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Alistair Overeem Might as Well Get Used to Steroid Questions

Listening to Alistair Overeem explain how he went from string bean to mountain of muscle in just a few years, I'm reminded of the days when Hulk Hogan used to implore us kids to say our prayers and take our vitamins.

Hard work, good nutrition, some luck in the genetic lottery. It seemed simple enough. Years later we found out what was actually in the Hulkster's vitamins, and maybe that's when those of us of a certain generation first learned to be such cynics about pro athletes and performance-enhancing drugs.

There's a couple of reasons why Overeem – who has never, as far as we know, failed a drug test – has been dogged by steroid allegations in recent years. For one, he's been conspicuously absent from the MMA scene in the U.S., where fighters are tested, while at the same time competing at a frantic pace in Japan, where the substances in a fighter's bloodstream are his business and no one else's.

Over the same period of time he's grown into a life-size action figure, packing on at least thirty pounds of muscle onto a frame that was once more Olive Oyl than Bluto. Now he has a chest you could show a movie on and shoulders that seem to come out of his ears. His neck is probably in there somewhere, but you'd need an x-ray to find it.

Overeem does his best to brush off the accusations, attributing his rapid growth to weight training, a diet heavy in protein-rich horse meat, and a move up in weight classes. The way he tells it, once he no longer had to cut weight to make 205 pounds, his muscles could finally run free.

Only instead of just running, they rampaged. They grew muscles of their own. They started whole new colonies of muscles, each with duly elected leaders to represent them at annual muscle summits.

What's interesting is, the last time Overeem fought as a heavyweight in Strikeforce, he weighed in at 224 pounds. That was back in 2007, when he first claimed the title with a victory over Paul Buentello. By then he was already a full-time heavyweight. No cutting weight. No starving himself to get down to 205. He looked solid, though not freakish.

Two and a half years later, he clocks in somewhere in the 250-pound range.

Is that, in and of itself, evidence that he's been ingesting something more potent than horse steaks? Not necessarily. The guy's only 29, after all. It's not unreasonable to think that he might have packed on the weight with gym time and a sound diet. For all we know, his life up until now could have been a long, painful struggle as a 255-pound man trapped in a 224-pound weakling's body. I think I saw an Oprah on that once.

Next weekend Overeem finally returns to the U.S. to defend his title, and he's said in recent interviews that he's looking forward to testing clean and proving his accusers wrong. Too bad it doesn't work that way.

Try all you want, but you can't prove a negative, especially when steroids are the issue. Passing a drug test won't prove to skeptics that he's clean; it will only prove that he can pass one drug test with months worth of prior notice.

But this isn't just Overeem's problem. Certainly, his physique explosion doesn't help, but really, this is about the modern sports fan. Their trust has been abused so many times, there's no innocence left to lose. Steroid accusations are to pro athletes what sex scandals are to politicians: the public is more likely to assume guilt than innocence.

Is it fair? Not really, but it's a defense mechanism. Fans have been burned too many times, listened to too many indignant denials that turned out to be stellar acting jobs.

Overeem wants to know why he has to answer these questions and Brock Lesnar, who is even bulkier, doesn't. Apparently he hasn't seen the episode of ESPN's "E:60" where Lesnar tears off his microphone and storms out when the issue is gently raised.

That's one way to deal with it. Then, instead of asking you about steroids, people will just whisper about it behind your back. Instead of wondering, they'll simply assume.

Maybe the best thing Overeem can do is to continue showing up to fights with the proportions of a cartoon superhero – especially when he knows he's about to be tested – and get as many clean drug tests as possible under his belt without sacrificing any size.

Will it placate the fans? Probably not. But the only alternative is growing a thicker skin.
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