Friday night was supposed to be Alistair Overeem’s return to prominence and relevance in the heavyweight division. The muscle-bound Dutch kickboxing machine who took the fighting world by storm in 2010 by winning the K-1 Grand Prix, the first and only full-time MMA fighter to do so had hit a skid that resulted in two knockouts and one failed drug test. It was supposed to be a step in the right direction with a victory over the seemingly less-skilled but very well respected veteran in Ben Rothwell. Two minutes and nineteen seconds after the ref said “fight,” Overeem was once again looking up at the lights while his opponent stood over him victorious. Overeem now has a win-loss record of 2-3 in the UFC with all of those losses coming by way of knockout.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
In 2011, outside of Brock Lesnar there was probably no more fan excitement for a heavyweight than Overeem. A 265 pound goliath with arguably the best technical striking in the division who simultaneously held heavyweight championships in both MMA and kickboxing was expected by many to be the next UFC Heavyweight Champion.
This was a man who came into the Octagon and in his first fight kicked and knee’d Lesnar into retirement and back to the world of professional wrestling. A fight with Junior Dos Santos, the then-Heavyweight Champion, was a guarantee. A failed random drug test put a damper on those plans and sent Overeem back to the drawing board. From there, things would only get worse.
From failed training camps, to one-year suspensions, to criticisms by former training partners, Overeem couldn’t seem to catch a break. He returned to action against Antonio Silva for the number one contendership in February 2013. He was once again the favorite. In the third round he was knocked out to the shock of nearly every fan watching.
Overeem had a chance to rebound against Travis Browne but the result was the same, this time from a highlight-reel front kick by Browne. He returned to face former UFC Heavyweight Champion Frank Mir. Overeem returned to the win column with an uninspiring unanimous decision in a fight that saw him play it safe.
Against Rothwell, Overeem was the favorite, just like he had been in nearly all of his fights at heavyweight. Going forward, it’s hard to give Overeem the favorite in just about any fight.
So what went wrong?
Overeem has long been accused of using performance enhancing drugs. He went from a lanky 205 pound fighter in Pride to a colossal 265 pound comic book character in just a matter of a couple years. The failed drug test after the Lesnar fight he had blamed on a medication that an incompetent doctor had prescribed him, but from there Overeem would get smaller and smaller. In many fans’ minds, this was a confirmation of drug abuse. At the weigh-ins on Thursday, Overeem weighed a much smaller 248 pounds. Had his past drug use finally caught up to him and left him a shell of his former self?
The UFC brought Overeem in as a potential superstar amongst the heavyweight division. A division thoroughly run by the dominant Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez and a division that needed another big contender outside of Dos Santos. Overeem’s liver kick TKO of Lesnar got many fans excited that he would possibly be the next big thing in the UFC; a superhero of unbridled strength, size and elite striking skill that could wow us for years to come with knockouts and spectacle. Overeem at this point in his career is an example of what could have been and at best, a flop.
Now that’s not to say he can’t turn it around. We have seen many heavyweight fighters that many thought were done turn their careers around; Mark Hunt and Andrei Arlovski are two prime examples, but for now, every UFC fan has to wonder where the Dutchman once known as Ubereem goes from here.
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