The last time Alistair Overeem was scheduled to fight in the Octagon, it was for a championship belt.
Now that he’s back — after an athletic commission-imposed layoff of nine months — the Dutch heavyweight, who has not appeared in the Octagon since a TKO of Brock Lesnar in December 2011, has to fight in a “tune-up” bout before getting back in the title position.
But Overeem, who takes on fellow former Strikeforce fighter Antonio (Bigfoot) Silva at UFC 156 in Las Vegas Saturday, doesn’t mind.
“If I had to wait for the title fight, I’d have to wait another couple months, and basically not fight for 13 months. You don’t want to get ring rust,” Overeem said in an interview with Sportsnet.ca. “(Right now) I think I’m still within the limits, but if I have to wait another couple months, say June/July, that is just too much (of a layoff).”
Of course, it is well known what kept the accomplished kickboxer out of action for the bulk of that time. After his win over Lesnar in his long-awaited UFC debut, the former Strikeforce and Dream champion was given a shot at a third world heavyweight title. But scheduled to challenge Junior dos Santos last May, he hit a bit of a snafu.
In a pre-fight drug screening, he tested positive for elevated — check that, extremely elevated — testosterone. The Nevada State Athletic Commission denied him his licence, and while he claimed the result was due to a substance he unknowingly took, the commission imposed a nine-month wait for him to re-apply.
The UFC was livid, the UFC 146 show was reshuffled, and past questions from fans about a roided-up ‘Reem resurfaced with a vengeance.
So while there is a lot of anticipation for his return to the Octagon Saturday in the middle bout of the Super Bowl weekend show’s main card, there may also be a sense that he needs to make up for lost time — and make things up to the fans.
However, Overeem (36-11, 1 NC) isn’t looking at it like anything more than a regular fight.
“My thing is I trained hard and it will play out how it will play out. I’m not really thinking something has to happen,” Overeem said. “(Fans are excited because) it’s been a while that I’ve fought. I’m also looking forward to fighting. There’s a lot of stuff I want to show the fans.
“Obviously, first and foremost, a nice knockout.”
Given the long time off, he had plenty of opportunity to work on those things that he wants to show the supporters. But he wouldn’t divulge anything.
“I worked on a lot of things, but I’m not going to tell,” Overeem said coyly.
Watch four televised UFC 156 preliminary fights Saturday at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West and Pacific. Prior to that, catch two bonus early prelims on Sportsnet.ca at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT.
Overeem and Silva (17-4) were actually set to meet in late 2011 in Strikeforce. After each notched victories in the opening round of the promotion’s Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament, a semifinal clash was on tap for September. But Overeem felt he needed more time to heal from injuries; Strikeforce disagreed and released him. (He was replaced by Daniel Cormier, who went on to win the tournament.)
Does that mean there’s unfinished business? Not from the 32-year-old Overeem’s perspective.
“My thing is, I want to fight everybody in the UFC. So for me, he’s just a name. I don’t necessarily look at him like ‘I have to fight Bigfoot,’ like I did with Fedor (Emelianenko). Fedor I really wanted to make that fight happen but he kind of was invisible then.”
The veiled shot at Emelianenko — the one-time world No. 1 — notwithstanding, Overeem respects Silva, who is coming off a knockout of Travis Browne in October. But he doesn’t think anything now will stop him from getting that title shot back.
“I feel really good, I’m confident, training camp was a long one. I’m looking forward to getting in there and doing my job,” Overeem said.