Let's be honest: Saturday's main event in St. Petersburg was not the most complicated affair, but Alistair Overeem's laissez-faire attitude should not be ignored. This time, Alexey Oleynik surprised "Reem" with a big shot early enough, a shot that made him jump towards the fence. Oleynik followed his awning and began to unleash what can only be considered as a version of the 41-year-old grappler of hell, hard and deafening blows that – for any occasional viewer – seemed to signal problems.
But if you're reading this, you've known for a long time the brand of smirkiture in Overeem's fight. It's the kind of guy who winks at you during a storm and makes you wonder if you've misunderstood the danger from the beginning. He did not really play (exactly), but he did not sound an alarm either. He let Oleynik cool down. The old veteran could not be bothered to answer, that was all. If he had to be knocked out in the process, well, damn, he was going to be knocked out, it does not matter.
Once the problem is over – and Overeem still believes the problem will goes on, just like a bad song goes to the disco – he started to fire back seriously. He managed to convince Oleynik to deliver some patented Ubereem wincers – those rotators that make up the ripple of the Baltic – and finally managed to shoot down Oleynik definitely with 15 seconds to do round with a portion of knees and hands.
Wham, bam, thank you guy – we have ourselves an old dog who is making his way through the heavyweight ladder.
Of course, none of this should excite a discussion of the title. Oleynik is a tough customer, a clever SOB who can convince Ezekiel to smother a larger body, like an incubus, but it's not a stepping stone for Daniel Cormier. Overeem knew it very well and, when asked who he would like to face after the fight, he quoted the man he was originally supposed to take to Russia, Alexander Volkov. This is the fight to do. The 6-foot Volkov lined Derrick Lewis very well until the last moments of UFC 229 before being caught. If he had not been caught, he would have had seven straight wins and probably struggled for a belt.
Volkov is the springboard to a title, or at least very close.
This is another thing about Overeem that should not be ignored; he has an idea of his own landmarks. In that same interview, when asked what he was going to do to celebrate his victory, Overeem said he was going to have a drink in the beautiful city of St. Petersburg, but not as well a lot because you never know when you will be called to fight again. At the age of 38 (he will turn 39 next month), Overeem still knows the code words for free access to the rave, but he also knows that it's his last chance of running.
The takeaway dish: "Reem" still wants to panic. After 20 years of fighting all over the world – in kick boxing and MMA, from Yokohama to Mashantucket to all ports, to Bigfoots and Ngannou – he still dreams of winning a UFC. Title. That's all that remains.
It's hard not to appreciate that kind of optimism at dusk. We have seen other heavyweights – older guys, guys with less threat behind the fist – finding themselves fighting for the title at the end of their career. We saw them win titles. Overeem does not do anything new or dream of unfathomable. He just wants to do the one thing he has not done yet. He wants to wear a UFC belt. He had a chance to return to UFC 203, but the situation was less than favorable. He was facing Stipe Miocic in Cleveland, the only place where Miocic is considered a royalty, just when Miocic was at his most invincible.
When he lost, it was as if his last best move came and went. This too is a familiar feeling.
A long time ago, at UFC 156, Overeem was becoming Cain Velasquez's next challenge. All he had to do was beat Antonio Silva and hit his ticket. He went to the Mandalay Bay Events Center as he was there for the service of the bottles. Twenty-five seconds after the beginning of the third round, it was flattened by Silva's fists, similar to those of Thing, and his nostrils dilated under the odorous salts. Since then, Travis Browne and Ben Rothwell have whistled, brutally KO'd by Miocic, posterized by Ngannou and left dead by Curtis Blaydes. He's been close to a title for years, but he's been beaten by hammers, anvils, ham hocks. He did not escape everyone.
He is still there, though. Overeem traveled to Beijing to begin his last trip. He beat Sergei Pavlovich to set things in motion, then he arrived in St. Petersburg and resisted the best shots of Oleynik, his face wearing the same smile he always has. Cocky? No, at this point, it looks more like a perplexity.
The old war horse is not going anywhere and this kind of resistance is a little tricky.