Freak athlete. Physical specimen. Unstoppable force. These are words often used to describe reigning NBA MVP Lebron James. There is no one in basketball that can match his rare combination of strength, size, skill, and explosiveness. In MMA, the same can be said when talking about 6’5”, 260 lb. powerhouse Alistair Overeem. Once a lanky light-heavyweight back in the heyday of the PRIDE Fighting Championships, the 30-year-old has transformed himself into a comic book superhero come to life and has dominated opponents for the past three years, never once needing to go to the judges in any of these victories.
Just as James does things on the basketball court no other player on earth can do, Overeem does things other heavyweights can only dream of. Who else in MMA can both toss 265 lb. behemoth, Brett Rogers around like a sack of potatoes and also come close to leaping out of the cage while attempting a flying knee to the head of 6’4” James Thompson? What other fighter has both beaten some of the greatest heavyweight kickboxers in the world in K-1 and has also won grappling tournaments at the elite level in ADCC? There can be only one: the man known as “The Reem.” Many MMA fans say that he is the one to supplant Fedor Emelianenko as the greatest heavyweight the sport has ever seen. Bas Rutten has already declared that he is the #1 heavyweight in MMA.
However, like “King James,” there are questions that surround Overeem despite his otherworldly physical abilities. Just as Lebron’s heart has sometimes been questioned when up against championship-caliber teams in the playoffs, fans wonder if Alistair can defeat an elite heavyweight such as Fedor Emelianenko who can put him to the test. During his current dominant run, he has not even gone to the second round in an MMA fight since his victory against Paul Buentello over three years ago, and has not had to show that he can come back from adversity in a fight. As a younger fighter, he had often wilted under the pressure against highly-ranked opponents such as Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Antonio Rogerio Noguiera.
Overeem’s critics also say that, although he does indeed possess the Strikeforce heavyweight title, he has not truly earned a top ranking in MMA because of the level of opponents he has fought to en route to that title. They assert that his outstanding achievements is K-1 kickboxing, where he recently knocked out legend Peter Aerts to become the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix Champion, are not valid in any way when trying to rank him in MMA. These criticisms often mirror those that plague Lebron James. His Cleveland Cavalier teams have often crushed lesser teams and consistently had one of the best regular season records in the league. However, when faced with elite opposition in the playoffs, he has faltered. And just like Lebron’s scoring titles in basketball, Overeem’s kickboxing titles display a skill that is only one facet of MMA.
Ultimately, is it an insult or a compliment for “The Demolition Man” to be compared to “The Akron Hammer”? At this point, it is too soon to tell for either athlete. Both have the raw physical ability to be the best in the world in their respective sports. However, both have yet to possess the actual achievements to validate their incredible potential. At the highest levels of sports, it has been said that the difference between the very good and the champions is mental. Do either of these awe-inspiring athletes have the mental toughness to truly make them the greatest? Only time will tell. But for both of them, that time may be coming soon.