"I’m very motivated to be fighting my fellow Dutchman Stefan Struve and I can tell you that it is going to be fireworks." - Alistair Overeem
For the third time in four outings, the Dutch heavyweight was on the wrong side of a knockout finish, leaving him with a 2-3 mark through his first five appearances in the Octagon. Though he hasn’t had the impact many anticipated following his high-profile move to the UFC and first-round destruction of Brock Lesnar at UFC 141, the organization quickly silenced any chatter about his future by making it clear they would not be releasing the former Strikeforce champion.
Two weeks later, Overeem’s next fight was already on the books – a December 13 showdown with fellow Dutchman Stefan Struve as part of the final UFC on FOX event of 2014.
“Sometimes you fall down, but you put in the work and you come back,” Overeem said of his recent struggles and fighting future. “I’m 34 years old. If I would be injured, yes, maybe, but I still love what I do – I love working and improving. I’m an athlete, I’m a fighter, I’m a champion – this is what I do.”
While many fighters chase setbacks with a slew of explanations and after-the-fact admissions of training miscues, hidden injuries and outside the cage distractions, the man with nearly 70 career combat sports appearances under his belt isn’t taking that route.
Though he’s acknowledged making an error in judgment by assuming Rothwell would be hesitant to use his right hand after breaking his arm blocking a kick early in the bout, Overeem says that everything was great leading up to the contest, taking a very level-headed approach to the loss and his overall lack of success on the UFC stage.
“Everything went so well – I felt great,” he said of his initial training camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico as a member of Team Jackson-Winkeljohn. “Of course you have some minor hiccups, but that’s in every fight camp. I felt great. I improved a lot, changed my diet a little bit. I felt great. I had the sparring partners – everything was there.
“I was in great shape. I know what I’m doing with my sparring partners – Jon Jones, Andrei Arlovski, Cody East – they’re tough guys and I know how I perform against these gentlemen, so I know what I’m capable of.
“I think there’s a couple different ways you can look at the results,” Overeem, whose MMA record now stands at 37-14 (1 NC) following his loss to Rothwell, continued. “These results are not good, I totally agree. Would I like to have other results? Of course I would like to have other results – I’m a winner. I like winning.
“I enjoy winning and I put in the work to win. However, winning is not just a matter of work; it’s a combination of factors: it’s your sparring partners, your coaches, your diet – it’s the whole package, even your personal life. In that sense, it’s a continuous building of a puzzle and I think that the puzzle is very good right now.”
That excitement about having the right pieces in place to complete the puzzle is a big part of why Overeem is making a quick return to the Octagon. Though he fought frequently during his time as a light heavyweight under the PRIDE banner, the last several years of his career have followed an “every six months” pattern.
Rather than taking an extended break, the former title contender opted instead for a quick vacation before returning to Miami, where he’ll train for the month while his daughter visits prior to departing for Albuquerque and the elite training facility on Acoma Street.
“I’ll stay down here (in Miami) for a while – my little girl is flying in for her birthday, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ll train here, of course, and at the end of the month or beginning of next month I’ll head to Albuquerque.
“(Fighting again right away) works best because everything is still fresh, so I’m thankful that I’m in there again soon. It was also a weird loss – I got clipped, boom and it’s over. There’s no damage or anything really that goes on, so for me it’s a good chance to redeem myself.”
It’s an interesting pairing of two fighters in dire need of making a statement for two very different reasons. While Overeem’s has everything to do with wins and losses, the 26-year-old Struve simply needs to prove he’s capable of stepping back into the cage and competing again.
The “Skyscraper” hasn’t fought since losing to Mark Hunt in March 2013 after doctors discovered he had a leaking aortic valve and enlarged heart. After a battery of tests and eight months of treatment, Struve was cleared to train and finally scheduled to make his return to action against Matt Mitrione on the main card at UFC 175.
Prior to the contest, however, Struve fainted in the dressing room and the bout was postponed, leading to the matchup between the only two Dutch fighters on the heavyweight roster.
“I don’t have any problems fighting a fellow Dutchman at all,” Overeem said of the December 13 pairing with Struve. “He’s a nice guy, but we’ve never trained together. It’s work. It’s business.
“Of course, we’re going to have to be extra sharp, but I’m very motivated to be fighting my fellow Dutchman Stefan Struve and I can tell you that it is going to be fireworks.”