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Alistair Overeem can’t keep from tripping over the red carpet

Zuffa LLC via Getty

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. – After Alistair Overeem very loudly and unceremoniously lost consecutive fights against Antonio Silva and Travis Browne, he very quietly became a rebuilding project. So quiet, in fact, that he slipped out to Thailand for his training ahead of the Frank Mir fight at UFC 169, leaving the Blackzilians camp behind.

Overeem just as quietly beat Mir. And quieter still, he was booked against Ben Rothwell as he joined the team at Jackson-Winkeljohn’s in Albuquerque, to the mute horror of Donald Cerrone’s horses. Rothwell was supposed to be a kind of resume fortifier on his road back to contention, one more tune-up before the dance party could start to get loud again. The UFC’s heavyweight division isn’t teeming with high-profile contenders. After slipping in his No. 1 contender bouts to get a title shot not that long ago, Overeem still felt like the guy who might one day cross paths with Cain Velasquez.

All he needed to do was beat Rothwell for the strobe lights to start flickering behind him again. All he needed to do was beat Rothwell.

But on Friday night, it was Rothwell doing interpretive dance moves after knocking Overeem out just a little over two minutes in. One big punch to the top of Reem’s cranium was all it took. After the ham hock smashed home, Overeem couldn’t tell Rothwell from a Rothko as he struggled back to his feet. He protested a little bit, but there was no controversy with the stoppage. There was only controversy with our perception. This time Overeem was a 4-to-1 favorite. Against "Bigfoot" he was installed as a greater favorite still. When a favorite of that magnitude loses -- whether it’s once, twice or even thrice -- it’s always a brand new cataclysm.

Overeem has that incredible knack for awing people in all the wrong ways. But this time? This time, after losing to Rothwell, who himself hadn’t fought for a year after testing positive for elevated testosterone against Brandon Vera? This one feels like the mythbuster. The Overeem we keep thinking is rounding the corner, the one who didn’t lose between 2007-2011, doesn’t seem like he’s going to show in the UFC. The only thing that stands out so far in Overeem’s UFC career is his consistent squandering.

All those chances. People were trying to will Overeem into that title fight, but that might have ended at Foxwoods in Mushantucket.

What went wrong? It’s a lot of things. People talk about Overeem’s attitude, as he hasn’t exactly made a lot of friends in the gyms he’s trained at (just look at the way his former Blackzilians teammate Anthony Johnson is sniping at him). It could be that he’s cocky, or egotistical, or a little too clubby. Could be that the version of Overeem that resurrected himself as a heavyweight after losing five of seven fights back in 2007 was more a science project than a fighter. We know he also tested for elevated testosterone ahead of his title fight with Junior dos Santos. There are curious coincidences to his rise and fall.

Could be that he was fighting Rothwell in a shrunken 25-foot cage, and the walls felt like they were closing in.

Whatever it is, the sight of seeing him in a state of "rocked" has become too familiar all of a sudden. And at this point, you wonder what happens next for the one-time Strikeforce heavyweight champion. The UFC could opt to keep him, even with his high price tag, because he still has enough mythos stored up from those days of wrecking people in Japan and Strikeforce. He did, after all, retire Brock Lesnar at UFC 141 in what will now stand as the high-water mark of his UFC career. Those body shots he delivers are strong internal quakes that are best taken in vicariously.

But at 34 years old, and with eight total KO/TKO losses in his career, and a meager 2-3 record in the UFC, Overeem is no longer the favorite to do anything. At this point, he will need another resurrection to his career. He will need to become Mark Hunt, or Andrei Arlovski, guys who somehow erased the writing on the wall just as it was becoming legible. It won’t be easy. There’s a pronounced black spot developing on Overeem’s chin…enhanced drug testing does away with youth elixirs…scrutiny on losses translates to greater pressure…and so on.

The fight game has always been a game of shifting perceptions.

And all it took was one Rothwell punch to turn Overeem from a 4-to-1 favorite into an underdog to simply stay relevant.

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