In a combat sports career that spans more than 15 years, Alistair Overeem has amassed quite an impressive trophy case.
Between mixed martial arts and kickboxing, the 36-year-old veteran has collected numerous accolades and titles. At one point just a handful of years ago, Overeem was the reigning Strikeforce and Dream heavyweight champion, as well as earning a victory in the K-1 Grand Prix; an impressive triumvirate of accomplishments that helped make his migration to the UFC a massive news story when it happened in 2011.
There is one title that is missing from Overeem’s collection, however, and this weekend, the Dutch heavyweight is intent on claiming the lone major championship that has escaped him to this point in his career.
“This is the last championship – the only championship that is missing; we’ve basically got all the others,” Overeem says, buzzing upon his arrival in Cleveland, where he faces Stipe Miocic for the UFC heavyweight title in the main event of Saturday’s UFC 203 Pay-Per-View. “It’s one last mountain to climb.
“I look at my age – I’m 36 years old – and I am getting to an age where we want to start thinking about doing other things in life and this is the last piece that I would love to add to my collection.
“And let’s be honest: it belongs in my collection,” he adds with a chuckle. “We’ve knocked out so many people. We’ve beaten six former UFC champions; Stipe is going to be the actual UFC champion and he will be an excellent seventh.”
“This is the last championship – the only championship that is missing; we’ve basically got all the others.” --Alistair Overeem
In many ways, Overeem’s arrival in this position feels long overdue, as the dangerous finisher seemed destined to challenge for championship gold in the UFC from the time he first touched down in the Octagon. But straight-line journeys rarely happen in this sport and Overeem’s five-year stint on the biggest stage in the sport has been full of twists and turns.
After a blistering start against Brock Lesnar, the Dutch standout appeared poised to go down as one of the biggest disappointments in UFC history, as a championship opportunity was scuttled by a nine-month suspension and he dropped three of his first four bouts upon returning, his lone victory a tepid, tactical performance against Frank Mir at UFC 169.
But Overeem has enjoyed a dramatic turnaround over his last four outings, a winning streak that includes stoppage wins over Stefan Struve, Junior Dos Santos and Andrei Arlovski, and coincides with his decision to do his training camps with the elite collection of coaches and fighters assembled at the Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Under their stewardship, the once hyper-aggressive heavyweight has become more patient, using his advantages in movement and speed to attack key openings rather than coming out of the gate guns blazing and emptying his gas tank early. The results have been obvious and earned Overeem his place opposite Miocic in the champion’s hometown of Cleveland this weekend.
“Please don’t forget that a lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into this and it’s not only me joining Jackson’s,” urges Overeem, who made his professional debut in October 1999 and has 56 professional MMA fights under his belt heading into Saturday night’s championship clash.
“When I look at my career, I have always worked very hard, I have always been very dedicated. I became very much aware of all the factors that are involved in peaking at the right time, attracting the right types of people – ejecting the wrong types of people is also important to add – and so it has been an accumulation of ups and downs and continuous hard work and that has led to this moment – right here, right now, fighting for the UFC championship.”
Having navigated the ups and downs of his career and accumulated a wealth of experience has Overeem heading into this weekend’s main event completely at ease and in good spirits.
He’s the challenger and the road team in this weekend’s clash, putting the pressure solely on Miocic’s shoulders, allowing the championship hopeful to roll into Cleveland carefree and confident.
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“Everything is as it should be,” he says. “This camp has been exactly the same (as the last four camps). Of course, we had to step it up a couple notches because it is for the title and we are coming into hostile territory here in Cleveland; we’re fighting the hometown hero. It’s going to be five rounds, everybody is motivated, everybody is ready, so for us it was about turning it up a couple notches and making sure I’m prepared for every possible situation.
“It definitely comes with more expectations and it comes with more obligations too because obviously there are going to be more people pulling on you and your attention,” he says of fighting on home turf, something he’s done on multiple occasions over the course of his career. “It all comes down to how does he handle the pressure? I do expect him to be professional, but he has 18 or 19 fights, so I don’t know how he’ll handle it.
“I know how I handle these kinds of situations – fighting in front of a home crowd or fighting in enemy territory – and I have to say that I do well in both situations.”
And he’s certain that he’s going to leave town with the missing piece of his collection in tow.
“I will get the victory by fighting my fight and finishing Stipe either in round two or round three.”