Alistair Overeem is no stranger to trying something new.
The 38-year-old heavyweight has maintained a startling level of relevancy in combat sports throughout the past two decades, in large part because of his willingness to evolve and adapt his skill set to an ever-changing game. Although changing teams has become somewhat of a taboo subject in mixed martial arts, Overeem credits the practice for helping him to stick around at the top of heavyweight division as long as he has. And whether it was with Golden Glory or JacksonWink or his current squad — Colorado’s Elevation Fight Team — Overeem has always valued the benefits that a change of scenery can provide.
“If I had stayed in one or two places, I’d probably be retired by now,” Overeem said Monday on The MMA Hour. “Because as a fighter, you can get compromised. It’s not for everybody, but I have been compromised a couple times in my career, and to me, it was do or die time. I had to make some changes. Sometimes I didn’t want to make changes, but I still had to make changes if I wanted to continue my career.
“Let’s go back to my last loss to Curtis Blaydes — actually that was two in a row, because I had lost to Francis (Ngannou) and I lost to Curtis. I was training out of Jackson’s. The chemistry there, we had a good chemistry, but it was just finished. And to me, I still want to fight, so you’re going to keep doing something that doesn’t work for you? Or you’re going to make changes and figure it out again? And to me, I had to do that. I had to figure it out again. I still felt I could do that. Back then I was 37, I’m 38 years old now. But I felt like I could still do it, I need to do it.”
Overeem, who fights replacement opponent Alexey Oleynik on April 20 in the main event of UFC Saint Petersburg, stands as one of the most decorated heavyweights of his era. At different points in his career, he captured titles in Strikeforce, DREAM, and K-1, and was a contender in both PRIDE and the UFC, even challenging for the belt in the latter promotion. And Overeem believes his willingness to seek change once a situation has run his course has helped him tremendously along the way — with one exception.
“Let’s not forget, I’ve been training for 26 years, competing for 22 years. My first fight was in 1997. So to me, that’s obvious: You’re going to have at least a couple different camps,” Overeem explained.
“I don’t know if that’s always a bad thing. Sometimes when the chemistry’s done and when there’s no clear direction, but there is a direction that you want to [continue to] fight but there’s no clear direction [within the team], there’s not really good communication, it’s a good thing to change. In my 26 years, change has actually always been a great thing. Actually, the only place that was not a good change was when I went to the Blackzilians. That was truly terrible, and it showed. And I made changes [to get] out of there and it went better, to Jackson’s MMA until that chemistry was finished.
“Because it’s like every relationship. In relationships, chemistry can go down, right? It’s not always a perfect marriage forever, unfortunately, because in the past I’ve also had to say goodbye to coaches I was perfectly okay with, but I had to do it, because yeah, I want to fight, I want to make the most of my career, and I’ve basically always lived by that phrase. I want to make the most of my career. And sometimes you’re going to have to say goodbye to people, to groups, to teams, for that goal.”
Overeem’s current training situation resides is Colorado with Elevation Fight Team. He joined the squad last year after losing to one of its members, Curtis Blaydes, at UFC 225.
Since coming to Colorado, Overeem has had nothing but effusive praise for Blaydes, a top-ranked UFC heavyweight contender who “The Reem” already calls one of his favorite teammates ever.
“He’s a great fighter, he’s a great athlete, and he’s a great guy as well,” Overeem said of Blaydes. “I really actually like him. I’ve trained, in my 26 years, with a lot of professionals, a lot of champions, a lot of strong fighters, and Curtis is one of my favorites. No ego whatsoever. We don’t discuss our fight. We lift each other up to a better level, and it’s great to be part of the team and great to help him on his journey to greatness.”