At a point when many of his contemporaries would be winding up their careers or already several years into the next chapter of their lives, Alistair Overeem remains in the thick of the chase in the UFC heavyweight division.
The Dutch standout turned 40 in the spring and has literally spent half of his life competing in MMA, while also dabbling in kickboxing and turning up in the occasional music video. He’s logged 65 appearances as a mixed martial artist, amassing 46 victories, 41 of those having come by way of stoppage.
And yet there hasn’t been any scaling back when it comes to the level of competition he’s facing or the ambitions he carries.
“He’s a tough guy, he looks like he prefers to strike,” Overeem said of Augusto Sakai, the streaking Brazilian he faces in the main event of this weekend’s fight card at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. “He’s a heavy guy, a strong guy and it promises to be an exciting fight.”
Sakai is more than a decade Overeem’s junior, a 29-year-old on a four-fight winning streak who is working his way up the divisional ladder, but one who is still in need of the kind of signature victory that can elevate him from intriguing newcomer to legitimate contender.
He’s the type of competitor many tenured veterans would actively avoid — an emerging talent looking to climb higher up the rankings by beating an established name. Although Sakai is the one entering with the longer winning streak and undefined ceiling, he is, without question, the “B-side” of this pairing, and there usually aren’t many veterans with well over a decade of experience under their belts rushing to be the “A-side” in such a high risk pairing.
But after two decades competing at the highest level, Overeem is only interested in taking fights that will improve his position in the title chase.
He’s a competitor, and after all this time, he’s still very much in love with the sport and competing at the highest level.
“Yes, I realize I’m 40 years old now, so the end is coming, time is running out, but that’s fine; I’ve had a beautiful career,” said Overeem, who has won three of his last four outings and enters Saturday’s showdown with Sakai after securing a second-round stoppage win over Walt Harris in mid-May. “So now I’m just enjoying it every step of the way.
“I just love the sport. I love the lifestyle and so, automatically, you’re going to keep doing what you’re doing,” he continued. “If you hate it, you’re going to change, but I just love the sport and the adventure that it brings because it’s traveling, it’s meeting people.”
In addition to competing around the globe, Overeem has been somewhat nomadic when it comes to training; someone who has never been afraid to venture to different gyms, switch camps, and seek out the best opportunities possible, even if has meant being somewhat itinerant at times.
It seems, however, that Overeem has found a home in the Rocky Mountains, working alongside the all-star cast of coaches and fighters that make up the Elevation Fight Team.
He connected with the group shortly after losing to one of the team’s stars, heavyweight contender Curtis Blaydes, who defeated Overeem by third-round stoppage at UFC 225 three summers ago in his hometown of Chicago. Soon after, Overeem ventured to Denver to work with his recent opponent, and he’s been training there ever since.
“They bring an expertise to the table that I enjoy,” he said of the coaching staff that includes former UFC fighters Eliot Marshall and Cody Donovan. “I also think we have a good chemistry together; it’s my input and their input together. Obviously, they’ve been fighters themselves, so they’re experienced, and they know their stuff.
“I like the team energy that they have; it’s awesome,” he added. “Curtis Blaydes is my teammate, Neil Magny, Drew Dober — all these awesome athletes, all these awesome people on the team. We have a really good energy and a real good chemistry on the team.”
That positive energy, combined with his recent results, have the veteran eyeing one more run at UFC gold before he decides to call it a career, with the heavyweight legend often making his intentions clear on his Instagram posts.
When he arrived in the UFC at the tail end of 2011, the UFC title was the lone piece of hardware missing from Overeem’s mantle, as he had collected championship gold in Strikeforce and Dream, as well as having won the K-1 World Grand Prix in the previous year.
The UFC heavyweight title was the missing puzzle piece and for a number of years, capturing the one title that had eluded him was a major driving force for “The Demolition Man.”
He came up short in his bid to seize the title from Stipe Miocic at UFC 203, and after collecting a pair of wins over fellow veterans Mark Hunt and Fabricio Werdum, consecutive stoppage losses to emerging contenders Francis Ngannou and then Blaydes seemed to prompt a shift in the way Overeem looked at the UFC title and what it would mean for his career.
Entering his fight with Jairzinho Rozenstruik last December, Overeem said he could be completely satisfied with what he’s accomplished in his career even if he didn’t add the UFC heavyweight title to his mantle.
Heading into this weekend’s clash with Sakai, the veteran contender admitted that isn’t quite the case.
“Obviously, it would bother me a lot or else I would not put so much into this,” Overeem said of ending his career without having won UFC gold. “But again, I like to think positive and I like to think in an optimistic way; it’s all about enjoying the journey.”
The next stop on that journey is Las Vegas and a headlining assignment against Sakai. If he’s successful there, the veteran contender believes he’d be no more than a couple of wins away from earning a second chance to challenge for championship gold, and given the way he’s looked over his last four outings, Overeem could very well make that “one final title run” he’s forecasting.
And if he were ultimately successful in securing the final championship piece of the puzzle?
“Then I could retire in peace,” he said.