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Alistair Overeem says he never looked beyond the UFC during free agency

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Among the more intriguing names to recently hit the open market, coveted free agent Alistair Overeem — fresh off his victory over former UFC heavyweight champ Junior dos Santos — was perhaps the biggest. The 35-year old Overeem announced via his Twitter account that he had re-signed with the UFC, thus ending any speculation that he may reunite with Scott Coker in Bellator (or defect elsewhere).

Overeem later tweeted out that he would be headlining the May 8 show in Rotterdam, in his native Holland.

On Monday, "The Reem" made an appearance on The MMA Hour to talk about his new deal and the drama that surrounded his free agency status. Or, lack of drama, as it turns out. Despite the speculation, Overeem said he never considered signing anywhere other than with Zuffa.

"I didn’t talk to anybody else," he told Ariel Helwani. "But I can tell you this, also — the UFC is where the best fighters are at, and I consider myself the best fighter. I belong in the UFC. That’s how simple it is.

"The UFC has been very cordial, very gentlemanly towards me, and I’m very happy. I’m very excited, and I feel very appreciated. These were all factors."

Asked if the UFC was his only choice, or if it was always his intention to stay, Overeem was emphatic on the point.

"Of course," he said. "The UFC is the prime fight promotion in the world."

Overeem has won three straight fights, beginning with a knockout of Stefan Struve back in Dec. 2014. He followed that up with a decision victory over Roy Nelson at UFC 185, before destroying Dos Santos at UFC on FOX 17 in Orlando. The consensus was he was gambling on himself for a bid at free agency, and — being so near a title shot — that he had considerable pull for negotiations.

Though Overeem was reticent on his talks with the UFC and the negotiation process, saying he didn’t want to add any negative undertones to something he felt very happy with, he did shed a little light on his thinking going in. When asked specifically if part of the motivation for re-singing was winning the elusive UFC belt after holding titles in Strikeforce, Pride and Dream, Overeem said that thought factored in.

"I look at everything," he said. "I look at appreciation, you need to feel appreciated, and you need to feel respected. Of course, finances is a little part of the equation as well. But I do have to agree with you that the big part is that UFC title. I mean, that’s the one that’s missing. I still have a couple of good years left in me. So yeah, logically speaking, if that’s the one’s that’s missing, you’re going to go for the highest one out there and that’s the UFC strap."

As for whom Overeem will face in Rotterdam, he said that he hadn’t talked to the UFC about potential foes as of yet. With current heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum looking like his next title defense might come against Stipe Miocic, and Ben Rothwell slated to face Dos Santos in Croatia, the name Cain Velasquez was introduced to him as a possibility.

Overeem said if the UFC came at him with the former champion — or anybody, for that matter — he’d be down.

"Listen, I’m optimistic towards anybody, and that’s an attitude I think I should have," he said. "Because I’m in the UFC, I’m willing to fight anybody who’s out there. Listen, if it’s going to be UFC’s choice for Cain Velasquez, I’m for anybody the UFC puts in front of me. I think I have achieved a level that I can fight anybody. I can beat everybody. I will beat everybody. I think I’m also in the right spot currently at my gym at Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque. The way we analyze and train for people, it just works for me. It’s like unknown in any other gym I’ve been blessed to work with. So I believe I can beat everybody.

"So whoever they put in front of me, whether it’s Cain or be anybody else."

Though he didn’t divulge particulars about his contract, about how many fights it is for or if he might be guaranteed a title shot should be win his next bout, Overeem did say that he envisioned holding the title by the end of the year. His path, he said, is to win on May 8, then fight for the title at the earliest convenience.

"End of 2016, I will be champion," he said. "That is how I envision it. May 8, whoever they put in front of me, I’m going to finish that person, and then it’s going to be a title shot. I don’t know when that’s going to happen, whether it’s going to be after the summer, could be the end of the year. I don’t know who’s going to have the title, Stipe or Werdum, both who are great fighters. Both are tough as nails. One is a little bit more attack — Stipe — and Werdum is a little bit more tricky.

"I feel like I can take them both on, and take them both out. So whoever is going to be put in front of me now for May, we’re going to go from there and by the end of the year title, either Werdum or Stipe."