Photo via cdn1.sbnation.com
Exclusive interview with Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem prior to his fight with Fabricio Werdum in the opening round of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, on June 18, 2011.
"The Demolition Man" has already established himself as among the best pure strikers on the planet, tearing through Tyrone Spong, Gokhan Saki and Peter Aerts in 2010 to claim his first K-1 World Grand Prix Championship.
Sure, he's a Strikeforce champion, but that title has an asterisk beside it ... for now.
That's because after he beat Paul Buentello to capture the belt in 2007, it took him nearly three years to defend it. And when he did, it was against Brett Rogers -- who certainly was nowhere near a number one contender at the time or even now for the matter.
Overeem shredded Rogers at Strikeforce: "Heavy Artillery," which was expected. As a result, MMA fans were left wanting more. Much more. This wasn't the fight that they wanted, which is the reason the creation of a grand prix tournament has been so well received.
Now we get to see if Overeem -- who has not lost an MMA fight since 2007, winning nine consecutive fights against subpar opponents -- truly is among the best heavyweights in the sport. For years it has been debated. All those questions will likely now be answered now that he has to work his way through top-tier fighters such as Fabricio Werdum, and potentially Antonio Silva, Josh Barnett or Sergei Kharitonov.
And if he is capable of not only advancing, but winning the entire tournament, he'll likely have a future date with the UFC heavyweight champion sometime in 2012.
The stakes, and the expectations, could not be higher. Overeem will start on this career-defining journey when he collides with Fabricio Werdum at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, this Saturday night (June 18, 2011).
We caught up with Overeem earlier this week to talk a little bit about the upcoming fight, as well as to get a unique look into the man often referred to as "The Reem." He was calm, confident and rather humble about his achievements to date and the mountain of opportunity that lies ahead.
Perhaps it's just the calm before the storm.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Good morning, Alistair. Welcome to the United States. I heard that you plan to make the most of this trip after your fight this weekend, including a visit to the "Daily Show" with Jon Stewart. You're a fan of American political comedians?
Alistair Overeem: Yeah, I love his show. Not only is he a very sharp, intelligent guy, but he's very funny. He educates people. I like to watch, laugh and learn. And that's exactly what he provides.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Interesting. From what I hear your also quite the gamer. What was your favorite game growing up?
Alistair Overeem: I played "Tekken 2" and "Command and Conquer" a lot. What else. At the moment it's "FIFA World Cup" on X-Box 360. A little bit of "Grand Theft Auto" and "Gears of War" as well. Great game, great game.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: I think a lot of fans might be thrown off with all this. I'm sure most assume you're a little more scandalous outside the cage -- a ladies man who likes to party. It seems that isn't the case. What's a typical night out with Alistair Overeem when not in training mode?
Alistair Overeem: Basically, I'm almost always training. In this fight I took a four-month training camp and before that I did have like two months, six to seven weeks holiday. Basically I was traveling, doing seminars and partying a little bit. I don't really do it that much although I do like it. It doesn't go hand-and-hand with this lifestyle. I travel a lot, meet people. It's always nice. I know people worldwide and it's nice to meet them again. In Sweden, my fiancé has family there and she's missing her family and I miss them, too. I don't have time to go there very often. So basically, I don't often socialize since I'm in training camp.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Have you ever partied with Peter Aerts? If so, do you have any crazy stories like Michael Schiavello had?
Alistair Overeem: No, not really. We've had some drinks together, but I've never really partied with him. I know Peter likes to party good though.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: So your penchant to military-press Japanese ring girls -- that wasn't your idea of an effective method of courtship in the Netherlands?
Alistair Overeem: (laughs) That idea actually came from Japan. It was a Japanese idea so all credit goes to them on that one.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: You train with Jon Olav Einemo. He just fought this past Saturday. What are your thoughts on his performance, earning "Fight of the Night" in a losing effort?
Alistair Overeem: I believe he did everything wrong according to the gameplan. He fought very emotional, very much with his heart, which did give him the "Fight of the Night" bonus, but also the loss. We're gonna need to improve on this fight, but I can see this as good experience. The man has not fought in five years and suddenly he's fighting in the UFC -- the biggest organization in the world. It could either go very well or [a loss] could happen ... and [a loss] happened. I am happy that he did go for it, he's a very tough guy and had been training really hard -- very dedicated. But we're gonna have to work on it. I think he realized it himself as well, so it's gonna be interesting ot see his next fight.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: He came in at 260 pounds, which is about 20 pounds more than what he's fought at and competed at before. A lot people thought he was bulking up in preparation for Shane Carwin. Was that the case or did he just want to be a bigger fighter?
Alistair Overeem: That was just his normal weight. He didn't really gain anything.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Speaking of training partners, you're brother, Valentijn, is also fighting this weekend on the same card. What was life like growing up with Valentijn? Any epic battles between brothers? Did he ever beat your score in Super Mario Bros. and start an all-Overeem war?
Alistair Overeem: My brother has been a very big factor in my life. Growing up without a dad made him sort of my person to look up to, the person to protect me. He was the one responsible for me turning into mixed martial arts. He basically took me to the gym to learn to defend myself and get more disciplined. I looked up to him. He was bigger, stronger and very successful early in his career. We are very similar in appearance, but our characters are very different. He was always more into the cars and engines and I was always more into the computer games. Our characters are very different, very different.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: It must have felt really nice to see Valentijn get a big win in his first fight with Strikeforce on the big stage.
Alistair Overeem: Yup, he did good. It was a very important fight for him. The first one after a while on the big stage. We trained well, very well for that fight, and his gameplan was solid. I was very happy that day.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Let's switch gears for a moment. I'm interested in the origin of "The Reem" documentary. How do you have so much high quality footage from years ago? Who was footing the bill back then, or did you always have confidence that you would blow up?
Alistair Overeem: Well, actually we started on a similar project a couple years ago. That turned out to be a movie, which we didn't distribute because we didn't have the PRIDE rights when Zuffa bought it up. There is a movie in there, ready. We already had a lot of footage from PRIDE 2004, 2005 and 2006. Now that we're doing "The Reem" when we're not using Zuffa footage, we can use the footage we shot back then. So that's basically what we've been doing. I think my life in MMA has been well documented. We've put out a lot of nice stuff.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com Let's move onto fighting -- you are about to get into another fight this weekend. What drives you to be the best in K-1/kickboxing and MMA? Do you want to dominate people, show something to yourself or something else?
Alistair Overeem: Well, I don't know. It could be a couple different things. I'm a very competitive person by nature. I always want to win even if it's a game of cards or a game of monopoly or a computer game. My father taught me two things. He taught me, "Whatever you do, you make sure you're best at it," and the second thing he taught me was, "If someone bothers you, you hit them so hard that he never thinks about bothering you again." That was brought up to me when I was very young. And when I look at my career now, those two things do come in handy. Maybe another motivation was when I was 15, my mother sent me out to do some summer job and it was a factory and I just hated it. I like to work, it's not bad, but it has be work that leaves you educated or something that I like to do. If it's something that I don't like to do then I just get really unhappy. That's really a big motivation for me, to be thankful for what I have and work hard at something I can do well. That factory work, I kept it up for four days and I couldn't do it anymore. I didn't go back to work after that.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: I'm not sure how many casual North American fans know that you are not only an MMA champion, but also a K-1 World Grand Prix kickboxing champion. Especially after such a focus on K-1 and stand-up, is it to get back into the MMA groove?
Alistair Overeem: No, of course I did have some catching up to do on the ground, but that's why I took up a four-month training camp. We're ready. We're ready for anything that Fabricio's gonna attempt.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Before we move onto Fabricio, let's talk for a second about Badr Hari. You split your K-1 fights with "The Golden Boy." What are your true feelings in regard to Hari -- he rubs a lot of folks the wrong way?
Alistair Overeem: I don't really have any feelings about him. He's a great fighter and made some mistakes in his past and he looks focused now. He was a K-1 champion.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Are you interested in another fight with him?
Alistair Overeem: I do think that is something that the fans want to see. I think it's a very interesting fight. If we'll be fighting in K-1 then I'm sure that fight will happen.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Is that possible, all things considered, now that Zuffa has control of Strikeforce. Would you give up K-1 if it meant a UFC deal or not? It's well documented that UFC President Dana White does not like to share his fighters.
Alistair Overeem: Well, I am K-1 champion and I do have a belt to defend in that field. I do like K-1. At first it was just a challenge to beat a champion and when I beat one of the top guys, I wanted to become the champion myself because nobody ever did that before, holding a major MMA title and a K-1 title, but we'll have to wait and see. It's a negotiation that has not begun yet. Under my current Strikeforce contract I am allowed to fight in different organizations, so we'll have to just wait and see what the negotiations bring us. I'm a fighter who likes to be active. I fight a lot. We'll have to wait and see.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Well it seems as though K-1 might be trying to take away one of your biggest weapons, anyway. Do you think that K-1 implementing the "no Muay Thai plum" rule was a direct response to your knockouts with knees in the clinch?
Alistair Overeem: That's a good question. I do think that I was a factor in that but I think also the no-clinch rule, they brought that in because clinching can actually kill a fight. Most people clinch to not get hit, to stall the fight and I think basically the first motive to implement the no-clinch rule was to have a lot of action in a fight. Obviously, you can take the no-clinch and abuse that rule and I think they did that a little bit because you're not allowed to hold and knee. I think that as long as there's action, it's fine, but when there's no action, they're not allowed to stall. The rule was designed for that like in the PRIDE days. If you were stalling the referee would call for action and if you didn't respond you'd get a yellow card. I think they mixed those two up a little bit.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Would you rather complete this grand prix or fight for a UFC title? Kind of like what Nick Diaz did. Would you abandon the tournament if the opportunity emerged?
Alistair Overeem: Well, I did commit myself to Strikeforce for this year so I think that's gonna be through 2011 and the beginning of 2012, the finals will be. At that time, my contract will expire and then we'll have to sit down and go over all the options. The UFC title is still so far away. First, the Strikeforce grand prix and then we'll see what next to do. The thing is, I'm open for all options.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: So is your Strikeforce contract over once the grand prix is over?
Alistair Overeem: No. It's over somewhere in the tournament. After this fight or after the next.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: UFC heavyweight Junior dos Santos just defeated Shane Carwin to earn a title shot. What are your thoughts on the fight between Junior and Cain Velasquez? Who do you think wins and why?
Alistair Overeem: Well, they're both top athletes and the fight can go either way. We've not seen a lot of dos Santos on the ground, but I'm sure he's good on the ground. I can't speculate about that fight. I think it's going to be a very exciting fight.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: You were really campaigning to get a fight with Fedor. Do you still want a fight with Fedor or is the luster gone from that one now that he's lost twice in a row?
Alistair Overeem: Well, the thing was I wanted to be the first one to beat Fedor, but he declined to fight me on two occasions. That was the beginning of 2010 leading up my Brett Rogers fight and his Fabricio Werdum fight. That's when he declined to fight me and it's over. That was in August after the Werdum loss. I was gonna challenge the winner, expecting a contender to come out for the winner. Fabricio was injured, he needed elbow surgery and then I challenged Fedor and he declined to fight me again and then I just let it go. I let it go. What happened then was that he lost to Bigfoot. The fight has lost its charge.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Your last MMA loss was a 2007 knockout to Sergei Kharitonov. Are you currently rooting for him in the Strikeforce Grand Prix in hopes of a rematch? And what went wrong in your first match up that you would do differently the second time around?
Alistair Overeem: Well, he's signed with the same management, so basically we're on the same team. We're teammates. We've been training together. I like him very much. He has very nice character and I'll definitely be rooting for him. I think he'll do good. He's a strong guy and I think fighting him in the finals would be a good final. I beat Kharitonov once and he got the revenge on me, so it would be a fight to determine who's the better fighter between us. We're both great strikers so I think it would make for an exciting final.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Most fans classify you as a deadly striker due to your exploits in K-1, but you actually have more wins via submission, including a 2005 guillotine over Vitor Belfort. Do you think your ground game is underrated? And do you think it is improved enough that you wouldn't have as many problems with Werdum if he gets the fight to the ground?
Alistair Overeem: Werdum obviously is better on the ground. With his experience in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), that's his specialty. I would even go as far as to say that he is the best and most skilled BJJ athlete at the moment. Looking at myself, we're in training now wrestling and grappling for the last 16 years. Is it underrated? I know my ground is up to date and it's good enough to withstand Werdum, but is the better grappler? Yes, I would say he's the better grappler.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Is grappling an area in which you feel you need to improve? What aspect of his MMA game do you feel you needs the most work on? What aspect do you think has improved the most over the last five years?
Alistair Overeem: Well nowadays it's well-roundedness. You have to be able to do everything and do everything well. That's all aspects -- takedowns, takedown defense, submissions, submission defense, boxing, kickboxing.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: A lot of fighters have a specific pre-fight ritual. What's yours?
Alistair Overeem: Nah, I don't really have any. I'm just very relaxed. The pre-fight ritual doesn't matter. It's all about whether you are trained or untrained. And I'm trained, so I don't need one.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Okay, I realize your short on time -- Time for a lightning round:
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Filet mignon or horse meat?
Alistair Overeem: I would go for both, I love both and eat them both.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Playstation or Xbox?
Alistair Overeem: Xbox.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Batman or Spiderman?
Alistair Overeem: Batman, definitely Batman.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: The Beatles or Rolling Stones?
Alistair Overeem: Rolling Stones.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Team Edward or Team Jacob?
Alistair Overeem: Team Edward.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Okay, that about does it. Thanks again for your time, champ. Is there anyone who you would like to thank before we wrap this up?
Alistair Overeem: Yes, I'd like to thank everybody who supports me, all the fans, all the sponsors. Visit my website, www.AlistairOvereem.com, follow "The Reem," best documentary out there. Get the word out! And last but not least, if there is still a very gigantic sponsor somewhere out there hiding, you're always welcome to get a hold of me.
I, Thomas Myers, would also like to send out a special thanks to Brian Hemminger of MMAmania.com, who contributed to the production of this interview. Alistair's sponsor, Hayabusa, was also instrumental in coordinating the interview.