Alistair Overeem isn’t done just yet.
The 38-year-old heavyweight staved off any calls for his retirement over the weekend by stopping Octagon newcomer Sergey Pavlovich with a thunderous first-round stoppage at UFC Beijing. The victory over the previously undefeated prospect snapped a two-fight losing streak for Overeem and proved that the longtime veteran still has some miles left in his tank. And with “The Reem” currently sitting in the No. 6 spot on the UFC’s heavyweight rankings, he already has a name in mind for who he’d like to fight next.
“I have to go with the hot balls, Derrick Lewis,” Overeem said Monday on The MMA Hour. “We haven’t fought before and he’s ranked higher. He’s just ranked higher. I definitely have a score to settle with Francis (Ngannou) and I have no doubt that undoubtedly that’ll happen some time. But to me Derrick Lewis is more appealing because of those two reasons: I haven’t fought him before, that’s number one, and he’s higher ranked.”
Ngannou memorably scored MMA Fighting’s 2017 Knockout the Year over Overeem with a first-round uppercut from hell at UFC 218. Speaking to the media in Beijing, “The Reem” vowed that a rematch with Ngannou would end differently than their first meeting. He reiterated that sentiment on Monday, citing his move to Elevation Fight Team and other changes he has made to his camp, and said he expects to fight Ngannou again at some point down the line. For now, though, a showdown with Lewis is the matchup at the top of his wish list.
Overeem also gave his assessment of Lewis’ busy autumn run — a four-week stretch that saw “The Black Beast” pull off a star-making come-from-behind win over Alexander Volkov, then lose via second-round submission in an impromptu title shot against Daniel Cormier.
“The Volkov fight was very interesting, because he was losing but he was not really in any danger of being knocked out or submitted,” Overeem said. “He was just losing on points and then he pulled the trigger, I believe he came back with that amazing flurry. The other fight (Cormier), I don’t know — he’s a guy, if he hits you, you’re in trouble, but other than that, he doesn’t really have anything on you, right? Strong but no submission game and Cormier kind of exposed him a little bit. But yeah, that’s the only thing, don’t get hit by him. That’s his only thing, don’t get hit.
“He’s a strong guy, he’s a heavy hitter, but I’m sure I can put him away,” Overeem added. “I am going to put him away. If we fight, I will put him away, 100 percent.”
It’s a welcome conversation for Overeem to be able to have after breaking himself out of a slump that saw him suffer back-to-back devastating knockouts at the hands of Ngannou and Blaydes. Heading into UFC Beijing matched against a young unknown like Pavlovich, “The Reem” knew has was facing a make-or-break moment for his career.
He passed the test with flying colors though, dispatching Pavlovich with a quickness that reinforced his standing in top-10 ranks of the heavyweight division.
“It definitely meant a lot, and it was also needed, right?” Overeem said. “Two devastating losses. I don’t know, I always put my heart and soul in every camp, and then when you lose it’s like, ‘Well, this is not good,’ and then you lose again — it doesn’t happen too often in my career, but that definitely does happen. Then things must change, right? You can’t lose three in a row. And the other thing was [I was matched] against an up-and-coming guy, undefeated, very hungry young lion coming up. And every fight is 50/50, every fight there is the x-factor, but we had to pull the trigger, and we did.”
Overeem attributed his move to Elevation Fight Team, where he trained alongside Blaydes in Denver, as one of the biggest reasons for his success in Beijing. It’s a change he made after losing to Blaydes in bloody fashion at UFC 225, and despite their history in the cage, “The Reem” said he and the 27-year-old contender have gotten along great.
“He’s a gentleman,” Overeem said of Blaydes. “In my 25 years of training I’ve trained with all kinds of fighters, athletes, stars, all kinds, and Curtis is a hard worker and a nice guy, a nice kid. Obviously he’s a little bit younger, but there’s no ego between us. We fought, he was the better man and I just accepted it, and as a mixed martial artist, I just wanted to improve my craft, and I think he was open to the idea.
“I never felt any bad vibe from him at all, and I appreciate him for that as well. Because in my 25 years, I’ve trained with all kinds of fighters — sometimes there’s jealousy, sometimes it doesn’t work, sometimes you just don’t vibe. But with Curtis, it vibed instantly, so I just felt instantly at home and I’m liking it a lot actually.”
With his renewed momentum, ranking, and his résumé as one of the greatest heavyweights of his era, Overeem is once again in the title mix. Now there’s no doubt in his mind about which opponent can help him take that next step toward UFC gold.
“Hot balls, let’s go, man. Let’s go,” Overseem said, laughing at the catchphrase Lewis made go viral at UFC 229. “Let’s go. Let’s get some hot balls.”