Alistair Overeem knows a thing or two about making a huge impact in a UFC debut.
Nearly a decade ago, the former Strikeforce, K-1 and DREAM champion was making his first appearance inside the octagon for a showdown against ex-UFC champ Brock Lesnar at UFC 141.
At the time, Lesnar was already a proven pay-per-view superstar. But Overeem had the credentials to earn that fight for his debut, and he wasted no time proving why he was such a high-value free agent pickup. In a one-sided affair, he battered Lesnar with strikes before ending the fight with a brutal body kick to send the former heavyweight champion packing back to the WWE.
It was a memorable night in the sport’s history. But at UFC 257, former Bellator champion Michael Chandler provided some tough competition by wiping out Dan Hooker inside three minutes in the co-main event. Afterward, he cut a memorable promo in his post-fight speech that had UFC President Dana White hard pressed to pick a bigger or better debut in the history of the organization.
Overeem was happy to disagree with that assessment just days away from his return to action at UFC Vegas 18.
“Definitely better than Michael Chandler,” Overeem said about his debut win over Lesnar. “All respect to Michael and his performance, but I don’t think you can even compare those two fights.
“Alistair vs. Brock Lesnar in 2011, or Michael Chandler vs. Dan Hooker. I don’t think you can make a comparison between those two.”
There’s no doubt Lesnar was the biggest name among the four; the pro wrestler was a proven draw for the UFC as soon as he arrived in the promotion. For all the accomplishments that Overeem had already stacked onto his resume prior to UFC 141, he admits there was nothing quite like his debut against a superstar such as Lesnar.
“I remember everything very clear,” Overeem said. “There was a lot of things going on. It was crazy. I came off the [Fabricio] Werdum win and then before that the K-1 Grand Prix win and the DREAM title win.
“It was a very hectic time. A lot of moving parts. I was moving to the states. Fans everywhere. I couldn’t walk around Vegas, I just got chased by fans. It was a crazy time. I’m actually happy it’s not as hectic anymore. It’s a little more calm and soothing.”
Of course, if Overeem gets his wish, his career will definitely get a little more hectic in the near future. The 40-year-old heavyweight has made it clear he wants to make one final run at becoming UFC champion before retiring from the sport.
He’ll look to secure a third straight win this weekend when he faces Alexander Volkov in the main event at UFC Vegas 18.
Because he’s ratcheted up the stakes with the end near, Overeem understands the importance each win or loss. But he’s not allowing that to weigh him down ahead of any fight remaining in his career.
“Listen, I’m enjoying myself,” he said. “I’m enjoying the walkout, the fight and everything that comes with it. So there is not really pressure. I think also that pressure does not improve your performance. There wouldn’t be any pressure. Of course, the pressure it’s always kind of there, but I’m just enjoying it.”
As far as his aspirations to earn another title shot, Overeem can’t say how long that might take or the number of wins he’d need to secure in order for the UFC to offer him a chance to claim the heavyweight title.
All that matters right now is getting through Volkov, and then Overeem will contemplate the future.
“Let’s fight Saturday and see what happens there,” he said. “Then after we’ll talk again.”