Alistair Overeem proves to be the shades of grey that we as MMA fans do not often see anymore. In a world where the UFC lays claim to every top fighter in every weight class, very few fighters are seen as holdouts while still on the top of their game. The shine has worn off of Fedor Emelianenko with two back-to-back losses against non-UFC Heavyweights, Nick Diaz has decided to bite the bullet and return to the UFC to square off against UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre. His teammate Gilbert Melendez, Strikeforce’s Lightweight Champion also appears to be on the same path as Diaz, heading to the UFC to prove who is really the best in their respective weight class.
Alistair Overeem is the Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion, the DREAM Heavyweight Champion and the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix Heavyweight Champion, making him one of the most decorated champions in all of the combat sports world, yet many still see him as a relative unknown quantity. To many fans, Alistair Overeem is still untested, with only one fight within the United States against a fringe top ten competitior in Brett Rogers to defend his Strikeforce Heavyweight Championship. Overeem has chosen to compete in other parts of the world, in Europe and Asia while waiting for a dream fight between Fedor Emelianenko before Fedor lost to Werdum. With those plans dashed, Overeem looked for a rematch with Werdum, whom he lost to in PRIDE back in 2006 during the Openweight GP. At the time, Overeem was cutting down to Light Heavyweight and not allowing himself and his naturally large frame to do any muscle-building exercises.
What that tells me is that Overeem is one of the only top fighters in his respective weight classes who has yet to be tested in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and fans refuse to accept that anyone outside of the UFC system can truly be the best. Overeem represents a sense of freedom and unknown, much like a horse out in the wild that has yet to be broken. Overeem has all of the skills, charisma and power to be one of the most legendary MMA Heavyweights to ever exist, he just needs to amass the wins over fighters that are considered to be the best of the division to placate the masses.
Overeem’s status to American fight fans is disputed, as some see him as the best and others see him as overrated and being measured for his merits outside of the familiar MMA world. Overeem has become one of the most spoken-about and disputed fighters of recent memory, which has only helped to build up the legend around him, to build up his aura of invincibility. There is no doubt that Overeem is beatable and has indeed been defeated in the past, sometimes worse than others. If anything this just proves one of the main fallacies of modern MMA fans and pundits alike -- they have a very narrow world view when it comes to greatness and there is a sense of reality missing from it. Everyone is held to the gold standard set by boxing great Rocky Marciano where he retired at 49-0, unscathed by the horror of defeat.
This indeed is an impossible standard to live up to for many professional fighters and shows just how narrow of a world view MMA fans have. Many mainstream sports stars could not live up to the impossible standards set by MMA fans, if they were held to those standards they would be written off as quickly as they rose and replaced with someone younger and with a still-untarnished record. The truth is, every legendary athlete has had setbacks and disappointments. There has yet to be a home run king in baseball who has yet to strike out or a basketball player who has never missed a shot. Every major sports team that has been to the top of the mountain has lost or choked when they got to the top at least once.
Part of what makes for a great, legendary athlete is the ability to overcome adversity, to taste defeat and have that only fuel the desire to come back, bigger, stronger, more skilled and better than ever. Talent is apparent, it is visible in sports, you can see talent and you can measure it. Do you knock a college basketball prospect with immense talent for being stuck in a weak conference where they can make the opposition look bad? Do you declare a MLB pitcher who throws a no-hitter against another team as overrated because the other team isn’t the best? No.
This weekend I eagerly await watching Alistair Overeem ply his trade against another incredible fighter in Fabricio Werdum, with the winner being the better man that night, both with bright futures. Talent is apparent in both, with Werdum being an incredible MMA BJJ practitioner who has worked to improve his stand up while Overeem is a decorated submission grappler in his own right and easily the most decorated kickboxer alive right now. Both men will go to war, looking to move on to the next round of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. What is sad is that most MMA fans and pundits won’t be seeing this fight for what it is, but will instead see two non-UFC Heavyweights involved in a pointless exercise of tedium that might involve an entertaining fight.