Overeem set for long-awaited Strikeforce title defense vs. Rogers
Alistair Overeem defends the Strikeforce heavyweight title Saturday in St. Louis
The champ's two-and-a-half-year inactivity since winning the title invites suspicion
Overeem says he's got nothing to hide; independent drug testing will verify that
ST. LOUIS -- There are only so many ways to deny wrongdoing in the face of speculation, and Alistair Overeem apparently met his limit sometime Monday during a flight from Holland to the U.S.
With nipping media pushing and prodding, with opponents and rival promoters fueling the discussion, with a two-and-a-half-year absence from competition in the States coloring the issue, the man some people call "Ubereem" for his cartoonish figure promised vindication -- at which point "all the people that are talking can shut up."
You get the sense they won't, even if Overeem has in the week leading up to his first defense of the Strikeforce heavyweight belt, which the Dutchman captured to little fanfare after moving into the division in 2007. A dearth of opponents, a nagging hand injury and contractual commitments to other organizations led to a delay in his return to the U.S., and the conjecture that he had something to hide, so much so that the prevailing story heading into his fight Saturday against Brett Rogers at the Scottrade Center is the eye-popping shift from slender light heavyweight to hulking heavyweight.
"Everybody is complaining about it and talking about it," said Martijn de Jong, who has served as Overeem's chief mixed martial arts trainer for the past decade. "He's training really hard and putting a lot of effort in his training and everybody is talking about the steroid stuff. He explained so many times why he didn't fight in the U.S. and why he fought in Japan."
Rogers, he of the did-better-than-anyone-predicted performance against Fedor Emelianenko last November, has not been shy in addressing presumptions about Overeem.
"I love the gym," said Rogers, 29, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 280 pounds on a normal day. "I love to workout. I'm a big guy myself. I know I'm not going to blow up in that short amount of time. It's questionable to me. Hopefully the athletic commission resolves that."
Tim Lueckenhoff, administrator of the Missouri Office of Athletics and president of the Association of Boxing Commissions, has the authority to subject licensed contestants to random drug tests, which would include screenings for performance-enhancers such as steroids and EPO.
At the recommendation of the California State Athletic Commission, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker, keenly aware of the perception problem he has with Overeem (32-11), hired Drug Testing Network, an independent lab with 9,000 affiliates across the U.S., to collect urine samples from 7 to 9 p.m. following Friday's weigh-in for participants on the Showtime-televised card (10 p.m. ET/PT). DTN standards fall short of World Anti-Doping Agency requirements, which gained a more prominent role in combat sports because of Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s insistence that stringent testing be in place for his fights.
"People are free to think whatever they want," said Overeem, who was clean after two previous tests in the U.S. "People are free to say whatever they want."
The discussion means little if Overeem can't keep his belt against Rogers, a power-punching nimble giant who has shown marked improvement with each outing.
"He performed really well against Fedor," said Overeem, who turns 30 on Monday. "He gave him, I would say, the fight of his life. I'm really prepared for anything that he'll throw at me."
Life has changed dramatically for Rogers, who not so long ago was changing tires at Wal-Mart. A 22-second knockout of Andrei Arlovski in St. Louis 11 months ago propelled him into the bout with Emelianenko, an experience Rogers said affected him deeply.
"People are just holding the Fedor loss against me," Rogers said. "People think I don't deserve [the fight with Overeem], so I'm feeling a lot of pressure to do anything to prove it."
Though Overeem's focus during the past 18 months was K-1, he did participate in three MMA bouts last year. Journeymen Tony Sylvester, James Thompson and Kazayuki Fujita lasted a combined 3:11.
"At the end of the day, he wants to fight in MMA and that's what his passion is all his about," said de Jong. "K-1 is nice. It was fun, an adventure, but MMA is what he's all about. He's very confident on his feet right now and this will be an advantage against an opponent like Brett Rogers."
The idea, said Overeem, is to land a shot at Emelianenko, whom the Strikeforce champion believes is being shielded from him.
"I've been challenging him in interviews and after fights," Overeem said of MMA's No. 1 heavyweight. "As far as obstacles, his management had been putting it off. It takes two to tango. We're just going to have to wait and see."
De Jong said if Overeem defeats Rogers, Strikeforce would like him to fight once more, possibly in July, before a pay-per-view bout against Emelianenko materializes this winter. That, of course, is contingent upon Emelianenko (32-1) besting Fabricio Werdum (13-4-1) on June 26 in San Jose, Calif.
First things first for Overeem, including "blocking things out" like pesky reporters and their questions about steroids.
"There's been a lot criticism," he said.