When the fight between Alistair Overeem and Andrei Arlovski was first announced for the UFC Fight Night card in the Netherlands this weekend, it seemed like an odd piece of matchmaking considering the two heavyweights train under the same coaches at Jackson-Winkeljohn in New Mexico.
Since that time, Arlovski has voiced his anger about Overeem allegedly asking the UFC for the fight, which then put the coaches they share in the unenviable position to train both of them for the bout.
According to Overeem, Arlovski’s frustration is unfounded because he never asked the UFC to set up the fight, but when they offered him the matchup, he certainly wasn’t going to turn it down.
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"It’s a very simple and basic story," Overeem explained when speaking to FOX Sports on Wednesday from Holland. "Lorenzo (Fertitta) texted me, he said ‘we want you to headline the first ever UFC in Holland and who do you want to fight? Basically we have Andrei Arlovski and Cain Velasquez available but Cain Velasquez is injured so in all probability it will be Andrei Arlovski.
"I replied OK that’s fine. Andrei’s a teammate but we’re not really friends, we don’t hang out, we hardly train together so expect that fight to be fireworks. So the fight got made."
Arlovski has made it clear in numerous interviews after the fight was made that he never considered Overeem a friend and barely thought of him as a training partner despite both of them fighting under one roof.
For his part, Overeem says the exact same thing about Arlovski but promises this isn’t anything personal against the former UFC heavyweight champion.
It was the fight that he was offered so Overeem accepted — nothing more, nothing less.
"I didn’t know him that well. I know he’s pretty emotional, but other than that I don’t know that much," Overeem said. "We trained a couple of times together and he is how he is. He’s not my cup of tea. It’s not that I hate him, it’s not that we’re enemies but we don’t train together.
We’re not that good of friends or training partners. Training partners help each other. We hardly train together.
— Alistair Overeem
"To me, a fight is a fight."
It may sound like this fight is filled with bad blood that’s just waiting to boil over, but Overeem promises that’s not the case — at least on his end.
He doesn’t consider Arlovski anything more than an occasional training partner, but this bout wouldn’t change if they were long time teammates and best of friends.
"Even if we were friends, I consider this a sport, a competition so there are no ill feelings towards any other fighter or whatever," Overeem said.
As much as Overeem downplays the brewing rivalry with Arlovski, he can’t ignore the reality of the fracture that this fight likely caused inside the gym when it came to fellow teammates and coaches.
Head coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn both opted to side with Arlovski for this matchup and that’s who they’ll corner this weekend, but Overeem promises there are no hard feelings about it.
He’s confident that he’s working with the right coaches who can get him the win over Arlovski and then everything can go back to normal after this fight is over.
"No it’s not awkward. It is what it is," Overeem said about the coaching situation. "I’ll be working with several coaches I’ve been working with for some time now. The main wrestling coach at Jackson’s and then I have a BJJ (Brazilian jiu-jitsu) coach from Jackson’s, he’s also part of Gracie-Barra in Albuquerque, New Mexico and then I have two other coaches that I’ve worked with extensively before in previous fight camps against Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir, Junior dos Santos.
"So I’m very proud and very confident in my coaches. They’re already proven and we’ve been through a lot together."
The oddities of this fight aside, Overeem still has respect for Arlovski as a competitor and he knows this will be a tough matchup, but he has no doubt that he’s going to win.
Arlovski may be enjoying a career rejuvenation with a 4-1 record over his last five fights, but Overeem says his success will stop with a sudden jolt when they meet in the Octagon on Sunday.
"As a fighter you need to constantly improve. So that’s what we’ve been doing, constantly improving striking, grappling, wrestling, there’s always different aspects to improve. This fight is going to be five rounds so we’re prepared for the five rounds. I’m very confident going into this fight," Overeem said.
"He definitely has been good but it’s not going to be enough."
Oveereem faces Arlovsk in the main event of UFC Fight Night from Rotterdam with the main card airing on FS1 this Sunday starting at 2pm ET.