LAS VEGAS — Alistair Overeem fought for his first world title in 2002 in The Netherlands in a promotion called 2 Hot 2 Handle. He’s subsequently fought for championships in Strikeforce, Dream and the UFC, establishing himself as one of the most iconic fighters in MMA history.
He’s closing in on his 41st birthday and on 22 full years as a mixed martial artist.
But Overeem still hasn’t given up on the dream of — finally — wrapping that UFC title belt around his waist.
In his one shot at it, he was knocked out at UFC 203 by champion Stipe Miocic on Sept. 10, 2016, in Miocic’s hometown of Cleveland. That’s the kind of thing Overeem has done: Fighting in an opponent’s hometown is no big thing to him.
He’s fought in seven countries on three continents, including 10 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
And that doesn’t even consider his kickboxing career, which also sent him traveling the world.
“In training camp, I have a lot of time to reminisce and think about the past,” said Overeem, who will take MMA fight No. 67 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+) when he meets Alexander Volkov in the main event of UFC Vegas 18 at Apex. “It’s been one big crazy gigantic adventure, which I have loved, apparently.
“I also do it because I was born for it. But it’s been wild. It’s been wild. It’s taken me all over the world and put me in all sorts of scenarios and situations. I’ve met so many, all kinds of people; great people, terrible people. And here we are, 22 years later.”
The most remarkable thing, perhaps, about his journey is that he’s remained at such a high level through two different weight classes and many different body types. For those who only came to know him later in his career, he’d almost be unrecognizable as a light heavyweight.
As a heavyweight, he’s gone from a massive, bulky, muscle-bound guy who had to cut to make the 266-pound division limit to one who has favored less bulk and more athleticism.
The constant has been his success. He’s 47-18 with one no-contest, and were it not for a lapse in the final seconds of his Dec. 7, 2019, fight with Jairzinho Rozenstruik, he’d be on a five-fight winning streak. He won roughly 24 minutes and 50 seconds of that match, but got caught by a massive Rozenstruik punch as time wound down that ended the bout.
It didn’t, however, end his championship dreams. He told Yahoo Sports he plans to fight another year or two before retiring and getting into coaching.
He wants to make another title run and he’s positioned well to do that, though his friendship with one-time rival Curtis Blaydes may make it difficult for him. Miocic and No. 1 Francis Ngannou are going to fight for the belt next month.
Blaydes is No. 2 and figures to be next in line, though the arrival of ex-light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will likely complicate that.
Overeem is fifth and says he won’t fight Blaydes because of the bond they’ve formed since their June 9, 2018, bout in Chicago. A win over Volkov will be helpful, but with Rozenstruik at No. 3 and Derrick Lewis at No. 4, he’s not likely to move up.
But his goal is to get another crack at the crown before dropping the gloves in the center of the cage and going on to his life’s work. And despite all of the years, he’s still right there in the mix.
“Absolutely,” Overeem said when asked if a win over Volkov would boost his title hopes. “We have now a winning streak and if not for the Rozenstruik fluke, it would be a really long winning streak. I don’t know, though. But we have to thankful and we have to be grateful for what we have. Things have gone well and we’re coming off a winning streak and looking to add Volkov to the list.
“I think what is it, one loss out of the last [five] or something? I think we’ll be right up there again.”
He started his MMA career 15 months before Dana White took over the UFC, so he’s been at or near the top for a long time.
In a sport that has changed so dramatically over the years, that Overeem has remained consistently among the best throughout those eras speaks volumes not only to his talent love but his commitment to putting in the time.
Through sheer force of will, he’s made himself a perennial contender. And as he said, the ride isn’t quite over just yet.
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