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Alistair Overeem of The Netherlands stands in his corner prior to his heavyweight bout against Aleksei Oleinik of Russia during the UFC Fight Night event at Yubileyny Sports Palace on April 20, 2019 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Alistair Overeem: One Final Run

MMA Legend Reflects On An Epic Career That He Hopes To End With Heavyweight Gold

Alistair Overeem is an anomaly.

As he readies to face off with Alexander Volkov in his fifth consecutive headlining assignment this weekend in Las Vegas, the 40-year-old Dutch heavyweight is riding a two-fight winning streak and is stationed at No. 5 in the rankings, one spot ahead of Volkov.

He’s been a fixture in the Top 15 since debuting in the Octagon on December 30, 2011, and in all likelihood, he will maintain a spot amongst the sport’s elite heavyweights right up until the day he finally decides to walk away.

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That’s not normal.

Twenty-year careers in sports aren’t rare, per se, but excelling and remaining near the top of one’s given athletic pursuit for the majority of that time is far less common, and that’s especially true in combat sports, where Father Time remains undefeated.

Fighter Timeline: Alistair Overeem
Fighter Timeline: Alistair Overeem

“I think it’s a couple things,” Overeem began when asked about his longevity and being back in the title hunt this far into his career. “It’s mindset first, but secondarily, I’ve always taken care of my body.

“My body is great; my body is perfect, even though I am getting older. My diet is on point, my physical therapy, and my maintenance is on point and has always been on point.

“I also do consider two other factors,” continued the engaging heavyweight, who earned stoppage victories over Walt Harris and Augusto Sakai in 2020. “Genes — apparently I got some good genes, right? Thanks Mom. Thanks Dad — and there is a little factor of luck as well.”

There was a point not that long ago when it seemed like Overeem’s days as a contender were behind him.

After challenging for championship gold in the fall of 2016, the veteran standout earned consecutive wins over Mark Hunt and Fabricio Werdum to cement his place in the divisional hierarchy, but a highlight reel knockout loss to Francis Ngannou was followed with a third-round defeat at the hands — well, elbows — of Curtis Blaydes at UFC 225.

Top Finishes: Alistair Overeem
Top Finishes: Alistair Overeem

As he lay on the canvas in Chicago, busted up and bleeding, having suffered consecutive losses for just the second time in his UFC career, it appeared like the torch had been passed and Overeem was poised to move on to the next phase of his fighting life, serving as a truth machine on the fringes of contention in the heavyweight division.

But rather than accept his time in the mix was through, the talented veteran teamed up with the man that left him prone on the canvas on a hot summer day in “The Windy City,” venturing to Denver to train with Blaydes and the Elevation Fight Team.

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“I was impressed from the moment I got here to Denver,” he said of his move to the Rocky Mountains, where he’s completed each of his training camps since losing to his current teammate and chief training partner. “I kind of tried it out for 48 hours and I was sold. It was a light bulb that flickered on — ‘This is the place you need to be.’

“I had difficulty finding sparring partners that could do anything, so I was looking for somebody that would push me and make me better,” Overeem said, explaining the impetus for his most recent change in camps. “Besides Curtis being the great teammate that he is — and we have a great chemistry — the coaches are awesome: very creative, high-end values, high-end technique, high-end structure.

“You have to be honest with people,” he added. “I want that creativity and that chemistry, and we’ve seen what happens when I have that, right? Finishing guys, looking better than ever, so, for me, that’s crucial.

“Ego is irrelevant; you can learn from everybody. Opening up is just another layer, another piece of the process that needed to be done.”

In five fights since connecting with the Denver-based fight team, Overeem is 4-1 inside the Octagon, with each of his victories coming inside the distance and his lone setback transpiring in the closing seconds of a bout against Jairzinho Rozenstruik he was winning on the cards.

Rather than accepting a future as the veteran litmus test heavyweight hopefuls need to pass in order to be earmarked as legitimate contenders following that late 2019 loss, Overeem entered into 2020 with one goal in mind: one final run.

The phrase became a prominent hashtag on his Instagram account and a constant motivator as he looked to chase down the one piece of heavyweight gold that has escaped his grasp thus far.

His dominant efforts against Harris and Sakai last year mean that hashtag and mindset carry over into this year, and this matchup with Volkov, which is the first of several crucial heavyweight contests on the schedule over the next two months, culminating in a highly anticipated title rematch between champion Stipe Miocic and challenger Francis Ngannou at UFC 260 on March 27.

Once more, it needs to be clear that what Overeem is doing — at this age, at this stage of his professional career — is not normal, which is what makes it all the more exciting.

“It means a lot because I like to be independent and in control of the things that I have control over,” he said of being able to embark on this “final run” as he’s called it, given how few of his contemporaries have been able to dictate the terms of the late stages of their careers. “There are no guarantees — we have to be realistic because life is life — but I put all my efforts and energy into the sport, and my body, and that allows me to still be active at the highest level after 20 years.”

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Given the impressive totality of his career, there is no question that Overeem will go down in the annals of history as one of the greatest heavyweights of his era, and perhaps in the entirety of the sport, but how would the man himself like to be remembered when it’s all said and done?

“This is kind of funny, right, because to be honest, I was never occupied with how to be remembered or how people thought of me,” he said. “I was just cruise-controlling and doing my thing, especially not worried about how people are thinking or talking about me.

Run It Back With Alistair Overeem
Run It Back With Alistair Overeem

“Whenever I get that question, I’m always like, ‘I don’t give a damn about what people think about me or what they will think about me.’ I’m just living my best life. I’m enjoying it, I’m traveling the world, I’m making a dollar while doing that, and that’s it.

“Who cares?” he asked rhetorically, continuing on. “People will have forgotten about me in 50 years. They probably will have forgotten about me in 10 years. In 10 years, nobody is going to talk about Alistair Overeem — there is going to be some new kid on the block, so it’s all good.”

It’s a tremendously healthy way of processing things, especially from someone who has accomplished enough to understandably have an opinion on where he stacks up in the history books and how he is remembered.

But it might not be an iron-clad approach, because while he’s quick to suggest he’ll be forgotten in due time, Overeem did have one caveat to add to his assessment.

“I’m gonna tell you this though: if I win the title, I could be on people’s minds a little longer, so we’ll see what happens.”