If you ask me to point to a fighter whose potential far exceeds his accomplishments, the first name off my tongue would be Alistair Overeem. That might take some by surprise because "The Demolition Man's" list of accomplishments already dwarfs most competitors on the MMA scene past and present.
Holding the Dream and Strikeforce heavyweight titles as well as the K-1 Grand Prix 2010 title—the most sought-after prize in kickboxing—Overeem might well make a case for being the most accomplished all-around heavyweight in combat sports already.
Another more cynical way to look at it is that Overeem's MMA belts are from second-rate organisations that lacked the depth of roster to even be dishing out belts to begin with. The Dream belt was pretty much created on his say-so anyway—it carries little-to-no meaning—and the Strikeforce belt was won from Paul Buentello long before Strikeforce bankrupted itself by stocking up on elite heavyweight talent.
Despite fighting in PRIDE and the UFC during their peak years, Overeem has been unable to win a belt in either. In PRIDE, he was a gangly, inexperienced light heavyweight who often looked exhausted by the end of the first round due to his grueling weight cut.
But his failure to win a belt at heavyweight in the UFC is by far the more surprising fact.
As a light heavyweight, he was simply a lanky and unorthodox fighter who ran in with jumping knees and nice trips from the clinch. It was his transformation into an elite heavyweight that brought with it a significantly improved striking game.
The majority of vitriol directed at Overeem by fans, fighters and even pundits stems from his rapid weight gain. But steroids, horse meat or magic—none can explain away his revolutionary improvement on a technical level.
Every time he loses, those who dislike him for his weight gain and arrogance will clamor about how Overeem has been exposed. The truth is that he hasn't been exposed as anything but lazy and arrogant.
You will remember from the Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva bout that Overeem basically had his way with Silva on the feet and in the clinch. He even showed good head movement, which is not something he is traditionally known for.
Unfortunately, the constant bobbing and ducking eventually got him caught with an uppercut and later a right straight as he ducked again.
This, it could be conceded, is a flaw that has gotten him into trouble once before. Remy Bonjasky dropped Overeem in K-1 in 2009 with exactly the same short-right straight as Overeem bent forward too soon in anticipation of a punch and had nowhere to go. Bobbing and weaving just isn't his strong suit, and it's daft for him to do it just to prove a point.
Then rumors abounded again about his weak chin. However, if you can use a near 300-pound giant hitting a fighter square in the jaw as he ducks into it as proof of a weak chin, we won't have many tough fighters left.
Overeem has every skill he needs: elite grappling, elite kickboxing, a devastating clinch and some of the best ground-and-pound in heavyweight history—yet he stumbled at the last hurdle.
It is not that he cannot fight smart—he realized that he is a good grappler but ruthlessly stuck to striking against Fabricio Werdum and Brock Lesnar. Yet Overeem is prone to overestimating himself at times. Yes, his grappling is fantastic—this is a guy who won the European ADCC trials with a streak of guillotine submissions—but in PRIDE, he actively sought to grapple with Fabricio Werdum in their first meeting.
He did magnificently and impressed everyone by rag-dolling the jiu-jitsu master...until he got tired proving his point and was submitted by the man who has been grappling the truly elite for his entire career.
The exact same thing happened against Bigfoot. Bigfoot is truly flawed as a fighter—he is a crushing top player but can't wrestle well enough to get there, and he has a huge punch but not much skill on the feet.
Overeem could have brutalized Bigfoot in the clinch or bludgeoned him with kicks and heavy punches. Instead, he chose to dance around, slip punches with no guard up to protect himself and generally try to prove through unnecessary means the end which we all already knew—that he was a better fighter than Bigfoot.
This brings me to the sad conclusion about Overeem. He should be able to beat just about everyone who is put in front of him, but he probably won't. If he did match up against Junior dos Santos—as we have all wanted for so long—I would put money on him being able to hang decently on the feet with "Cigano."
I would also expect Overeem to completely avoid moving to the clinch, working his trips or doing work in any of the areas in which he has an advantage.
The simple question, "Would Overeem box Dos Santos?" should amply sum up the situation that he is in.
He went on an incredible run and was well on his way to becoming the most accomplished mixed martial artist to date, but he started buying into his own hype and forgot that at this level of the game you must do what your opponent can't and avoid what they can.
Perhaps the loss to Bigfoot will be enough to bring back the Overeem who grappled Mirko Filipović and struck Lesnar and Werdum. Or perhaps it will encourage him to prove his worth in foolish ways even more.
I shall watch his bout with the dangerous Travis Browne on August 17 with anticipation and excitement—and I am sure you will too.
Pick up Jack's eBooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking from his blog, Fights Gone By.