Lefko: Overeem’s UFC career in jeopardy

Alistair Overeem.

Alistair Overeem came into the UFC amid great grandeur. He was the Incredible Bulk. Only a year and a half later he has become The Incredible Bust.

A heavyweight champion in K-1, Dream and Strikeforce, Overeem has one win, two losses and a positive steroid test to show so far for his time in the UFC. He has squandered opportunities and put his fight career and the company in jeopardy. Normally, the UFC allows its fighters three losses in a row before they are cut, but it’s not a rule etched in stone. Then again, if the UFC cuts Overeerm, Bellator will be waiting in hand with a contract.

Overeem did not attend the post-fight media conference following Saturday’s UFC Fight Night card in Boston. He lost via a first-round knockout to underdog/unheralded/unknown Travis Browne, who looked hopelessly beaten as he absorbed one shot after another early in the first round.

Overeem merely had to finish off his opponent, but he failed to protect himself with proper defence, allowing Browne to battle back with front kicks that he used like jabs. One, in particular, caught Overeem in the face and dropped him. Browne pounced upon Overeem and hit him with a hammerfist to the jaw to knock him out. The round – and the fight, for that matter – that started out so strongly in Overeem’s favour ended in stunning defeat at only 4:06.

In his victory speech, Browne made reference to the Boston Marathon tragedy. He praised the people of Boston, saying the only difference between them and the fighters in the cage is that for 15 minutes the fighters are braver in the cage.

“My heart goes out to you,” he said.

Simple, dignified and respectful. Travis Browne spoke with his actions in battle and his words in victory, a warrior in every sense of the word. Browne refused to yield despite the punishment. He turned what appeared to be a sure loss into victory by willing himself. He admitted afterward that mentally he was always in the fight, but physically his body was shutting down.

It took all of his resolve to battle back in the most important fight of his life. He is only 31, his future seems bright, even if he is not the most polished of his division. A 6-foot-7 Hawaiian who looks like a taller and heavier version of BJ Penn, Browne has a record of 15-1-1. His only loss has come against Antonio (Bigfoot) Silva, who beat him three fights ago with a first-round technical knockout. Silva then scored one of the biggest upsets of the year knocking out Overeem 25 seconds in the final round of their fight. Silva subsequently lost to champion Cain Velasquez in all of 81 seconds.

“I’m not done yet,” Browne said. “I want to win that title. Cain, you’re the best in the world, but we’re coming after you.”

As for Overeem, his future, at least in the UFC, is as cloudy as the positive drug test that nailed him for steroids. His defence is awful. Hard to believe a onetime kickboxing champion could not have defended himself better against kicks. Overeem has done little to impress with his work in the cage, while his positive test makes one wonder if he was merely the product of illegal chemicals that gave him a muscular physique and a fearless mentality.

Or maybe the competition is tougher in the UFC than what he had previously faced. Something is clearly missing.

His debut fight in the UFC fooled people into believing he had the capability to be a champion. He beat former champion Brock Lesnar with devastating knees and kicks to the liver and body punches. But Lesnar secretly came into the fight knowing if he lost he would retire from Mixed Martial Arts, less than five years after he started. Even if he won, he planned to fight only one more time. His commitment to the sport had dwindled because of the two years it took him to recover from a near-fatal bout with an intestinal disease, plus a desire to spend more time with his wife and children. That Lesnar, a former champion in the WWE, decided to return to the pro wrestling world four months after retiring from MMA indicated his departure from the UFC had been planned all along. Clearly he offered a weak defence when he failed a single-leg takedown and was subsequently backed up against the cage and incapable of protecting himself. Overeem attacked the area of Lesnar’s body that he worked so hard to rehabilitate after undergoing surgery. It took only 2:26 of the first round for Lesnar’s UFC career to end less than four years after it began and for the new behemoth on the block to announce his arrival.

And for it to subsequently stall.

A scheduled bout against heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos about six months later at UFC 146 failed to materialize when Overeem flunked a random drug test almost two months before administered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Overeem’s testosterone-to-epitestosterone more than doubled the allowable rate. Despite his assurances to UFC president Dana White that he was clean upon signing with the company – the rumours of drug use had been more than just a few whispers – Overeem lied, albeit claiming the positive resulted from a doctor prescribing an anti-inflammatory medication that was mixed with testosterone. White cut loose with one of his more animated castigations on a conference call when the subject of Overeem’s positive was announced.

Overeem received a nine-month suspension, but the UFC still kept him on its radar. Now he has suffered two embarrassing losses to fighters he was expected to beat and his stock has fallen. He came into the fight against Browne rated sixth in the division. He can no longer be considered a main-eventer, much less a co-main eventer. I personally thought the Overeem/Browne fight should have been the main-event of Saturday’s card and not the Chael Sonnen/Shogun Rua bout. Whoever won the bout between Sonnen and Rua was not going to be in line for a title fight anytime soon. Certainly Overeem would have moved closer to a battle for a belt than either Sonnen or Rua. Sonnen’s surprising first-round victory via submission due to a guillotine choke over the one-time UFC light heavyweight champion has given him a chance to once again launch his bad-boy image following two humbling losses against champions. Instead of targeting Anderson Silva, he is now calling out Wanderlei Silva for a fight. Let the hype begin. Say what you will about Sonnen, but he comes to fight and is willing to take on all comers. As a broadcaster of UFC fights and a fighter himself, he had marketed himself into the perfect position, but needed to beat Rua to prove he still had credibility in the cage. Whether or not the losses came against current champions at the time, they represented defeats, so a win was paramount. Get used to seeing even more of him and his rhymes, even if some of them have been majority borrowed from wrestler Superstar Billy Graham.

Had Overeem won, he had the chance to gain significant exposure. Surely the UFC would have used all of its promotional resources – including Sonnen – to push him towards a title shot. Not anymore.

A UFC career that looked so promising may have been nothing more than the work of genie in a bottle.

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