Overeem turns deaf ear toward critics
Successfully defending the Strikeforce heavyweight title should be enough to keep Alistair Overeem mentally occupied. And, for the most part, it is.
The Dutch striker will fight Saturday in the United States for the first time since November 2007, when he claimed the Strikeforce title with a second-round stoppage of Paul Buentello.
Overeem (32-11-0), however, will find himself in a two-pronged battle. Brett Rogers will stand across the cage from him, intending to knock Overeem off his throne. He'll also find himself up against tough critics, eager to tear him apart.
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Rogers is big, strong and has knockout power. He held his own for a round in November 2009 against top-ranked heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko before being stopped in the second.
Despite Rogers' ability to finish an opponent with one solid right hand, Overeem isn't the least bit worried. He knows Rogers is primarily a one-dimensional fighter.
By concentrating on his ground game, Rogers (10-1-0) has worked to become more well-rounded. Still, Overeem isn't expecting to see much more from Rogers than what he offered against Emelianenko, but is prepared for any surprises.
"[Rogers] will try to change his tactics a little bit, because they didn't work against Fedor," Overeem told ESPN.com "I've studied him, and there is nothing he can do to put me in danger.
"I'm prepared for anything and I'm in the best shape of my life. I'm looking forward to this fight and showing the American fans what I've got."
Overeem is expected to successfully defend his crown. But even if he does, it won't be enough to silence his critics.
There is a dark cloud that hangs over Overeem, and it shows no sign of blowing over. It is suspected by many that Overeem's recent success is due to the use of human growth hormones.
Those who suspect Overeem of cheating point to his rapid muscular development and two-year absence from the United States, where drug testing is more stringent than in Japan. Overeem strongly denies the allegations.
The reasons for his physical growth, he says, are hard work and natural maturity. Overeem refuses to get into verbal arguments with naysayers, and goes as far as to say the criticism doesn't concern him.
"I'm not occupied with that at all; I'm just focused on myself and my fights," he said. "When I became Strikeforce champion, the promotion wasn't as big as it is now. There weren't any opponents that I could face, so I didn't fight [in the United States].
"Then other offers came from overseas, [particularly] from Japan. Last year when Strikeforce did grow into the big organization it is today, we sat down and negotiated a new contract. Then I suffered a staph infection in my left hand after I recovered I had other obligations with K-1. I wanted to defend my Strikeforce title, and if it wasn't for my staph infection I would have.
"People can talk a lot, but after this fight I will be like any other fighter. I will take any test that is required of me. When I pass the tests I know it's going to shut a lot of people up. If they want to keep talking after that, they can go right ahead, because I ain't listening anyway."
He will listen to offers from Emelianenko's camp. Overeem wants to face the fighter considered the best heavyweight in the world, and will do anything to make the bout happen.
Overeem blames the problem not on Emelianenko, but on the fighter's handlers.
"It takes two to tango," Overeem said. "Fedor is a fighter who doesn't give a damn who he fights, but it's his management. His management is the one playing tricks, trying to avoid me.
"If you don't want to fight me, just say it. If you see me as a threat, just say it.
"I'm the champion, but I am challenging Fedor because I want that fight."
But Overeem isn't the only person eyeing a shot at Emelianenko. Rogers wants another shot. He would also like to silence those who claim he does not deserve another crack at Fedor.
"I definitely feel I deserve this title shot, when it comes down to it," Rogers said. "It just kind of makes sense.
"I just want to get out there and prove it to the world that I'm getting that title. It is what it is. I don't care what anybody else says."
Franklin McNeil is a contributing mixed martial arts/boxing writer for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which now airs on ESPN2.
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