He's lost that form
It's real easy to jump to conclusions in this sport but days after UFC Fight Night 26 -- plenty of time to sleep on it, digest it, let it marinate, whatever -- I find myself fairly convinced Alistair Overeem will never again be a serious contender at heavyweight.
I realize that's a fragile limb to test my weight on. Overeem has fallen out of top 10 rankings but it's not as though he's in the cellar. He's on a two-fight losing streak, but he very nearly won both those fights. If referee Mario Yamasaki decides to stop that fight with Travis Browne hurt against the fence, we're having an entirely different conversation this week.
Still, when you consider the variables that now litter Overeem's path back to title contention, I don't like his chances.
First of all, I think we slightly overrated Overeem's abilities coming into the UFC anyway. I'm not saying he shouldn't have been in the top five, but to basically crown this guy the unofficial champ when he signed with the promotion, as some did, was poorly thought out. Really, the only win he had over a signature opponent since 2008 was an awkward decision over Fabricio Werdum in June 2011.
Far more important than that, though, we have to address what we know about Overeem's health to make reasonable assumptions on his future.
This guy looked incredible against Brock Lesnar in his UFC debut, but that's actually not where the UFC-Overeem story begins. Prior to that fight, Overeem ran into a hiccup with the Nevada State Athletic Commission when it attempted to surprise drug test him a month before the bout. Overeem responded to that request late, then submitted the wrong type of test. He was eventually granted a conditional license.
After the Lesnar fight, we all remember the infamous recounting of Overeem speeding away from a prefight news conference, during which the NSAC again ran a surprise drug test. Overeem eventually returned and submitted a test that produced an elevated testosterone ratio, which forced him to pull out of a title fight against Junior dos Santos.
Now, we know Overeem suffers from "dangerously low levels" of testosterone following his drug test at UFC 156 -- a knockout loss to Antonio Silva. We know that low levels of testosterone negatively affect an athlete's strength, energy and perhaps most noticeably stamina. We also know past drug use can inhibit the body from naturally producing testosterone.
All of this is to say that: (1) Only Overeem knows what substances he has or has not taken but there is proof that he has used unauthorized testosterone at least once before in his career; (2) That proof makes it difficult (not impossible) for him to ever successfully apply for a TRT exemption; (3) It doesn't appear as though he can be a dominant heavyweight with low testosterone.
The last statement is the one we might argue over. Maybe Overeem will continue fighting without the use of TRT (he told ESPN.com prior to the Browne fight he doesn't ever plan on using it) and maybe he can climb back up the ranks.
But my takeaway is that yeah, he almost beat Browne. But almost isn't good for much in this sport and most heavyweights, the elite heavyweights you need to beat to win a title anyway, can withstand one good Overeem flurry. And right now, you can't say with any certainty he has more than that one good flurry.
With all the hurdles Overeem would need to clear to use TRT and given the fact he's closer to the UFC's unemployment line than he is to the title, my expectations for him as a major player in this division have fallen pretty low.
An attitude change will help
Numerous reasons can be given why Overeem should be cut loose by the promotion: The knockout was devastating, and it was the second in a row suffered by Overeem.
Here are a few more: He no longer possesses his once frighteningly chiseled body; that suspension in 2012 for an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio continues to raise doubts about the legitimacy of his professional accomplishment; Overeem has very poor cardio and he doesn't pace himself; his defense is porous; he is among the highest-paid heavyweights on UFC's roster; and he is just too arrogant for his own good.
After Overeem's latest setback, UFC president Dana White admitted not knowing what to do next with his once-prized heavyweight acquisition. Releasing Overeem is a possibility, but White appears reluctant -- at least for the moment -- to pull the plug. Overeem hasn't quite panned out the way White and other UFC officials expected. But it might be in the promotion's best interest to hold off cutting ties with him just yet. While consecutive knockout losses have wiped away much of the intimidation that not long ago surrounded Overeem, he remains a marketable commodity.
Despite his two-fight skid, Overeem is still a contender in the heavyweight division. He is currently ranked seventh in the weight class by UFC.com.
And let's not forget that in each of his two most recent bouts, Overeem came close to finishing his opponents -- Antonio Silva and Browne. Though his body lacks the definition of previous years, he still packs devastating striking power. Overeem remains capable of finishing any man who dares to step inside the cage with him.
The hurdle Overeem must overcome to get back on the winning track isn't physical, it's mental. It's time for him to grow up. It's time for him to tighten his defensive deficiencies, improve his cardio and learn to set a reasonable fighting pace. It's time for Overeem to become a professional mixed martial artist in every aspect.
Overeem also has never confronted his doubters head on -- and there are many. Overeem must silence those who question the legitimacy of the titles he has earned by proving that he didn't rely on performance-enhancing drugs to achieve them.
As a result of his display in his two most recent outings, suspicion regarding Overeem's perceived use of PEDs has increased. If he is to clear his name, Overeem must take every step to return to pre-UFC 156 form. Next time out, he must bring a sense of urgency into the Octagon. If he does, Overeem will likely win in eye-opening fashion and move a step closer to becoming a serious threat again in the heavyweight division.
Losing two in a row by knockout has already proved not to be an insurmountable obstacle to a heavyweight title shot. After getting knocked out twice in a row, Silva rebounded with two consecutive victories to earn a title shot.
Overeem is currently down but not completely out. Two impressive wins in a row and he's right back in the title hunt. And in a relatively weak UFC heavyweight division, keeping Overeem around a bit longer might be a good idea.