Alistair Overeem has grown accustomed to squashing things.
For the past five years, Overeem has stomped unabated though the heavyweight landscape of both mixed martial arts and professional kickboxing, amassing a combined record of 20-2-1, capturing the Strikeforce heavyweight title and winning the vaunted K-1 World Grand Prix tournament, all while appearing to spin the combat sports world on his finger like a massive basketball.
There have been so many lopsided victories and so many foes vanquished with such minimal effort, you can’t really blame the 6-foot-5, 270-pound giant if he’s come to believe himself invincible.
Perhaps it's that feeling of invincibility that leads Overeem to appear so nonchalant about his current public relations crisis, as if the surprise drug test that caught him with a testosterone level more than twice the legal limit in April will slip into the past as easily as, say, Mark Hunt, Todd Duffee or Brock Lesnar.
During an appearance on FuelTV’s Zuffa-produced "UFC Tonight" show this week, the embattled Overeem was careful to cover all the proper bases. He blandly thanked the fans who continue to support him, said he believes he still deserves a chance to fight Junior dos Santos for the UFC heavyweight title and offered that he’s already begun a regimen of voluntary drug tests in order to clear his name.
The issue wasn’t so much what Overeem said as the way he said it.
“I’m back,” he announced to begin his conversation with co-hosts Todd Harris and Kenny Florian, despite the fact he can’t even begin the process of a comeback for five more months. Later, when discussing his situation with the Nevada State Athletic Commission, he corrected a slip of his own tongue by exclaiming, “I’m not even suspended!”
Technically, he’s right.
Fact is, though, Overeem’s image is far beyond the point where he can fall back on technicality, ambiguity and canned PR statements. Throughout this interview, he adopted the air of a man who believes that once he is able to clear the pesky hurdle of his relicensing hearing in Nevada come December, all will be forgiven and all will be forgotten.
Sorry to say, it may not be quite that easy.
See, Overeem appears to think the problem is that he tested positive for elevated testosterone prior to UFC 146. That’s not it at all. The problem is that fans don’t believe in him anymore.
Rumor and innuendo have swirled around Overeem since he suddenly transformed himself from a rail-thin light heavyweight into a walking, talking mountain in 2006-07. For years fans have suspected that his massive weight gain and corresponding career resurgence were the product of PEDs. Now, they have evidence to support that notion. Evidence that frankly makes his entire heavyweight career look counterfeit.
That’s not the kind of thing you can come back from with a few months of as-yet unverified drug tests. Earning back the public’s trust? That could take years.
If Overeem really is undergoing voluntary testing, that’s great, but most people just aren’t going to buy it without a whole lot more transparency than what we got on “UFC Tonight.” If he simply shows up in December with a stack of papers saying he’s shipshape and squared away, it might prove good enough for the athletic commission, but it won’t satisfy skeptical fight fans and it shouldn’t satisfy UFC brass.
If he really wants to convince the MMA industry he’s clean, Overeem needs to enroll in a voluntary testing program administered by a respected organization like Voluntary Anti-Doping Association and he needs to make the results (and everything else) public. If he refuses to go to such extremes, fans will have no choice but to continue doubting him.
He also needs to realize that it’s going to take time, perhaps the rest of his career. Unfortunately for him, this is one issue he won’t be able to squash without breaking a sweat.