Alistair Overeem might be fighting for the UFC heavyweight championship on December 29. That's the story you're hearing right now, with UFC president Dana White recently divulging Junior dos Santos' preference to fight the former Strikeforce champ instead of Cain Velasquez, and UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta saying he was optimistic Overeem would be available for the date.
Perhaps it's wishful thinking, or perhaps they are trying to will their hope into reality, but it shouldn't and won't happen. When the date comes around, if dos Santos is fighting in the octagon, it won't be against Overeem.
I'm not a fortune-teller, but I can see the hurdles the UFC would have to surpass to make it happen, and it's nearly impossible.
The biggest reason is simple. Overeem is unlicensed. He can't fight. And when he's finally eligible to reapply, it will be December 27, just two days before the promotion's usual year-end spectacular. Over the weekend, Fertitta voiced a hope that the Nevada state athletic commission might "allow him to come forward before that."
Given the lead-time necessary to properly advertise an event, that seems to be the only way that Overeem could find himself fighting before the year is out. The problem is that's not allowed by the commission's own regulations.
NAC 467.087, which governs applications for reinstatement after a denial, reads that, "Any applicant who has been denied a license by the Commission may not file a similar application until 1 year after denial by the Commission, unless the Commission specifies otherwise at the time of denial."
The commission did specify otherwise at the time of denial: Instead of one year, they went lenient on him, telling him to come back in nine months.
Overeem politely accepted the ruling at the time, saying he would like to prove that he was a clean fighter before continuing his career. He even shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with the commissioners afterward. He never expressed any objection to their decision. And that will prove to be a problem for him now. Why? Because there is no avenue for an appeal hearing once a very short window closes.
NAC 467.954 says, "If a party is not satisfied with the decision of the Commission and if the party has evidence not introduced at the hearing, the party may file a motion for rehearing not later than 10 days after service of the decision on the party."
Overeem and his team did not file any motion for rehearing within that time. So unless his team decides to follow in Nick Diaz's steps and sue NSAC -- a tactic that was unsuccessful for Diaz, by the way -- he's stuck playing the waiting game until December 27, and not a moment sooner.
Beyond that, this is a game that the UFC shouldn't be playing. In the past, White has always been very clear that the UFC would abide by commission rulings, and wouldn't promote a bout with a suspended fighter. While Overeem isn't technically suspended, their ruling against Overeem's licensure carries the same weight. Historically, they have always stuck to this, even in the case of high-profile fighters. Chael Sonnen wasn't booked against Brian Stann until after his suspension was up. Thiago Silva wasn't booked for his return after his penalty had lapsed. Neither was Sean Sherk many moons ago. And on and on.
That said, there is a two-day gap between the first moment Overeem can reapply on December 27 and the event date on December 29, which could in theory, be enough time to get Overeem licensed. That's not the problem; the problem is the stuff that comes before it. Namely, promotion and tickets.
Doesn't it seem disingenuous to promote a fight to fans -- many of whom will want to fly to Las Vegas and buy tickets -- without knowing whether one-half of the main event will actually be there? This is a lot different than replacing a fighter who is forced to withdraw due to injury. Those are situations beyond the promotion's control. But this basically asks the paying fan to plunk down his money and hope for the best, knowing full well that Overeem's presence is not assured.
It's not as if Overeem's UFC track record inspires confidence. Remember, before this most recent mess at UFC 146, he missed mandated drug tests prior to his UFC 141 bout with Brock Lesnar, necessitating a hearing that ultimately netted him a conditional license.
Why would UFC want to take the risk of spending possibly millions on their advertising campaign? And isn't this scenario quite similar to his UFC 146 fight, a bout which they ultimately pulled him from for the very same reason?
Beyond the obvious, Fertitta's comments -- made to ESPN -- regarding the NSAC possibly ruling before the December 27 date amount to undue pressure. Especially when he told the same outlet just six weeks earlier that the UFC would not promote an Overeem fight until the NSAC formally approves his license application.
Why the flip-flop? For one thing, champ dos Santos wants the fight. For another, they see the Overeem vs. dos Santos fight as far more lucrative than a quick rematch so soon after the memory of Velasquez getting steamrolled on national TV.
The UFC should ultimately respect NSAC's ruling and allow Overeem's penalty to play itself out. They should not try to sell a main event they can't promise to deliver. They should certainly honor the pledge they made to Velasquez as the No. 1 contender.
Overeem may ultimately get his title bout in time. Public pressure and internal desire within the UFC might see to that. But first he needs to go in front of NSAC and go through the process like any other fighter. He shouldn't be afforded special privileges because he's in championship consideration. If Overeem vs. dos Santos is truly the fight the UFC wants, they should do the right thing and wait until he is relicensed. As it will probably turn out, they won't have a choice but to do so.