21 years and 65 fights after his debut, Dutch heavyweight Alistair Overeem is showing no sign of slowing down and can take a giant step towards another UFC heavyweight title shot if he gets past Augusto Sakai in Las Vegas.
With the UFC heavyweight division without former champion Daniel Cormier, an opening has emerged at the top of the division for some new blood to state their case to be considered among the candidates for a shot a UFC gold. And after three knockout wins in his last four fights, 40-year-old Overeem has emerged as a significant dark horse in the heavyweight championship picture.
The former Strikeforce champ is among the most consistently entertaining fighters in the weight category, having gone to a decision just once in the last five years.
Save for a KO loss to Jairzinho Rozenstruik with only four seconds remaining in the final round, Overeem has looked outstanding in recent stoppage wins against Walt Harris, Alexey Oleynik and Sergei Pavlovich.
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A repeat of those feats late on Saturday night inside the UFC's Apex facility against the 15-1-1 Sakai would come close to equaling his best run since joining the UFC - and perhaps force the hand of UFC matchmakers to usher him into what would be his second shot at the sport's most prestigious heavyweight prize.
The Dutchman's last title shot, in September 2016 against Stipe Miocic, was ultimately ended by some vicious ground strikes by the American fighter 33 seconds before the end of the first round, but not before Overeem dropped Miocic early in the fight and threatened with a guillotine choke submission.
Ultimately, Miocic persevered - but one suspects that Overeem would more than welcome another opportunity against the now two-time champ.
The very fact that Overeem is being talked up as a potential world title challenger speaks to the staying power of the sport's most experienced top-level heavyweight.
His career ledger reads like an historical record of mixed martial arts. He fought a prime Chuck Liddell seventeen years ago as part of a run through the legendary PRIDE organization, which also saw him face Igor Vovchanchyn, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Mark Hunt and Vitor Belfort (x2) among many, many others.
A much-vaunted UFC debut saw him decimate Brock Lesnar in the first round of a fight in 2011. Since then, his UFC run has looked like a whos-who of heavyweight royalty: Frank Mir, Fabricio Werdum, Junior Dos Santos, Andrei Arlovski... the list goes on.
One feels, though, that a win this weekend against the dangerous Sakai will open up a whole new range of options. The next UFC title bout is almost certainly locked in, with Francis Ngannou (who holds a win against Overeem) almost certain to get a second opportunity against Miocic - but with the recent addition of Jon Jones to the heavyweight fold, Overeem would seem appear to be an ideal test for the debuting, long-time light heavyweight standard-bearer.
A hypothetical win for Overeem against Jones - who has never tasted legitimate defeat in the Octagon - would significantly boost his title candidacy in the twilight of his career, and while there remains a lot of work to do for this to become even close to reality - we should know by now to never count Alistair Overeem out.
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