Alistair Overeem: Of Horsemeat and Men

If heroes truly aren’t born and are instead made, then Dutchman Alistair Overeem is to cagefighting what Beowulf was to killing scaly monsters in a cave. Which is to say, it was just ten years ago that “The Reem” was a lanky light-heavyweight getting knocked out by Chuck Liddell in PRIDE. Now he’s a K-1, DREAM and Strikeforce champion and a hero in the world of mixed martial arts. He’s also a 265-pound hero coming off a suspension for elevated testosterone levels – a hero forged as much in the crucible of science as combat, whose physique is as real as pro wrestling or a 1980’s Arnold Schwarzenegger flick.  And yet we can’t wait to see him challenge heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez for the UFC belt.

For that, we share in the culpability of his creation.

We demand of our heroes a certain capacity for violence. We also demand that they look the part. And in an age of regulation and feigned decency, we demand at least a modicum of respect for the half-measures put in place to curb the use of those very chemicals that could maximize violence and looks. So really, it’s at least little bit our fault – as fans, as consumers, as rule makers and enforcers – when they fail to effectively straddle that impossible line and tumble into the abyss of Winstrol and nandrolone.

Sure, none of us actually stuck those needles into Ken Shamrock, or provided Stephan Bonnar with those vials of Drostanolone. But we did put a premium on a very particular kind of success. When they looked like fighters, we gave them big fights; when they won, we rewarded them handsomely.

We made it worthwhile for them to cheat.

The running joke with PRIDE officials was that since not many people in Japan used performance enhancing drugs, why bother testing for them? That climate, and the desire for “freakshow” match-ups, led to the creation of many a hero, Overeem included. But where others stumbled, the Dutchman excelled – unlike the rest, he could fight for real. So much so that all that was required by way of explanation for his sudden transformation were the words “diet of horsemeat”, and aside from some chuckles, all was good. Prior to his Octagon debut, Overeem promised to rip Brock Lesnar apart, and he was true to his word.

But the Nevada State Athletic Commission dinged him when his drug screening came back positive, and now, after the better part of a year on the shelf, he’ll face Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva at UFC 156 on February 2. Beyond that looms a title shot, and the expectation that he and Velasquez throw down in epic fashion.

It’s a fascinating match-up on even just a visceral level, the images conjured painting a picture of two titans shaking the very foundation of the Octagon. And we want it. We want to see the biggest, baddest warriors around going toe-to-toe. Would Overeem be one half of that championship bout equation if he looked like a human who’d accepted his genetic predispositions? Would we want him fighting for the belt if he looked like his older, yet much smaller, brother Valentijn?

No. TUF winner Roy Nelson has yet to fail a drug test, yet few are clamoring to see the portly heavyweight square up against Velasquez. We want Overeem, because he’s huge and monstrous, and we made him into a hero.

Think about that the next time Overeem fails a drug test.