Alistair Overeem Refocused and Recharged Heading into Fight Night 50

Duane FinleyContributor ISeptember 2, 2014

Joe Camporeale/USA Today

When Alistair Overeem moves, the eyes of the MMA community follow. 

The former Strikeforce heavyweight champion has become one of the most polarizing figures in the contemporary era of mixed martial arts, as his career has been a whirlwind of lofty accomplishments and drastic stumbles over the past five years. "The Reem's" career has been a proverbial roller-coaster ride of chaos, yet through it all, the Dutch smashing machine is still standing tall.

In fact, he believes the best of what he has to offer is still on the road ahead, and the 34-year-old former K-1 champion has every intention of making good on his potential. Granted, it may seem strange to attach such a word to a fighter who has spent the past 15 years honing his craft and settling the opposition in brutal fashion under the bright lights, but Overeem is a complex study.

The heavyweight powerhouse is on a constant mission of progress, and that quest brought him to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to seek guidance at the world-renowned Jackson-Winkeljohn gym. Overeem's arrival was a high-profile move that claimed headlines across the sport, but everything "The Demolition Man" does grabs attention.

Tim Larsen/Associated Press

That said, regardless of the attention his relocation brought, Overeem was eager to get to work with the team at Jackson-Winkeljohn's. He went into his training camp with full focus and believes those dividends will show when he steps into the Octagon to face Ben Rothwell at Fight Night 50 on Sept. 5. 

Overeem isn't keen on hyping up the moment but is confident his hard work will pay off when the UFC returns to Connecticut this weekend.

"I don't like to talk and create too much expectation," Overeem told Bleacher Report. "Let's just keep it as I'm in a great place, and I'm sure it is going to show on Friday night.

"I'm very excited to be back in the UFC and back inside the Octagon. I was a bit of a loss for awhile, and I ended up having to get surgery. At first, I wasn't even sure what it was, but it kept me from training. But now, I'm happy to report I am in great shape, and I have been busting my ass for the past few months."

Adjusting to a new presence can prove difficult for any fight team, and there was speculation Overeem joining the collective at Jackson-Winkeljohn's would be far from a smooth transition. The Albuquerque-based facility houses some of the top talent in the sport, and balancing egos—even the minimalist approach Greg Jackson requires in that department—could be tipped out of balance with a larger-than-life presence like Overeem in the mix.

Yet shortly after he arrived and began training, reports coming out of the world-renowned fight camp were nothing but smooth. Resident striking coach Brandon "Six Gun" Gibson began working with Overeem directly out of the gates and confirmed the revered knockout artist settled in quickly with his new teammate at Jackson-Winkeljohn's.

"One thing I really respect about Alistair's process is that before he jumped in and started training, he watched a lot of what was going on," Gibson said. "He watched, I think, three of my mitt sessions before he approached me with some questions. He really analyzed his last few fights and looked at what he needed to improve on.

"He came to Albuquerque already having an idea of what he needed to improve on, then Greg, Coach Winkeljohn and I discussed those aspects in addition to working on things he was already very strong at and what we could put our touch or polish on to make him that much more dynamic and explosive.

Feb 1, 2014; Newark, NJ, USA; Frank Mir (red gloves) fights Alistair Overeem (blue gloves) during UFC169 at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

"He's absolutely a student of the game. He would sit and watch the little guys practice, and if he saw something interesting, he would ask for them to show it to him again. He would do the same thing with all of the coaches as well. He was able to pick up some very difficult moves incredibly fast. I know he's a well-versed striker, but some of these techniques break the traditional paradigms of Dutch-style kickboxing.

"I really believe he was looking to make a fresh start here," Gibson added. "He never said anything at all about any of his prior situations or prior gyms. He told me from day one the reason he came to Jackson's is to be a champion. That is something you have to respect.

"He's not looking to just skate through and get a few more big fights; he's on a quest to become a UFC champion. His dedication and determination showed throughout his camp. He really embraced what I think makes our gym here in Albuquerque so special. This is a no-frills town, and he showed up here to work." 

While the Dutchman put himself back into the win column by defeating Frank Mir at UFC 169 back in February, a potential victory over "Big Ben" would lock him into the competitive mix of fighters looking for a shot at the UFC heavyweight title. Overeem has been on the hunt for the heavyweight strap since signing with the organization back in 2011, and it remains one of the few accomplishments in combat sports which has eluded him despite the heavy expectation that surrounded his arrival to the UFC fold. 

Nevertheless, Overeem understands those projections and has returned to chasing the ultimate goal of the UFC heavyweight crown. 

"I was the Dream, Strikeforce and K-1 champion and, at the time, had gone six years on an undefeated streak," Overeem said. "I don't think me coming into the UFC and winning the title was an unfounded expectation. I think it was pretty founded. There were some lessons learned along the way, but we are back on the horse again."


Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.