UFC heavyweight Alistair Overeem is set to return to the Octagon on September 5th when he faces Ben Rothwell at UFC Fight Night 50, but this time something will be different. While much of his more recent U.S. run was done as part of the Blackzilians camp, now Overeem returns to the cage as part (for now) as a student of the famed duo of Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
While things clearly didn't work out Overeem in Florida with the Blackzilians, the former Strikeforce heavyweight champion - along with the rest of the Jackson's camp - report everything has been smooth sailing once he showed up to train.
"I think it has to do with chemistry," Overeem told Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour. "And chemistry has a lot to do with that mentality. Some people just mix better with other people. From the get go - and you're aiming for the Blackzilians, I think - the mentality was different, so then the chemistry is not optimal."
"It's not their fault," Overeem explained. "It's not my fault. It's just the way it is. Sometimes you meet people and the chemistry's not all there, but still you're kind of in a marriage because you're training with them on your team. But when the chemistry's not optimal, you'll never get optimal results.
"As soon as I came here with a blank sheet, I was just myself. I knew, 'You're coming into a new group.' I've been training for 20 years now, so I'd had my fair share of gyms. You just have to be relaxed. Give it some time, show yourself. There's other people in the gym, other stars. Just observe a little. Take it easy. And that's exactly what I've been doing here. The chemistry, people are a little more like the mentality that I have. So, it works."
Overeem calls the city of Albuquerque 'slow', but that's it a nice alternative, free from distraction. Besides, the training is great, the people are friendly and while he can't commit to saying he's a full-fledged member of the team, he can't rule out that happening either.
"Well, I just take things day by day. For now, things are very good," he explained. "Let's just see how it goes. And that goes for the team and that goes for me. You don't get to know somebody in a month or two months. That stuff takes a year, maybe two years. That's something I've learned. Let's just go by how it goes."
Unbeknownst to most, though, is that Overeem alleges he's already got along well with members of the Jackson's camp even though he fought two of them. Once he showed up, it was very much a process of putting together the pieces of what was already there.
"To add on that, I've always had positive encounters with Jon Jones every time I saw him. We were laughing, talking and going and it was positive. The same with Frank Mir. Even though we fought, before the fight we already agreed on training together a little after the fight. Then our fight came.
"[Travis Browne and I] never really spoke before we fought, but then after we fought, we had the most nice talk after," he said. "I was beating him and then he surprised me and knocked me out with his front kick. And it was just very positive.
"So far, so good."
Still, this leaves a lot of unanswered questions. What, exactly, went wrong in Florida? Why did he depart from the Blackzilians camp? What does it all mean? On those questions, Overeem simply refuses to answer, although he does express some surprise that members of that camp decided to take shots at him upon his departure.
"I'm not going to lower myself to talk bad about those guys because it's a waste of energy," he said. "I'm going to wish them luck, whatever they might do and I'm just going to focus on me. That's it. More than that, I can't give."
"Yes, I was, a little bit," Overeem said of his surprise upon seeing former teammates like Anthony Johnson criticize him after he left. "Because it was unnecessary and it just aggravates a negative vibe. We're all searching for the positive vibe. We're all searching for that. Let bygones be bygones. Unfortunately, not everybody's that clever, so, yeah."
Hindsight being 20/20, Overeem is only focused on the positivity of the now and what's next for him. As aforementioned, it's Rothwell in a little under two months.
For Overeem, he's been rehabbing from elbow surgery and a damaged rib. The Dutch heavyweight says he had bone spurs up to an inch long that were pressing on his ulnar nerve in his arm. The pain was so severe and limiting of his movement, that he "couldn't even wipe my behind going to the toilet with that arm."
That's why Rothwell was a bit of a surprise, Overeem confessed. It's not that he didn't have him specifically on his mind as a possible opponent, he was simply trying to get back in shape after a layoff.
"No, he wasn't," Overeem said of Rothwell being on his radar. "Actually, there was nobody on my radar. I was just recovering from my surgery, from my elbow surgery.
"I've just been focused, actually, on getting back in shape. I feel good. I'm doing everything. I was aiming to fight a little bit later. I wanted to actually fight on the Japan card. I thought that was a nice idea because I'm kind of popular there, so I thought that would be good. But that card was already full and they said, 'Can you fight September 5th?' So, yeah, well sure. They had Stipe [Miocic], but he was banged up. So they came with Ben Rothwell."
Overeem knows he's at an important point in his career. He's back on the winning track after some serious missteps in the cage. Yet, fans still wants to see him in big fights. The lesson he's learned so far, and one he says he takes with him into the Rothwell fights, is that humility is the essential ingredient for success. He said that something's he's probably lacked in previous bouts where he arguably should have won, but didn't.
"Don't take opponents lightly. Don't take anyone lightly," he nearly commands. "This is the UFC. I am fighting against a 265 [pound] beast. The guy is huge. So, of course, he's going to try to knock my head off. So, yeah, don't underestimate anyone in that sense. I am currently coming out of a surgery, but I am optimistic. I am learning every day. I am training hard. It's hard because it's high altitude, so yeah, it's going to be another challenge and we have to be 100 percent to make sure we overcome this challenge."
Yet, Rothwell can't be the ultimate goal and isn't. He can't move onto anything greater if he doesn't get past the American, but knows if he does, big fights await. Overeem was originally set to take on former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos first at UFC 146 , then at UFC 160, but the bout fell through either from failed drug tests or injury. Overeem was offered another chance at both a five-round bout in Brazil or three-round fight in Las Vegas and Overeem turned both of those down.
UFC President Dana White accused Overeem of 'literally hiding' from the Brazilian former champion.
Overeem, however, said those comments came before White knew the severity of his injuries. Now fully aware, he believes the UFC head honcho is more understanding of his condition. Both, he claims, are fully confident a fight between the two heavy hitters is inevitable and will take place.
"I'm focused and I want to really fight," Overeem said. "I'm very optimistic [a bout with dos Santos] is going to come and I want it to come.
"I could see that fight happening right after this fight, I'd like to fight with Junior."