On Fri., Dec. 30, 2011, heavyweight fighter Alistair Overeem will make his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut against Brock Lesnar at UFC 141: "Lesnar vs. Overeem" at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The fight will be one of the biggest challenges of "The Reem's" career, but before he can enter the Octagon, he will have to face another challenge.
For years, Overeem has had to deal with criticism over his change in appearance, primarily due to the rapid nature of his increased muscular physique.
Overeem spoke with HDNet's "Inside MMA" to discuss the testing process he's had to undergo, leading up to this fight:
"We're still waiting on the results, but I expect no problems there. Am I ready to fight? Yes, I am. Sure, I am! I've been training now for the last four months. I started in August. I put the work in. My conditioning is excellent. I would say I'm in the best shape ever."
Overeem went on to address his critics:
"I am focused on my career. I'm focused on training. Of course, there are these rumors going. It's a look on the bright side. You are taking the critics' word away. I will be the most tested fighter -- ever. I can use that argument in my favor.
You know, if you're in the spotlight, if you're gonna be operating at this level, at this highest level, there's gonna be people that love you and there's gonna be people that don't like you. There's a lot of attention on you. I'm fortunate to have a long career; a long road to the top. I've learned how to deal with it. There's no problem there. I don't see it as I'm picked on. I see it as a responsibility that comes with fighting at the top."
For those unfamiliar with Overeem's body of work, he has been fighting in MMA since 1999. He is known largely for his work in the PRIDE organization, his K-1 kickboxing career, as well as his recent stint with Strikeforce. He's fought primarily at light heavyweight (205 pounds) and heavyweight (265 pounds).
For quite some time, Overeem has been ranked near the top of heavyweights by every major ranking system available. Because of his reputation and his large fanbase, he has long been rumored to sign with the UFC, the largest and most prestigious MMA organization in the world.
Overeem talked about the road he's traveled to get to this point in his career:
"It's been a long time coming. I did see myself, at one point, fighting in the UFC. I never thought it would be this soon. We had a string of events which led up to this. I can say that I'm very happy that I'm fighting in the UFC. There's a lot of dream fights for me there. The UFC heavyweight division is the toughest one out there. There's two guys ranked on top of me. It's time to show the world that I'm number one."
Overeem will have his hands full with Lesnar (a former UFC champion) and he knows it. Because of his wrestling abilities and his aggressiveness, Lesnar will pose a very real threat to Overeem in his debut. He's aware of the potential for disappointment, but not worried.
"First off, Brock, I see him as the best wrestler in the heavyweight division. He's a tremendous athlete. He's a very strong, big guy. He's gonna bring it. I mean, looking at his fights, looking at his character, he has an aggressive character. I like it that way. I like a challenge. That's what brought me into K-1, which is a different sport, so to speak. That's what brought me the K-1 title, two years after I entered K-1. I'm sure that's how it's gonna bring the UFC title as well."
In his career, Overeem has been largely known for his stand-up skills and his knockout power. Though he prefers to "stand and bang," Overeem believes his game is well-rounded and that he's ready for wherever this fight may go:
"The things is, I'm gonna be ready for everything. First off, I'm a mixed martial artist, with an emphasis on striking, but I have everything in my arsenal. I have submissions. I have wrestling. I have takedowns. I've got it all. So, in that sense, I'm going to be ready for wherever this fight will take me; whether that be on the feet or on the ground.
I enjoy knockouts over submissions. A submission is a victory. It's nice. It's an accomplishment. Especially when you submit someone who's never been submitted before and they're an expert in that field. But a knockout scores more, for me, than a submission, any day."
Here's the full video of Overeem's interview with "Inside MMA:"
Who are you Maniacs picking in this one? Do you think Overeem will be able to handle Lesnar's takedowns? Will Lesnar have an answer for Overeem's striking?