Alistair Overeem slinks down treacherously steep steps and goes straight to the fridge for a yogurt. He’s kept the living room dark, perhaps not to wake his brain too much before he returns upstairs, where his girlfriend Zelina is sleeping. His pad is an hour outside of Amsterdam and a 10-minute drive from his primary gym, Fight and Power Academy, in a foggy suburb called Leusden, where his flat is sandwiched between others in an ondescript complex. It’s far from big baller, but it’s furnished nicely with a couple of plush white couches, brown shag carpet, a flat-screen TV, and a black dinner table.
He’s just risen from a slumber brought on by another hard session at the gym. At the moment, he’s busily preparing for the finals of the 2010 K-1 Grand Prix in Tokyo, Japan, though today was a little different: Ben Saunders stopped by to roll. Not the one you may think—this Saunders has gold teeth, heavy tats, and an ivory voice that’s made a splash on The Voice of Holland, the Dutch version of American Idol. It turns out that Overeem is Saunder’s idol, and he trains BJJ and kickboxing when he’s not cranking out tunes. Not to be over matched, Overeem knows a thing or two about carrying a note. He sings karaoke. It’s a job requirement as a regular visitor to Japan, but he won’t say what his go-to number is.
“Can I sing or what?” he calls to Zelina. “Yes,” her voice chimes from above.
And lately, he’s had plenty of reasons to croon. It’s been more than three years since he’s lost an MMA fight. He’s the current Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion and a breakout star in K-1 after a pair of upsets over Badr Hari and Peter Aerts. He’s currently ranked between fourth and tenth on most top-10 MMA heavyweight lists. To boot, he’s found traction online as the subject of The Reem, an online documentary that draws between 50,000 and 60,000 views per episode.
Overeem rests his forearms on the dinning room table, bringing his trapezius muscles near level with the top of his head. It’s been quite a ride as of late, and a stark difference from his days as a dangerous 205-pounder who often got starched by top-tier competition during his years in Pride. He’s non chalant about the change, but then again, he’s minutes removed from dreamland. “I had my bad time,” he says.
That means over training, a bad relationship, a falling out with a member of his coaching staff, and his mother’s bout with type-III colon cancer. (She recovered only to later be diagnosed with kidney cancer. She beat that, too.)
“Although I could motivate myself for training and stepping into the ring because I’m a positive person…it just cost energy,” he says.
Overeem now applies a simple equation to all the aspects of his fighting life: things either give or take energy. His goal, of course, is to surround himself with the former. He has new trainers…and Zelina.
“I consciously made the decision to change everything,” Overeem says.
Not everyone is impressed with his reversal of fortune. One critic, UFC president Dana White, says the caliber of Overeem’s competition has folded along with Pride. He says Overeem hasn’t defended his Strikeforce title enough, and his work in K-1 has taken him out of the top 10 MMA debate.
“A fucking great guy, I like Overeem,”said White in an interview with MMA junkie.com. “I have nothing but respect for him. But it’s an absolute fucking joke that anybody would rank him in the top 10. And anybody that wants to debate with me, and tell me why Alistair should be ranked, go ahead, fucking-fire-away. I’m ready. I want to hear it. Can’t wait. If on your rankings you have him in the top 10, you should be fucking embarrassed.”
In May 2010, Overeem defended his Strikeforce belt for the first time in nearly three years when he pounded out Brett Rogers, who at the time was on several top-10 lists. The rest of his MMA competition in the previous three years has been unranked.
Overeem’s head hangs. “I hear it,” he says of White’s criticism. “It goes in one ear and out the other. I am very satisfied with the way my career is going, and next year, I’m going to be back in the United States. Even if I’m not ranked up there, I will be. The fights are going to come. Fabricio Werdum is going to come. Fedor Emelianenko is going to come. I’m going to show the world that I am going to beat these guys, and then I’m going to be up there. If I’m not up there already, it’s just a matter of time.”
And who will step up to fight. Werdum, who owns a 2006 submission win over Overeem in Pride, said he was injured following his upset over Emelianenko, and Emelianenko was subsequently unavailable for a title shot, which prompted Overeem to accept an invitation to the 2010 K-1 Grand Prix. (Werdum now says he can fight, and Emelianenko also piped up after the Grand Prix booking made Internet rounds.)
“I’m going to make them eat their words because I like to prove things to myself,” he says of his critics. “My father always said two things to me: ‘Whatever you do, do your best,’ and, ‘If someone bothers you, hit them so hard that they never think about bothering you again.’ I would like to think that those two things came out in my career.”
“The Demolition Man” is awake now. There’s a challenge out there: to be the first dual champion in K-1 and MMA. It’s time to turn on the lights.
The Reem is a sequel of sorts. Overeem first paired with Dutch filmmaker Eldar Gross to create Demolition Man, a full-length documentary that chronicled his unsuccessful bid to win the 2005 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix. The film garnered positive reviews at the 2006 International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, but its release was blocked when Zuffa, LLC, purchased Pride and disallowed the use of fight footage.
As Overeem’s heavyweight career blossomed in 2008, Team Overeem decided to give it another go. Instead of a full-length documentary, the piece is released online in episodes and was supposed to culminate in about with Fedor Emelianenko in 2009. While the bout with Emelianenko has yet to materialize, fans can get a behind-the-scenes look at Overeem’s mission to become a champion in K-1 and MMA.
“The first movie ended, and I got my face messed up by Shogun,” he says. “If you saw it, you were like, ‘Hey, this can’t be the ending.’”
Let’s hope The Reem has a happier ending. Visit www.thereem.com to see the documentary.