Alistair Overeem was supposed to be a UFC champion by now.
The massive heavyweight kickboxer carried a 10-fight undefeated streak into his Octagon debut at UFC 141 in December 2011, and he showcased exactly zero jitters in his first matchup on the big stage.
Taking on former UFC heavyweight champion and noted professional wrestler Brock Lesnar, Overeem made his power and precision known from the bout's onset. "The Demolition Man" landed nearly 80 percent of his significant strikes in just over two minutes of action, crushing Lesnar with a body kick and follow-up barrage that forced referee Mario Yamasaki to intervene.
"The Reem" was here, and he was terrifying.
In the wake of Overeem's destruction, the UFC went to work and capitalized on the buzz surrounding the new guy in town. A decision was made, and Junior dos Santos, the heavyweight champion at the time, would serve as Overeem's next victim at UFC 146.
Knockout artist vs. knockout artist—the matchup was perfect.
But it never happened, and Overeem's seeming destiny was never fulfilled.
A failed drug test forced Overeem out of the bout, and the opportunity vanished, never to return.
Fast-forward to Feb. 1, 2014. UFC 169.
Alistair Overeem vs. Frank Mir.
Both men come into the bout on UFC-career-threatening losing streaks.
Overeem lost his last two fights by knockout, while Mir lost his last three (with two via knockout).
The questions circulated.
Can Overeem take a punch? Is he focused? What's up with his cardio? He can't handle Mir on the ground, can he?
He's not still juicing, is he?
The man who was once a lock to seriously challenge for the UFC heavyweight belt was now a criticized, doubted fighter (and rightly so, given his recent history).
The Overeem of days past returned on this evening, though.
Actually, that's a lie. The Overeem that came to the Octagon at UFC 169 was the best Overeem who ever competed under the UFC banner.
How? What?! He didn't finish an aging and completely knockout-susceptible Mir. How is that, in any way, a shining endorsement of Overeem's skill set?
He fought like a top-caliber UFC fighter. That's how.
This was a calculated, patient and ferocious—when necessary—Overeem.
This was the kind of fighter who wins UFC championships.
Finishing a fight is great—it's the surest way to impress the masses—but fighting for 15 minutes and emerging unscathed against a proven finisher like Mir is more impressive to me.
We didn't know if Overeem had the cardio to outfight an opponent for three rounds.
"If he had the cardio, could he stay focused for the full 15 minutes, though?"
"But how will he handle Mir's submission expertise?"
Perfectly. Mir even snagged what appeared to be a tight guillotine in the fight, and Overeem popped out within seconds. Other than that, Mir was never even close to snagging anything noteworthy.
"Alright, alright. Well, he still doesn't have a chin."
Conceded. It's the heavyweight division, and Overeem has been knocked out too many times in his career for this to ever not be an issue. That's going to be a major factor in whether or not my next sentence ever materializes.
The Alistair Overeem who competed at UFC 169 can challenge for the UFC title.
The thing with Overeem is this: His problem has been his focus, his discipline and his inability to escape once an opponent turns the tables on him.
His thrashing of Lesnar was a great representation of his skill set and potential. The first two rounds of his fight with Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva and the first three minutes against Travis Browne were, too.
Now, he's fighting methodically. He's calculating risks and adapting as necessary.
He still hits really freaking hard, and he's still arguably the most technical all-around striker in the heavyweight division.
Overeem's performance at UFC 169 showcased an evolution that we really needed to see from him. He passed the test.
Now, he can get back on track and work his way toward that title shot he was promised nearly two years ago.
We're about two years behind schedule, but Overeem looks primed to become the fighter we always thought he was.
If we can just get his mind off pro wrestlers and on to legitimate tests (like Junior dos Santos and Stipe Miocic), we're in business.