Alistair Overeem stepped into the Octagon on Dec. 30, 2011 against Brock Lesnar as the best heavyweight fighter without any Octagon experience. He was seemingly big enough to contend with the likes of Lesnar and arguably swift enough to contend with the likes of then-champion Junior dos Santos.
It took just over two minutes and one liver kick to prove the former heavyweight champion an unworthy foe. Lesnar went on to retire, and Overeem was set to take on dos Santos to finally put an end to all of the hypothetical discussions—the true heavyweight king would be crowned.
The hypothetical discussions wouldn't go out without a fight, though—Overeem failed his pre-fight drug test in the months leading up to his championship duel due to elevated testosterone levels, and he was effectively removed from a chance to earn UFC gold.
The Reem would serve his suspension and return to face Antonio "Big Foot" Silva 15 months removed from the day he dismantled Lesnar. He had his sights set on the crown; Silva was merely a stepping stone.
Just one kink in Overeem's chain: Silva wasn't aware of his role.
Overeem couldn't capitalize on two dominant rounds against his Brazilian counterpart, leading to one of the more memorable comeback performances in recent history.
The same goes for his next fight against Travis Browne: initially dominant, but eventually played hostage to his inability to capitalize against a weakened opponent.
Almost three years removed from his UFC debut and the masses crediting Overeem as the greatest heavyweight on the planet have all but disappeared.
That's not to say his chances at, at the very least, challenging for the heavyweight throne have all but passed him by.
Currently one fight removed from a victory over Frank Mir and a bout against Ben Rothwell on the horizon, Overeem might still have a chance to at least try to revitalize the ocean of support. But at 34 years old and with 15 years of wear and tear from competing in professional combat sports, Overeem might not have enough time to make another run for the gold should he lose to Rothwell this Friday at UFC Fight Night 50.
He has to win. He has to win now.
Cain Velasquez is set to defend his title against the only worthy opponent left in the division: Fabricio Werdum. The title picture gets pretty cloudy after that—and it'll stay that way unless Overeem returns to his former glory.
A win against an unranked opponent hardly ever warrants any victor a shot at the title, especially when said victor is on the outskirts of the division's top five. Luckily for Overeem, he resides with the big guys, and the UFC is desperate to find a decent big guy with a respectable winning streak to challenge its champion.
A two-fight winning streak accompanied by several non-UFC championship accolades should be plenty reason to grant the former Strikeforce heavyweight champion a shot at the title. A loss to Rothwell—especially one akin to the ones he had against Silva and Browne—should send Overeem to the depths of heavyweight anonymity.
That's not to say that Overeem—or any other heavyweight, for that matter—will ever be more than two to three impressive victories away from punching his ticket to compete for the crown. Competing in a division where the champion's injuries only allow him to compete once or twice a year might pose some issue for the aging heavyweight, though.
Kristian Ibarra is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He also serves as the sports editor at San Diego State University's student-run newspaper, The Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter at @Kristian_Ibarra for all things MMA.