Alistair Overeem's uneasy road
It's been a trying time for Alistair Overeem, and it's not over yet. In the last couple months the UFC's newest heavyweight contender has changed training camps and management teams, relocated to Las Vegas only to then return to his native Netherlands to see to his ailing mother, and been all but accused of trying to avoid a drug test by leaving the country.
It would be a difficult stretch even if he wasn't simultaneously trying to fit in enough time in the gym to be ready for Brock Lesnar at UFC 141 on December 30. The way Overeem's life has been lately, stepping in the cage against the former UFC heavyweight champion might actually feel like a mini-vacation. At least for as long as the fight lasts, he'll only have one (albeit very big) problem to worry about.
Once that's over, Overeem still has two more random drug tests to cover at his own expense in the next six months -- in addition to the one he flew from Holland to London to take this week, and the standard pre-fight test he'll take after arriving in Las Vegas after Christmas.
"I'm going to be the most tested fighter," Overeem told SI.com on Tuesday night. "After that, there can't be too many doubts."
But there will be doubts, of course. That's because this is Overeem we're talking about, and the man is a walking conspiracy theory for many MMA fans. For those who believe he's clean, no proof is necessary. For those who don't, no proof is possible.
At six-foot-five and with the physique of an action figure, he simply looks like he's got to be on something. That's why no matter how many drug tests he passes, there may always be that segment of fans who are never satisfied, and he knows it.
"The thing is, what can you do about it?" Overeem said. "It's very simple: if people want to believe you, they can believe you. But if they don't, they won't. I can't force people to believe me. I can only focus on what needs to be done, which is the test [on Wednesday], then I'm going to fly back and continue with my training camp."
From the outside, the licensing issues and questions about which drug tests he took and where seem to be his biggest distraction. But that's the part of the game that Overeem's more or less used to, he said. There's always some pre-fight hoop to jump through. And for the last couple years, there's always been someone taking a look at his bulky physique and wondering how he got that way. Those sorts of distractions are par for the course, and, as he put it, "if you operate on this level, it's hardly ever perfect."
What's tougher to deal with are the personal issues, the behind-the-scenes stuff that doesn't get as much ink as salacious stuff like drug tests and athletic commission interrogations. Overeem moved his training camp from Las Vegas to the Netherlands not to avoid a drug test, he insisted, but to be closer to his ailing mother, who underwent an intense treatment after she was diagnosed with cancer several years ago only to have doctors tell her recently that they found some "suspicious" cells.
"Mentally she's very nervous," Overeem said. "That's a little bit hard. That alone is a bit of a distraction, but I have gotten all my training in."
One thing he has going for him is that he's been through it before. Back in 2007, he was dealing with not only his mother's initial cancer scare, but also an uncertain future in the ring. He'd just lost three fights in a row as a light heavyweight, and had decided to move up in weight at a time when nearly everyone else thought it was the worst thing he could possibly do.
"I was already a heavyweight basically...but I was still fighting at 205 [pounds], which meant dieting, and I couldn't do strength and conditioning training," he said.
He'd also just become a father, which meant being woken by his daughters cries even as he was trying to get some much needed rest between training sessions. On top of all that was his mother's cancer, "which we knew she might not survive, and even if she did survive, it was a long road to recovery [with] long, harsh treatments."
Those were the days that made him into the professional he is today, he said. That's why his current distractions don't bother him as much now as they did back then, even though the situation is "sort of similar, with multiple factors draining [my] energy."
The big difference now, Overeem said, is that "mentally and physically, I'm a lot stronger now. I'm more on top of game now than I was back then."
He'll need to be. Lesnar may have some distractions of his own, and certainly he's had some weaknesses exposed in recent fights, but he's still the kind of powerhouse wrestler who can find out in a hurry if your preparation was lacking or your focus is insufficient.
Overeem swears that neither is the case for him, but then, fighters always say that. The proof comes on fight night, when distractions that were brushed off in pre-fight interviews have a way of popping up as half-mumbled excuses in post-fight remarks.
Overeem's been through enough in the lead-up to this fight that the excuses will probably be there if he wants them. Of course, every fighter would rather have the win than even the most valid of excuses, and Overeem's no different. Once all the drug tests have been taken and the licenses issued and the frequent flier miles logged, he still has to get in the cage and prove that it wasn't all for nothing. No matter how many times you've been through it, that's the part that doesn't ever get much easier.