Overeem can’t shake doubters

It’s not fair, really, the rumors and innuendo surrounding the UFC’s third-ranked heavyweight.

After all, Alistair Overeem has never tested positive for steroids or any other performance-enhancing drug. He says his freakishly impressive weight gain — more than 50 pounds added to his 6-foot-5 frame since his days as a light heavyweight — is because he no longer starves himself to make weight. The 31-year-old says his 256-pound frame is more natural than when he was a string bean at 205 pounds.

There’s nothing he can do to push back at these accusations. I mean, Overeem said he flew back home to Holland from his training camp in the U.S. last month because his mother, who has twice beaten scary cancer diagnoses, had another medical scare. Overeem wanted to care for his mother, to be there as emotional backboard. Hard to criticize a man for that.

Yet people did. Because the coincidental timing of it all — that he happened to fly back home on the same day the Nevada State Athletic Commission requested Overeem take a urine test — caused fans’ suspicion to erupt.

But Overeem passed two tests in Holland with a private doctor, then flew to Great Britain and passed a third, supervised test. So after his UFC 141 fight in Las Vegas on Friday against Brock Lesnar, Overeem believes all the ugly intimations and half-accusations of cheating ought to stop.

“After the fight I am going to be most tested fighter ever,” Overeem told FOXSports.com. “So that will be the complete argument to counter all those accusations.”

Yet in a time when fans have little reason to trust athletes, there’s no chance the wonderings about Overeem will ever end.

It doesn’t matter how vehemently he professes innocence, or how often he passes drug tests. We live in an age of shattered innocence. So many of our elite athletes — from Ben Johnson to Marion Jones, from Mark McGwire to Barry Bonds, from Bill Romanowski to Shawne Merriman, from Floyd Landis to Lance Armstrong — have had their careers overshadowed by accusations or by admissions or even by hard evidence of performance-enhancing drug use. So today, in the court of public opinion, an unfounded rumor is as good as a conviction.

We don’t trust what our politicians or corporations tell us after so many times our trust has been broken. We don’t trust our athletes either. Instead, we rely on the one thing we have left: our smell test, where common sense and circumstantial evidence are damning and where denials merely fuel undying cynicism.

And the smell test is the one test that Overeem just can’t seem to pass. Even if he’s never failed a test. Even if he weighed 222 pounds at age 20, so weighing 256 at age 31 isn’t that far of a jump for the 6-foot-5 fighter.

“You cannot stop the accusations from coming, so you shouldn’t even try,” said Overeem, who added he’s never used PEDs. “The funny thing is, I never got these accusations to my face. I’ve never got someone walking up to me, saying you’ve done this or this or this. Because then you can have a discussion. But no one’s ever spoken to me about it. So what can I do? Respond to people, go on Internet? That’s just a waste of time and energy, and I got other stuff on my mind.”

Now that Overeem has passed his requisite tests for this fight, the UFC isn’t shying away from promoting the freakish physiques of UFC 141. Quite to the contrary. The promotional poster shows Lesnar next to Overeem with their heights, weights and the tag line, “It doesn’t get any bigger than this.” Lesnar, a former NCAA wrestling champion and WWE star who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 265 pounds on that poster, is one of the top draws in UFC. The fight is expected to surpass half a million pay-per-view buys after heavy advertising during the first UFC on FOX bout last month. The winner should get a shot at reigning heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos.

Although his training camp was interrupted by his trip home, and although he recently recovered from a broken rib, Overeem predicts he’ll maul Lesnar.

“This fight is not going to last more than two rounds,” Overeem said. “Because I’m going to knock him out, plain and simple. He’s one of the best wrestlers out there, he’s a strong guy, he’s a tremendous athlete, but he has a weakness, and that is his striking. And that is exactly what I am going to do.”

As for his mother? She’s fine. She won’t come to Vegas, though. She came to one of Overeem’s fights, about a decade ago. Hated it. Smoked cigarettes and drank lots of coffee that day. Worried for her son’s safety. After all, the huge man will always be her little boy, even inside the Octagon.

And once he enters the Octagon on Friday, Overeem says he’ll become someone very different than the caring man who flew home to be with his mother. He’ll no longer be the father who loves wrestling with his 5-year-old daughter. He’ll become a dark, determined person.

“I have a bright side — which comes up when I’m with my fiancée, when I’m with my little girl, with my family — and I have a dark side,” Overeem said. “Everybody has a bright side and a dark side. … My dark side is definitely a little more than other people.”

Whether Overeem wins or loses, UFC fans will continue to wonder what else is behind that dark side. And sadly, because of the times in which we live, there’s nothing Overeem can do — even passing tests on a weekly basis — to stop us all from wondering.

You can follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave, become a fan on Facebook or email him at reidforgrave@gmail.com.