"The title is the main goal and to get there we need to defeat Silva, so he's now on my radar and gets my full attention." - Alistair Overeem
Ever since he began fighting professionally, Alistair Overeem liked to stay busy. Year after year, there would be no accusations of “The Reem” having idle hands, even after he built his reputation as one of the best fighters in the sport. Most notably, there was his 2010 campaign, when he defended his Strikeforce heavyweight title, won the Dream belt in Japan, and also added a K-1 World Grand Prix title to his resume.
In 2012, that all stopped. What he expected to be a triumphant year beginning with a UFC 146 title fight with Junior dos Santos in May turned into a nightmare, as he was suspended for nine months due to elevated levels of testosterone which showed up in a pre-fight drug test.
“It was a strange year as I haven't fought the whole year,” said Overeem. “Before I signed with the UFC I fought like five to six times a year, so it's quite the difference. But I have used my time to complete my moving to the States and getting to know the area and new people, so I haven't sat still.”
Born in England and raised and established in the Netherlands, the 32-year-old now calls Delray Beach home as he trains with the Blackzilians fight team. It was the ideal scenario for him as he served his suspension before getting his license to fight again in Nevada, the scene of one of his biggest victories when he knocked out Brock Lesnar in his UFC debut in December of 2011. And though he wasn’t fighting, idle hands didn’t make an appearance either.
“Fight or no fight I always train,” he said. “It's something that I need to do, so on that matter I kept on training.”
And waiting…and waiting some more, all the while passing several drug tests to prove his testosterone levels were within legal limits to compete. In the meantime, the heavyweight landscape changed with Cain Velasquez knocking off dos Santos last December to regain the title he lost to the Brazilian a year earlier. Asked for his assessment of Velasquez-Dos Santos II, Overeem says, “It was a one-sided fight and Velasquez controlled the fight from beginning to end and Junior dos Santos couldn't do anything. It was a great performance of Cain and he's rightfully so the UFC heavyweight champion.”
The win by Velasquez sidelined a revisiting of the scrapped UFC 146 match between Overeem and dos Santos, one that had picked up a nice bit of steam over the last year as the two exchanged barbs in the press. Now Overeem is knocking on the door of a title shot again should he dispatch Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva this Saturday night in UFC 156 action Saturday, but it will be an entirely different fighter and style matchup awaiting him down the line. Any disappointment that it won’t be “Cigano” across the Octagon from him if he gets his title fight later this year?
“Yes and no,” he said. “I still believe that a fight between JDS and myself would be a huge fight, especially considering the way we fight, going for the knockout. But my focus is on the belt and the one that holds it is my priority, so that's Cain Velasquez now. But I believe that our time will come soon and I will fight Junior dos Santos.”
As for the champ, Overeem is highly respectful of Mr. Velasquez.
“Before that fight (the dos Santos rematch) I picked Velasquez because the first fight was a single punch that ended the fight and I knew this time he would be more prepared and I was right,” he said. “Velasquez is a great fighter with great wrestling and cardio and he showed that in his last fight.”
To get to the title shot, there is first the matter of Silva, who bounced back from his loss to Velasquez at UFC 146 to pin Travis Browne with the first loss of his pro career, by knockout no less, last October. It’s an intriguing style matchup on paper, but if you ask Overeem what difficulties Silva may present for him, he turns tight-lipped.
“We will see on February 2,” he said, making it clear that despite the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in terms of a title shot if he wins, he’s not going to lose sight of what he has to do first to win. “The title is the main goal and to get there we need to defeat Silva, so he's now on my radar and gets my full attention.”
Then it’s back to his quest for the one belt he craves, and if he gets it, he will be marked as one of the most decorated heavyweights in MMA history.
“I have worked my whole career to be the best fighter in the world and I have showed it in different organizations, but with this belt I would unify all the belts and become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and the baddest man on the planet,” he said. “I hope it now gives you an idea what it means to win that title.”
Oh it does. History is one great motivator, and Overeem is chasing it. Though he probably wouldn’t call it history. He’s likely to refer to this journey as his destiny.