Alistair Overeem has accomplished a lot in the sport of mixed martial arts throughout the course of his mixed martial arts career. There has been one accomplishment to elude him, though: the UFC heavyweight championship. Overeem believes he still has hope to realize that glory, and that journey continues in the main event of this weekend's UFC Fight Night card.
Entering Saturday's return, Overeem (46-18, 1 NC) believes he's close to securing a second shot at arguably the most prestigious title in the sport. The Pride veteran and former Strikeforce and DREAM heavyweight champion has won three of four over the past two years, with his only defeat coming in a fight he was winning for nearly all five rounds before a late knockout.
So is it safe to say, ahead of his UFC Fight Night main event bout in Las Vegas against Augusto Sakai (15-1-1), that the 40-year-old Overeem is in the midst of one final run at the elusive title?
"Correct. I'm getting too old -- getting that means not yet," Overeem told CBS Sports on Wednesday. "I think, for me, the title is within range. I need to do everything perfect and a couple of wins and I'm right there. A couple means two -- one or two."
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Overeem considers his 2011 UFC debut in which he finished Brock Lesnar in opening round as the biggest and most important victory of his career. The nine years inside the Octagon since that fight, however, have been largely hit or miss.
Initially, Overeem lost three of four fights -- all by knockout -- immediately after the Lesnar fight including multiple bouts in which he was winning. A four-fight win streak followed, however, lifting him to a shot at Stipe Miocic's title in 2016, which Overeem lost by first-round knockout despite hurting the champion early and coming close to finishing him.
Despite going 5-3 since the title loss, Overeem has never really stopped being an elite contender thanks to multiple reinventions. He credits clean living with helping him author one of the longest and most successful runs in the division's history.
"I just take care of myself," Overeem said. "I'm very healthy as of yet. Injury prevention is good. We are on point with everything and that's why we have this long career.
"I have tried to learn always and have tried to implement always. It has been a great journey and I think my team is great at Team Elevation [in Denver]. I joined them two years ago and have had great results."
A native of Brazil, the 29-year-old Sakai enters his first five-round fight having won six in a row, including all four of his UFC appearances. Sakai hasn't lost since a split decision against Cheick Kongo under the Bellator MMA banner in 2017 and has said publicly that Overeem will have "nowhere to hide" when the two face off.
"[Sakai] seems like a young kid, like somebody who's going to come and bring a great battle," Overeem said. "I think that's good and I'm looking forward to the fight. He wants to fight. He's big, he's young and he's athletic. But I'm not too worried, to be honest. I'm well prepared and I'm actually looking forward to the fight."
Sakai's biggest wins have come by split decision -- against Andrei Arlovski and Blagoy Ivanov -- and he holds a 2019 knockout of Marcin Tybura. Asked whether he believes Sakai can handle his power and keep coming, Overeem wasn't so convinced.
"Well, of course he can't, of course he can't," Overeem said. "It's going to be fireworks."
Overeem has just as little interest in worrying about his legacy and the idea that his great potential as a professional will go unfilled without adding a UFC championship.
"I'm not really occupied with legacy, I'm just enjoying the ride and focusing on the fight Saturday," Overeem said. "It has been a hell of a ride."
Fight card, odds
- Alistair Overeem -160 vs. Augusto Sakai +135, heavyweights
- Alonzo Meinifield -130 vs. Ovince Saint Preux +115, light heavyweights
- Michel Pereira -110 vs. Zelim Imadaev -110, welterweights
- Brian Kelleher -220 vs. Feliz Nativdad +180, featherweights
Despite Sakai's red-hot run, this is the right opponent and setting for Overeem to shine and catapult himself back into a suddenly crowded heavyweight title picture.
Overeem deserves credit for working hard on his defense and stamina in recent years, avoiding the kind of knockout losses against mid-range contenders that have seemingly felt avoidable. Has he still been stopped by the truly elite over the past four years (including Miocic, Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blades)? Yes, but Sakai has looked anything but ready to crack that elusive group.
Sakai will need to prove he has championship-level stamina should this fight go into the later rounds. He'll also need to show he can give Overeem enough pause to stop him from having his way offensively.
Look for experience to win out in this one above everything else as Overeem gears up for one final shot at maximizing his legacy.
Pick: Overeem via TKO4