For years, there were the whispers.
You know the ones I'm talking about. The ones that quietly pointed out Alistair Overeem's transformation from the skinny light heavyweight to the massive heavyweight with the comic book physique. Nobody of any repute would make accusations out loud, because that's not the sort of thing you do without any kind of proof.
But just look at his body, they said. And we did, and we realized that Overeem—at least on a cosmetic level—seemingly had a lot in common with guys like Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco.
They were all skinny once, too, and they all blew up with the help of synthetics and needles, all in the hopes of attaining a measure of fame that would continue long after they stopped walking the earth. After all, it's one thing to be a very good athlete, but it's quite another to do something that fans will speak of 100 years down the line.
We look at Alistair Overeem and we see all of those things and more, but we also see the failed random drug test of a year ago that prevented him from stepping back in the cage to face Junior dos Santos for the heavyweight title in May.
We see him conveniently scheduling a trip to see his mother in Holland at the exact same time the Nevada commissioners are attempting to track him down for a random drug test.
We see comical snafus that prevent Overeem from finally taking that random test—which has ceased to be a random test at this point—until nearly a month later.
We see him allegedly avoiding the Nevada commissioners by bolting out of the lobby of the MGM Grand after a press conference to build up his title fight with Junior dos Santos.
But as we see those things, the things that we always suspected but could never confirm as true, we must also see the voluntary drug tests he's submitted to the Nevada State Athletic Commission over the past few months in an effort to clear his name. We must see that Overeem, at least from the surface, appears to making a concentrated effort to be a clean fighter.
We can't know with 100 percent certainty that he is now clean or that he'll remain clean, because Lance Armstrong is finally getting around to admitting (to Oprah Winfrey!) that he's been cheating to win for a very long time, and Lance Armstrong was the last ray of hope any of us had for an athlete who wins solely on the basis of his own hard work, determination and God-given abilities.
For the most part, a test for performance-enhancing drugs (and marijuana) is simply a variation on an intelligence test. It's like one of those pop quizzes that your teacher used to warn you about the day before, thereby completely eliminating the "pop" part of the quiz. You know it's coming, you've got ample time to prepare, and so if you fail, you might not be as smart as you think you are.
But Overeem no longer has the luxury of knowing exactly when commissions are going to test him; he's already used up his "get out of jail free" card. Now that he's licensed to fight again, and especially now that he has a fight coming up, Overeem should expect the drug tests to come often and when he least expects them.
If he continues to pass those tests, public perception will slowly begin to shift. The cynical thoughts will never go away, though. Just look at Jeff Bagwell, a player who has never been included on any of the myriad reports on public-enhancing drugs in baseball and yet is still vilified because his body changed from skinny to downright Hulk-ish over the course of two seasons.
Overeem will never fully get away from the curious looks and the accusations. That's what happens when you've got the superhero body and when you've failed one drug test. You don't get the benefit of the doubt. Not anymore.
But that doesn't mean Overeem can't turn his steroid controversy from the focal point in his career into a mere footnote. That's an easy fix. Put simply, he can never fail another drug test. If he's called in for a pre-scheduled sample drop, or if the Nevada commissioners knock on his door in the middle of the night, Overeem must pass with flying colors.
He must take the focus off the body and the tests and back on the action in the cage, where he's still one of the best heavyweights in the world.
Because, at the end of the day, the fans still want to see action, and they want to see big heavyweights issuing thunderous canned-ham punches and they want to see knockouts and violence.
And if there's one thing Alistair Overeem can do, it's violence.
For years, there were the whispers.