When Alistair Overeem confirmed suspicions and made his retirement from combat sports official on The MMA Hour this past October, it marked an end of an era.
One of the last remaining torchbearers of MMA’s old guard, Overeem is one of the most decorated combat sports athletes of the past 25 years. In his heyday, he captured concurrent heavyweight championships in Strikeforce, DREAM, and K-1. He also challenged for the UFC title and fought a who’s who over the course of his decades-long career, paving a road that saw him compete for nearly every major organization in MMA history.
So at age 43, with his journey finally complete, what one memory stands out the most?
“Jeez, that is a beautiful question. I’ve had so many beautiful moments,” Overeem said recently on The MMA Hour.
“First time in Japan [for a Rings event], 1999. My first kickboxing fight. My first fight in Pride — Pride was the best, which, [that promotional debut] was a small Pride [event], but then the big Pride, that was 2001 and 2002. But then my first title fight in Strikeforce. Second time it was bigger. UFC versus Brock [Lesnar]. So there’s so many beautiful moments.
“It’s been a beautiful adventure. That’s how I look at it.”
Overeem pinpointed the Lesnar fight, in particular, as one memory that sticks with him. The two titans collided in December 2011 at UFC 141, with Overeem memorably winning via first-round knockout. Overeem also highlighted his two best runs toward the UFC belt, the first of which ended with a title loss to Stipe Miocic in 2016 and the second of which ended with a brutal knockout at the hands of Francis Ngannou in 2017. A fight that ultimately served as his swan song — 2022’s grudge match against Badr Hari in GLORY Kickboxing, which Overeem initially won in a stunning come-from-behind decision before the bout was overturned into a no-contest due to a failed drug test by Overeem — was additionally among the performances that he mentioned as fond memories from his career.
Despite any setbacks he may have encountered, however, Overeem is left with zero regrets about the body of work he ultimately put together during his 25-year career.
“No, I’m totally happy with everything,” Overeem said. “And even the losses, because with the losses, they also propelled me in some kind of direction, growth, mindset change. So it’s been great. I wouldn’t change a thing. It was six world titles, three different belts.”
Overeem said he came to the conclusion this past March that it was probably time to hang up his gloves. Prior to his positive drug test, he had been scheduled to challenge Rico Verhoeven for the GLORY heavyweight title in October 2021, and he continued to keep that goal in mind throughout 2022-23 as he was sidelined with a 12-month suspension.
Eventually, though, the signs he continued hearing from his body grew too loud to ignore.
“I’ve been training for 30 years, but I’ve been in competition for 25 years, and basically my body spoke to me,” Overeem said. “My body didn’t want to do it anymore. So yeah, and that came in the form of, after the Badr fight, because of course I had in my mind the Rico fight, but then, yeah, my body didn’t want to do it anymore. Energy’s not there. Some injuries, nagging injuries. I would do what I usually did, the physical therapy, but a good workout for two or three days and then I would train again, and then boom.
“I initially had [it in my mind], ‘OK, if I can keep my body right for six months, then I might still be able to fight.’ Right? We’re kind of stuck to our patterns, doing what we’re doing even though that might not always be in our best interest. … Because when you get injured, it’s also a lot of hurt, it’s agony, you’re pushing it, pushing yet again. And let’s not forget, I’ve been doing this for 30 years. It’s been 30 years of, how I like to describe it now, just stress. Extreme stress. Through training camps, stress. Back to back, always training, always doing it, always stress. So now, and actually the last year, because the Badr fight was a year ago, my body actually was allowed to relax, and it came into a whole different state. So now I’m calm, I’m out of this stress, and I kind of like it. I’m like, why would you go back [to stress]?”
While Overeem’s exit from the fight game may mark the end of an era for some old-school fight fans, “The Reem” hasn’t viewed his decision with an ounce of despair. He’s undergone a shocking body transformation after completely overhauling his diet, and has a variety of new pursuits he’s committed himself to, from engaging in local politics in his native Netherlands to working on initiatives to help others break their phone addictions.
For Overeem, his retirement only signifies an optimism about what’s next.
“Absolutely not sad,” Overeem said. “It was just a realization. It was just a realization that I had to go through to advance to the next stage, right? Because there was always going to come an end to my fighting career. If it wasn’t now, it might have been after the next fight, or maybe two more, but not any longer after. I’ve been also occupied with my life after fighting for a very long time. I’ve studied a lot of other athletes, what did they go and how does that go, and I kind of mentally prepared myself also for the moment.
“It’s over, and I’m also not interested in fighting anymore. I’ve had my change, it’s now whole different goals for different things. I’m working on a couple very interesting projects and that’s captured my attention. It’s just kind of interesting how that kind of fell into play. I had new goals, so there’s no interest also in [coming back]. I like to train, I stay in shape. I mean, I can still fight. I’d like to teach a little. It’s not going to be my main thing, but I like to kind of pass on knowledge that I have to next generations. But yeah, no interest in fighting.”