hopes for a shot at UFC gold. It was a goal once in his reach, and while he’s paid his penance and taken his lumps since allowing the opportunity to slip through his fingers, Overeem’s focus is locked on making the most of what stands before him in the here and now.
“It’s very important to prioritize, starting with what is directly in front of you,” he explained. “Then after you deal with that, you can look at what is important tomorrow, next week or even next year. For me, right now, this fight is a very big hurdle.
“[Dos Santos] is a great opponent who is very dangerous. He has good hands and a lot of power in them. My focus is locked on this fight because that’s where it has to be. When I handle business there, then I’m open to talking about the title all day long because I do believe the winner of this fight is going to get the next shot at the world title.”
While his figure may be imposing and his quest to obtain the heavyweight title is more encompassing than it’s ever been, years in the game have taught Overeem to equally embrace the lighter side of things when it comes to fighting. Separating another man from his consciousness with a combination of punches, kicks and knees is certainly serious business, but the 35-year-old Dutchman has learned to appreciate the moments of levity where they can be found.
And if there isn’t any levity available he’ll create one, as a solid sense of humor may be the heavyweight slugger’s secret weapon to longevity in the fight business.
“It actually is a big part of my process,” Overeem said in regard to keeping things light hearted during camp. “In life you are going to have to deal with the ups and downs, and when you are down things are going to be a little bit tight. It can be difficult when things aren’t going your way, but it is everyone’s own responsibility to get back on the horse and keep moving.”