In North America, people who know who Alistair Overeem is know him as an MMA fighter. He's the Strikeforce heavyweight champion, and his 14 fights in Pride included one in Las Vegas (against Shogun Rua) and one against Chuck Liddell when Liddell was the most popular fighter in the UFC. To the extent that Overeem has any name value in this country, it's for what he's done in MMA.
But in both his home country (The Netherlands) and the country where he's done most of his fighting (Japan), Overeem is working hard at establishing himself as a world-class kickboxer, and he's putting MMA on the back burner while he hones his kickboxing skills. That's why Overeem's two MMA fights over the last two weekends were squash matches in which he easily beat two overmatched opponents. Overeem just wants to treat MMA as a way to stay busy and make a little extra pocket money while he gets ready for the K-1 World Grand Prix 2009 Final in December.
And so when you see Overeem destroy James Thompson at Dream 12 and destroy Tony Sylvester at last week's Ultimate Glory event, and you ask yourself why Overeem can't fight better competition, just remember that Overeem doesn't care much about MMA right now. He decided to make 2009 the year that he puts all his energy into kickboxing, and that's what he's focusing on.
I'm excited about seeing Overeem in the K-1 World Grand Prix Final, where he'll be part of an eight-man heavyweight kickboxing tournament comprising the best heavyweight kickboxers in the world. I don't think he's going to win (I like Remy Bonjasky to beat Badr Hari in the final), but I think he has an outside chance, and I think it's exciting that an MMA fighter is giving high-level kickboxing a try.
I also hope Overeem returns to MMA on a permanent basis, though. Overeem has real MMA talent; it says something about his well-rounded fighting style that he's a K-1 kickboxer and yet he's won more fights by submission than by knockout or TKO. In 2010 I'd love to see Overeem defend his Strikeforce belt against Fedor Emelianenko. If he does, that will be one of hte marquee MMA fights of the year.
But for 2009, we'll just have to settle for seeing Overeem focus on kickboxing. For now, his MMA fights are just tune-ups.