As Alistair Overeem Faces Must-Win Bout, Fans Wonder Which 'Reem' Will Show Up

Chad DundasMMA Lead WriterJanuary 29, 2014

USA Today

On the heels of back-to-back losses and sporting a 1-2 promotional record, Saturday’s showdown with Frank Mir at UFC 169 likely represents Alistair Overeem’s last chance in the Octagon.

To be honest, it doesn’t figure to be a garden party for Mir, either. While UFC brass won’t confirm whether the loser can expect to find a pink slip hanging in his locker, we can all see the writing on the wall.

Writing done in 6'4", 265-pound block letters.

Aug 16, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Alistair Overeem flexes during the weigh-in for his UFC fight at TD Garden tomorrow night. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Letters that have been getting smaller and smaller over time.

Despite the fact the UFC hasn’t been quite so quick to send fighters packing recently—lest it gets a sliver of Viacom’s $4 billion in cash!—this is still a must-win fight for both Mir and Overeem. Even if it doesn’t result in a dismissal, a loss here probably dooms either man’s chance of once again ascending into the heavyweight elite.

For Mir, this just seems like the natural order of things. After nearly 14 years and 22 fights in the UFC, it’s a bit less jarring to think he might be in the twilight of his career with the big show.

Overeem, though? He came to the Octagon just two years ago, with sky-high expectations and amid an 11-0-1 run on the independent scene that included him winning the Strikeforce championship.

To think this could be his last shot at greatness puts even more emphasis on what is the defining question every time he fights: Which version of Overeem will show up, the Uber or the Under?

For years—as he was tearing off a string of first-round victories overseas—Overeem was one of MMA’s most scrutinized fighters. You couldn’t look at the man’s physique, register his massive weight gains and not at least wonder.

Not if you’d paid any attention to the dominant storyline in professional sports during the last, say, 20 years.

Especially when a guy’s nickname is a play on the German word for “superman.”

When Overeem tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone prior to a scheduled meeting with Junior dos Santos in April of 2012, all of the whispers appeared to be confirmed.

In the wake of it, his bouts have become two-part affairs. There is the actual fight, but there is also the show before the show. There is the Friday afternoon weigh-in, when he strips off his shirt, steps on the scale and then we all run to the Internet to compare what we’ve just seen against previous weigh-in photos.

Eric Jamison/Associated Press

As he approaches this potentially career-defining fight with Mir, which will it be? Will we see the ripped He Man who tattered Brock Lesnar at UFC 141 or the somewhat softer, more normal-looking human who dropped a third-round knockout loss to Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva at UFC 156?

Or will we see a third man? Will we see someone more like the slimmer, slightly better conditioned Overeem who showed up to fight Travis Browne last August, a full 9.5 pounds shy of the heavyweight limit at 255.5?

This is silly, of course. It’s a pointless exercise that proves nothing. It may not have any bearing at all on what happens the next night when the actual fighting begins. We might even be imagining these subtle shifts in Overeem’s body.

But still, we'll look. We’ll wonder.

We’ll wonder if the UFC has been giving him the Vitor Belfort treatment, testing the daylights out of him even as Overeem completed much of his pre-fight camp in Thailand. We’ll wonder if after this fight, stories will emerge alleging his testosterone levels were dangerously low, as they did following the Silva loss.

We may also puzzle over which Overeem we'll get when the referee drops the hanky on Saturday night. Will he storm out of his corner and obliterate Mir, like the fearsome UFC 141-version of him did to Lesnar? Or will he seem somehow less endowed with killer instinct, less explosive and less terrifying, like the guy we saw against both Silva and Browne?

All of this we will instantly extrapolate, based on his appearance.

Is that fair? Maybe not.

But it’s just a side effect of being one of the most talked-about, analyzed athletes in your sport.

It’s the downside of failing a surprise drug test just one fight after joining the biggest MMA promotion on the planet.

It’s the unhappy coincidence of showing up for your must-win fight just a few days after the president of that company made his strongest statements to date condemning testosterone use in MMA.

In the end, it’s the cost of being “Ubereem,” who after a failed drug test and two years of middling results in the UFC now must shoulder the heavy burden of our doubts.