He came into the UFC with more hype than any heavyweight arrival since Brock Lesnar, but where Lesnar went on an historic, if brief, MMA run that saw him capture the heavyweight title, Alistair Overeem has failed to live up to the considerable amount of hype that swirled around him upon his signing by the UFC. In fact, aside from his debut fight against then former-champion Lesnar, Overeem hasn’t really come close to meeting fan’s expectations – and even the little success he has found has come with an asterisk.

With Overeem returning to the octagon soon, it begs the question: Will Alistair Overeem ever live up to the hype?

When it comes to Overeem, we’d be remiss if we were to exclude a bit of history. Alistair Overeem didn’t just pop onto the map in Strikeforce, after all. His rise to prominence began in the legendary Pride promotion in Japan, where he was a light heavyweight and sometime heavyweight who lost as much as he won. Despite holding wins over Vitor Belfort and Sergei Kharitonov, he also lost to Chuck Liddell, Shogun Rua, and Little Nog. After losing his last three fights in Pride (to Little Nog for the second time, Ricardo Arona, and Shogun Rua for the second time), he found himself in K-1/Hero’s, Strikeforce (where he had fought previously), and Dream, turning into a bulked-up behemoth who began capturing titles almost as soon as his Pride run had finished.

What sparked Overeem’s later-career success? Well, that’s where the controversy angle begins. Long believed to be “on something” by MMA fans who just couldn’t believe how Overeem’s chiselled physique had blown up over the years, it wouldn’t be until his stint in the UFC when smoke finally led to fire. Before that, however, Overeem had claimed titles in K-1, Dream, and Strikeforce, at one point holding championships simultaneously across all three promotions. Yet while his later performance enhancing drug scandal might tarnish those accomplishments, there’s more than just PEDs at play in the Alistair Overeem story. Take, for example, Overeem’s Strikeforce title. The Reem actually won that belt early on in Strikeforce’s history, when he was still fighting in Pride as well. In fact, Overeem was the inaugural Strikeforce heavyweight champion, winning the belt in November 2007 against Paul Buentello. The win, via knee strikes, was his second in Strikeforce, and his first at heavyweight (his Strikeforce debut was a catchweight bout at 210lbs where he defeated Vitor Belfort).

So now you have Overeem’s first real success at the championship level, just months removed from a time when he was still getting rocked in Pride by light heavyweights. And despite being the face of the fledgling promotion’s heavyweight division, Overeem would not defend his Strikeforce championship for over two years. In the interim, he would defeat Mark Hunt in Dream and wind up with a No Contest in a match with Cro Cop there as well, a result of multiple low blows delivered by The Reem. He would also beat a past-his-prime Gary Goodridge at Ultimate Glory 10 , and James Thompson at Dream 12, mixing in wins over lesser opponents as well, before at long last putting his Strikeforce gold on the line against Brett Rogers in May 2010. At the time, Rogers was coming off the first loss of his career, to Fedor Emelianenko, and was still considered a legit prospect – but coming off of a loss, even to the greatest heavyweight of all time, a title shot was questionable. Overeem won with ease, and later that year would win the Dream heavyweight championship in a match against UFC cast-off Todd Duffee (who would later return to the UFC, but that’s another story).

Two belts, but had any of the opponents Overeem faced in title bouts been real championship quality fighters, at least at that point in their careers? Overeem would eventually vacate the Strikeforce title, but not before picking up kickboxing gold in K-1. A match he hinted at after the Rogers win, against Fedor, never came to pass. He would enter the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament and beat Fabricio Werdum, the man who upset the Last Emperor, in the opening round, but it was a fight that was comically bad, with Werdum attempting to lure Overeem into his guard, and Overeem refusing to engage. Overeem would win, if you could call it that, but later suffered a minor injury and wound up replaced in the tournament, then cut from the promotion by Zuffa, who had by then acquired Strikeforce. The cut had little to do with Overeem, however, and was more about his management company, Golden Glory, and how they handled fighter pay.

Eventually the issue between Zuffa and Overeem’s management would be sorted out, and he would enter the UFC in 2011 after much speculation and immediately be paired up with a returning Brock Lesnar – and that’s where the real issues arose. After years of speculation, Overeem was accused of essentially dodging an NSAC drug test, after providing invalid samples for testing, then flying out of North America, stating he had to care for his ailing mother. With little time left before the fight, a deal was reached that would include pre and post-fight testing for Overeem. His fight license with the NSAC was conditional based on the results of those tests.

When the fight with Lesnar – himself returning from a bout with diverticulitis that resulted in the removal of a section of colon – finally went down, the hype behind Overeem finally paid off. Or so it seemed. He decimated Lesnar in the first round with a hard kick to the mid-section. Lesnar, unable to take the hulking Overeem down, and apparently having slowed a step after battling health issues, succumbed to strikes in the first round.

All seemed well. Lesnar retired, and Overeem was due for a title shot against Junior dos Santos. However, on April 4th 2012, Overeem failed a drug test, and the MMA world pretty much exploded. Now, that might be hyperbole, but consider this: Overeem’s conditional license, which would include pre and post fight testing for the Lesnar bout, had a period of six months attached to it for the post fight testing. Basically, Overeem had to test clean twice within six months of the bout with Lesnar having taken place. These had to be random tests at the request of the NSAC. The Lesnar fight took place on December 30th, 2011. April being less than six months down the road from December, questions regarding the legitimacy of the Lesnar win were whispered – but were barely addressed. Really, they were barely audible, first and foremost because people wanted to see Overeem vs. Dos Santos, and second because Lesnar had already retired. And the NSAC wasn’t about to do anything. Their reason? Well, then NSAC head Ken Kizer told MMA Fighting at the time that Overeem had passed both blood and urine tests “around the time” of the Lesnar fight and that no retroactive punishment was likely. However, that statement doesn’t really hold up to much scrutiny since the blood test came prior to the conditional license being granted, and “around the time” is incredibly vague. If you follow the logic of an excellent piece by Bloody Elbow’s Brent Bookhouse back on April 5th 2012, none of the urine tests alluded to would even be random post-fight drug tests, but rather three well-documented tests leading into the Lesnar bout. Thus the April test failure should have nixed the result of the Lesnar bout.

So there you have it. Arguably the biggest win of Overeem’s career has the distinction of being a fight that probably should have been reclassified as a No Contest.

Overeem did find himself suspended, thanks to his 14-to-1 testosterone-to-epitestosterone (T/E) ratio, and Dana White erupted, saying that Overeem had “lied to our faces” about not being on any illicit substances. Fans who had suspected Overeem to be juicing became vocal, and former kick-boxing opponents (such as Zabit Samedov) who had accused Overeem of using performance enhancing drugs were vindicated.

In all, Overeem sat out nine months, and would not fight again til February 2013 – where he looked noticeably smaller. He met Antonio Silva at UFC 156, and despite having early control of the fight, fought sloppy (and cocky), dropping his hands and generally disrespecting his opponent, a move that cost him dearly when Bigfoot connected with a solid series of punches early in the third. Overeem hit the mat, and it seemed like the UFC’s big heavweight acquisition was going to be a bust. Overeem’s status in the division wasn’t helped when he gassed out in a fight against Travis Browne later that year in August. He came out strong in the first, unloading punch after punch up against the cage while Browne covered up, but The Reem drained his gas tank quickly and Browne made one of the great comebacks of the year, connecting with a front kick late in the first and following it up with strikes.

Depending on how you see the legitimacy of the Lesnar bout, at that point, Overeem didn’t have a single clean win in the UFC.

It was do or die then, and Overeem was booked to take on Frank Mir at UFC 169 this past February in what was generally thought to be a loser leaves town match, despite claims to the contrary by UFC president Dana White. When you really look at it however – Overeem makes an extremely high amount of money to fight in the UFC, over $200,000 just to show, and with a hefty win bonus on top. The Reem is considered a draw, but how much of a draw? With his name tarnished and his three titles long behind him, there was a good chance he would be cut with a loss.

UFC 169 wasn’t a total bust. Overeem did manage to pull off a dominant win over a tired Frank Mir, but still took criticism from Dana White for not finishing the fight despite battering Mir from pillar to post. In reality Overeem, having gassed in his previous fight, fought smart. Here’s the kicker: Overeem made $407,143 for the Mir fight, lived to fight another day, and now finds himself paired up against Big Ben Rothwell on September 5th at UFC Fight Night: Souza vs. Mousasi.

He’s co-headlining that event, and is still a marketable name – this despite an underwhelming 2-2 UFC run, and his name not having the credibility it once did thanks to dipping down into the foolishness that is PEDs.

Thus again we come to: Will he ever live up to the hype?

The real answer is that he can’t. There’s no possible way for Overeem to live up to the hype, because it was manufactured based on a lie, that Overeem was a dominant heavyweight that would immediately walk through the best in the UFC. The reality is, there was nothing on Overeem’s record to indicate that would be the case. Wins over overrated prospects (Rogers), ageing fighters (Buentello, Goodridge), and fighters on the rebound (Duffee) shouldn’t bring the hype it did. Yes, Overeem beat some legit guys, but several were at light heavyweight, though his first fight with Sergei Kharitonov can be considered a solid one. Coming into the UFC, however, Overeem wasn’t even the best heavyweight to come out of Strikeforce – that honor goes to Daniel Cormier, and frankly, you could easily put Fabricio Werdum ahead of him even then (as you most certainly would now, given he is set to be the next challenger to dominant champion Cain Velasquez). It’s not just the drugs – it’s the fights. Hype is a dangerous thing that way: it’s much easier to surpass low expectations than to live up to high ones, and short of getting himself to a title fight in the UFC, winning, and then going on a long title defense streak, Overeem can’t possibly live up to the hype he was originally billed with.

He’ll keep beating lower level guys and fighters who have seen better days. He should be able to make it past Ben Rothwell, although even that isn’t a given. Regardless, Overeem may still entertain, but it’s more than likely that the hype train as far as him being a dominant force at heavyweight has completely derailed.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.