In nineteen career UFC fights, Alistair Overeem has only ever put together consecutive wins four times. That sounds like a Mike Goldberg stat. ‘Joe Lauzon has never been defeated after surviving being knocked down by his opponent in the first two minutes!’ or whatever. Maybe that’s what it is: a statement that smells like a fact because it’s mathematical-looking in structure. But it symbolizes well what makes Overeem a draw after all these years.
I’ll keep this trip down memory lane brief. For four years, Overeem was an undefeated force of nature that spanned three continents, two sports (we can say three if we count his ADCC Submission Wrestling win in 2005), and lots of strewn bodies. This all happened outside of the UFC’s brand, so naturally, when ‘The Demolition Man’ made it to the Octagon expectations were high.
However, Overeem—initially viewed as the heavyweight lord and savior due to his imposing physique and aesthetically pleasing skillset—would go on to be the heavyweight version of Kenny Florian. Or the heavyweight version of Joseph Benavidez. Whichever works for you.
For MMA nerds like myself, it was obvious in hindsight. You can overcome technical flaws. The left hook may not come natural to you, but with enough practice, you can either get better, or get good. You can overcome technical highlights. You may have mastered submissions, but with enough experience, you can learn when to dial it back down, and shock your opponent with the unexpected. But to overcome flaws that are psychological, or physical, the way Dustin Poirier did? That takes something transcendent.
Overeem has yet to do that. For a time, it seemed like he might. Losses to Travis Browne, and Beth Rothwell led to big wins over Junior dos Santos and Andrei Arlovski. Only to follow up those wins with losses to Curtis Blaydes and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Overeem seems stuck in a groundhog day of ‘Almost There’ contention.
Part of this is fight maturity. I don’t think Overeem was ever a frontrunner in the traditional sense. Yes, he scored some quick knockouts, the win over Brock Lesnar being the main highlight. But it was never due to a concerted blitz. He’s always been deliberate. He just wasn’t durable. His recent fights against Walt Harris and Augusto Sakai, just like his bouts against Fabricio Werdum and Mark Hunt, have emphasized a man willing to deliberate to hide his lack of durability.
I’m not sure it works. I’m not sure he thinks it works. The Jackson Wink influence has certainly helped his outfighting. But there’s still a level of comfort you can tell he’s looking to achieve. He’s not as efficient in ‘Big Right Hand’ terms, but he’s still encroaching in ‘Could Finish at Anytime’ terms.
Fighting Alexander Volkov feels like an ideal fight. Volkov is nothing if not technical and durable: two things Overeem has never managed to harmonize against the elite. Beating the Russian represents what could be Overeem’s last chance to show his calculated style is capable of getting him past the crop of heavyweights who can both see his shots coming and are able to shrug most of them off.
Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou are tentatively set to settle the title dispute at UFC 260. That’s an excellent fight. Jon Jones is tentatively set to face the winner of Miocic-Ngannou 2. That’s…a fight. With a win over Volkov, Overeem shouldn’t be ignored. He’s always had the structure of violent certainty, but not the soul of it. Now worn, wise, and not lacking in horse meat — Overeem’s swan song could be a title shot, or it could be a title shot that never comes. There’s no shame in that. Especially for a forty-year old man who remains a threat to the highest division in the sport.
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