Alistair Overeem was an easy choice to showcase the UFC’s first trip to the Netherlands, especially at a pivotal moment in his tenure with the promotion.
The Dutch kickboxer is headlining UFC Fight Night 87 in Rotterdam with former champion Andrei Arlovski in a heavyweight bout that could be a make-or-break test for the careers of both men, according to Fox Sports analyst and welterweight contender Tyron Woodley.
“It’s a different type of crossroads for each fighter,” Woodley said. “For Alistair Overeem, can he finally realize the hype that’s been behind him for so long? And for Andrei Arlovski, is he going to get over that hump and finish his career at the top?”
Overeem (40-14, 1 NC) enters the bout as the No. 3 heavyweight while riding a three-fight win streak, the longest in his UFC career. The former Strikeforce champion entered the UFC with high expectations, and he initially lived up to them by beating former champ Brock Lesnar in his debut in 2011. But three losses in his next four fights put him far from the title picture.
Now with three straight wins, including an impressive knockout of former champion Junior dos Santos, a fight in his homeland could be the last hurdle for a title bout.
Fighting near friends and family isn’t the same experience for everyone, Woodley said.
“Sometimes it’s fun because you’re already home and you don’t have to do a lot of traveling, but at the same token you have the cousins you’ve never met come out of the woodwork and everybody all of a sudden is your best friend,” Woodley said of fighting at home. “It has its benefits, but it also has its distractions.”
Woodley believes Overeem’s history fighting around the world will be key in keeping out the noise.
“I think that Alistair Overeem, even before MMA, has a lot of experience,” Woodley said. “He should be professional enough to go out there and just compete in the arena and not think about having to do something extra special or think ‘I cannot lose because I’m at home.’ You’ve got to take that pressure off yourself.”
Ultimately, the pressure of a potential title shot is much greater for Overeem than that of fighting in front of Dutch fans.
“Overeem came into the sport with big promise, but he’s gotten close, then he gets knocked down, he gets close, he gets knocked down again,” Woodley said. “At some point, the fans, himself, training partners, coaches and the organization that invests a lot of money into Alistair, they want to see him actually get that title fight.”