BOSTON – A colossus like Alistair Overeem would have a hard time sneaking into an event, but in Beantown he seems to be doing just that. With all the talk going to the launch of Fox Sports 1 and Chael Sonnen and Conor McGregor and Boston’s homegrown Joe Lauzon breaking bonus records, Overeem is for once lost in a sea of faces heading into UFC Fight Night 26.
And maybe that’s a good thing.
Even before arriving in the UFC, most the time when the spotlight comes up on Overeem, so do his red flags. There was the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, which he dropped out of because the turnaround between matches was too fast. A couple of months after beating Brock Lesnar - his crowning moment in the UFC - Overeem singlehandedly made epitestosterone a household word, as well as the entire galaxy of affiliated acronyms (TUE, TRT, ETC). Twice he’s been booked into fights for the UFC’s big heavyweight Memorial Day card, and twice he didn’t fight on the UFC’s big heavyweight Memorial Day card. He served out a year-long suspension in 2012.
In his return fight, against Antonio Silva in a title eliminator that he was meant to win, Overeem rolled up to the MGM Grand like it was the discotheque. It was a grand entrance. A little over ten minutes into the fight, he was catching cinder blocks on his chin while folding over on himself along the fence.
It’s not in the tale of the tape, but, so far with Zuffa, Overeem has become a master of squandering.
Now he’s getting set to take on a quiet contender in Travis Browne in a fight with undefined stakes, and it’s the closest the former Dream and Strikeforce champion has come to a "stealthy approach" in years.
"I kind of actually like it a little bit," he said during Thursday’s pre-fight press conference when asked about it. "I don’t have to think too much, just paying attention to the rising stars. Fine by me. I assume it’s going to pick up after this fight."
And it will. If he wins. If he wins, it’s right back into title talk.
If he loses? That’s another story. As desperately as the UFC has tried to make Overeem the third man in the heavyweight title picture, he’s proven a very elusive recipient. Lose against Browne, and all those title flirtations come to an abrupt end. And for a guy whose monolithic appeal had people willingly looking past his asterisks as he entered the UFC, that’s not how he drew it up.
"I’m 33 years old - or young, I could say - and a UFC title is definitely something that would crown my career," he told MMA Fighting last week. "But at the same time, I’m taking one fight at a time and I’m just enjoying my career too."
There are signs that the "Bigfoot" loss has rejuvenated Overeem, or at least got him back in touch with his essences. He split his camp between the U.S. and Mike’s Gym in Holland, run by striking coach Mike Passenier. He is fine-tuning his striking, getting back to the basics. Browne’s an enabler when it comes to trading leather - he’s proven many times that he’s not afraid to bang.
Here’s the fine print though: Browne’s the guy with everything to gain, while Overeem has everything to lose.
"[Browne]’s a young and upcoming fighter," Overeem says. "He’s aggressive. He’s hungry and very athletic, and definitely somebody you shouldn’t underestimate."
No, Overeem can’t afford to underestimate his opponents anymore. Then again, the hoopla that usually surrounds his fights is a little less this time through, in part because the fear is he might.