Overeem moves on from turbulent year

Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight Alistair Overeem is ready to pick up where he left off in the cage before his rapid ascent toward the belt was temporarily derailed when an out-of-competition drug test in March showed elevated levels of testosterone.

Whether he ever repairs a public image that was tarnished by that result is of no concern to the ultra-talented Overeem.

“First of all, let me make it clear: I fight for myself. I do not fight for other people,” he said when asked whether he cares if fans think he is a cheater. “The better question is can you look yourself in the mirror, and I can. I actually have no problem with it.”

Overeem has continued to maintain his innocence, blaming the result on a Texas doctor who turned Overeem’s April hearing on the matter in front of the Nevada Athletic Commission into a circus. In the end, Overeem was denied a license to fight for the UFC title against champion Junior dos Santos and was unable to reapply for nine months.

That period expires this month and Overeem is expected to be licensed in time to fight Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva at UFC 156 on Feb. 2 at Mandalay Bay.

Overeem says the UFC gave him the option to fight the winner of dos Santos’s upcoming title defense against Cain Velasquez, but Overeem was not willing to wait.

“I knew there was going to be some backlash from everything that happened earlier this year. I am a perfectionist, but I’m also a realist,” he said. “I understand that success comes in steps, so I’m willing to take small steps in order to get to the higher steps.

“I know that I have to get through Bigfoot to get to the title shot. They offered me a title shot right away, but that would mean I would have to wait another six months. I’m a fighter. I don’t want to wait. I want to fight as much as possible.”

UFC officials don’t expect a problem with testing in advance of this fight. There is good reason. Overeem has been submitting drug test results on a monthly basis for the last four months.

The 32-year-old says that is just fine with him. He insists he has never cheated and will take all the tests that are necessary to prove it.

“That’s one of the reasons I can look myself in the mirror,” he said. “Ever since the hearing, I wanted to prove (to the UFC and NAC) that I’m a clean fighter. We send the results from an independent doctor. That’s one of the reasons we’re about to get licensed and get back on the horse. Of course, there will be terms to it, but I think they appreciate the steps I’ve been taking to show I’m a clean fighter.”

Overeem last fought in a first-round knockout of Brock Lesnar on Dec. 30, 2011, in his UFC debut, a victory that was supposed to result in a title shot before a turbulent start to 2012.

In the early-morning hours of Jan. 2, just days after beating Lesnar, Overeem was cited for misdemeanor battery in an incident involving a woman he did not know at a Wynn Las Vegas nightclub, a charge that was later dismissed after he fulfilled conditions set forth by the court.

The surprise drug test that ultimately led to Overeem’s issues with the NAC took place on the same March day that he appeared in a Las Vegas courtroom to address the battery charge. The NAC had all the fighters who attended a press conference that day promoting Overeem’s scheduled title fight against dos Santos submit to drug tests.

After learning his fate, Overeem used the time off to settle into his new Miami home. He relocated permanently from his native Holland to be closer to his team, the Blackzilians.

“For me, this was a year of change. I moved to America and that’s been a big step,” he said. “I’m not in Holland anymore and I was a guy that always went back to Holland, but that’s not home anymore. Miami is home. On the other hand, the title fight didn’t happen. But I didn’t sit still. I made the best out of it. I take the tests, I’ve been training and I can’t wait to get back out there.

“It was a bad year, but I made the best out of it. I believe because I’ve been working hard and investing in my career fully that 2013 will be an awesome year and this year was necessary to make next year better.”

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.

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