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Alistair Overeem’s nomadic MMA journey has found a new Elevation

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Overeem vs Pavlovich Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

If he accomplishes nothing else from this point forward, Alistair Overeem will go down as one of the most nomadic fighters in MMA’s young history, turning up for training camps anywhere from Thailand to Amsterdam, from South Florida to Albuquerque. He has traveled all over the globe to train for his combined 90 kickboxing and MMA fights, has been in places with hash bars around every corner, as well as those where horse meat is a delicacy.

Of late he’s turned up in Denver, a mile high above sea level. Instead of a dedicated coach he has coaches, as in plural. The Elevation Fight Team is a carousel experience in which Overeem has found his twilight to be a welcome place. He now sees a daily collective of Eliot Marshall, Christian Allen, Cody Donovan, Vinnie Lopez and Dave Zabriskie — the hydra of coaches — each who run their own schools, and yet none of whom are drawn to Overeem because of his name (or the size of his checks).

That’s the latest wrinkle in Overeem’s storied career. He has some hard-asses barking at him.

“He doesn’t have ‘yes men’ around him,” Marshall told MMA Fighting this week. “He doesn’t have people around him going, ‘OK Alistair, whatever you want.’ He has people saying, it’s going to go like this.”

Not that his new situation is a rigid experience with dictators on bullhorns or anything. It’s just a stern workplace. Marshall and company afford Overeem the respect of a veteran fighter and work accordingly with his moods and druthers. “We listen to him, he’s almost 40, and when he needs a day off and says ‘I got to chill today,’ we chill,” Marshall says. But then again, one of the problems with a brand name like Overeem — who has bounced around from camp to camp, experiencing every kind of situation — is that some teams only see what he can do for their gym, rather than seeing it as what the gym can do for him.

“Our big thing at Elevation — and you can talk to any of us about this — is that no one person is bigger than the team,” Marshall says. “That was a very big topic in the beginning with Alistair. Just making sure that we were all on the same page. Don’t get me wrong, being Alistair’s trainer is an ego boost, but the more important thing for us is that we have a set of core values that we believe in and we don’t move on them, for money especially.”

Marshall, a former UFC fighter, believes Elevation speaks to Overeem as a safe, dedicated environment with no hidden agendas.

“I think what really drew Alistair to that is, sometimes everybody wants to be Alistair’s trainer — one for the ego boost, and two for the check that he provides,” he says. “Everyone gets to see what his pay looks like. So people do whatever they can to work with Alistair Overeem, where I don’t think that we really did that. We all have our own thing going on, we all have our own separate schools. Whatever that percentage that is that we might get from Alistair, it doesn’t really touch our school’s overall revenue that much, or any of our lives. None of us are going to make it because of Alistair Overeem.

“I think that brought this calmness to the whole situation. Where I think a lot of people think, ‘oh f*ck, here’s my chance. Here’s my chance. I’m going to put my name on the map here, people are going to come to my school because Overeem’s here, yadda yadda.’ I don’t know if one student has come to any of our schools because Overeem’s here. I mean, it’s cool. But I think that really works. I think that makes him feel like nobody’s using him for a paycheck — really, that’s one of the biggest problems in the fight game. Where the trainer needs the money from his fighter.”

In any case, the change of scenery seems to be working. Since stepping into the academy in September 2018 — a few months after he was knocked out by Curtis Blaydes, who also happens to be a member of the Elevation Fight Team — he has gone 2-0.

He looked sharp against Sergei Pavlovich when he traveled to Beijing last November, scoring a first-round TKO. And he weathered an early storm against Aleksei Oleinik last weekend in St. Petersburg, patiently waiting out an offensive flurry from the big Ukrainian grappling ace before connecting with a knee that signaled the beginning of the end.

Just like that, the “Reem” is back, and he’s hoping that his scheduled fight with Alexander Volkov rematerializes. His new coaching staff is enjoying the late resurgence, even if things didn’t go exactly according to plan in Russia.

“It’s fighting, that’s what happens,” Marshall says. “He looked with it, like he was together from what I could see, and it worked out. Look, that is never the game plan. In the next fight the plan’s not going to be go back to the fence and do that again. We’ve all seen at heavyweight, especially with the gloves we wear, one shot ends it. One shot ended for Alistair. That one knee coming around the side of Aleksei’s head, boom. It was more competitive at that point, but the shots on the ground finished it off. So your game plan can’t be to take shots.”

If there’s a constant in Overeem’s prolonged run as a heavyweight contender, it’s his clinch … and his kicks … and those devastating knees. He landed a big knee on Oleinik that essentially swung the fight in his favor. That’s the one thing that Marshall and crew have been pop-eyed about, is those knees.

Not the impact of them, because anyone who has watched Overeem over the years knows something about that. No, more about the abomination that those knees are, the sheer immensity of size and volume of those molten bone-melt formations.

“Have you seen his knees? It’s like he went and had surgery and had extra bone put in there or something,” Marshall says. “I looked at it one time and I was like, Jesus Christ — I don’t know what it is. His knees are formed differently than other people’s knees. His knees literally have point on the knee. And it’s really hard, and he’s good at throwing them.

“Each athlete has their thing. Shane Carwin’s hand was as big as a person’s head. When he hit you with it, it was like getting hit with a bowling ball rather than my puny ass hand. Alistair has those knees.”

It’s been a nice turnaround for Overeem, who had lost back-to-back fights to Francis Ngannou and Blaydes before showing up at Elevation. There have been recent examples of late-career title runs, particularly at heavyweight. Fabricio Werdum wasn’t a spring chicken when he beat Mark Hunt (and later Cain Velasquez) to secure the belt, and current champion Daniel Cormier just turned 40.

Why not Overeem? If the opportunity presents itself, his new team may not be “yes men,” but they aren’t about to say no.

“It’s heavyweight fighting, man,” Marshall says. “[Alistair] was ranked, what, somewhere five to seven? Win one more and you’re at four. They book DC and Brock [Lesnar], let’s say…let’s say Brock gets hurt, and they need somebody to fill in? Who knows what happens in the world.

“If you’re sniffing the top five or in the top five, shit, you gotta stay ready homie. You gotta stay at 70 percent, because if the phone rings and it’s for the heavyweight title of the world, baddest dude on the planet, the answer’s yes.”

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