It was just over three years ago when Alistair Overeem was first scheduled to meet Junior Dos Santos at UFC 146 following a huge win over Brock Lesnar in his Octagon debut.
A lot has changed since that time, with both men going through more than a few hills and valleys to get back to this fight, but Overeem is finally ready to step into the Octagon with Dos Santos and settle an old score that he’s never forgotten about.
"I wanted this fight to happen," Overeem told FOX Sports from Orlando. "The fans wanted to see this fight and I’ve been getting messages from all over the world from Japan to Brazil to Holland, from all corners, people want to see this fight. The UFC wants to see this fight.
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"The thing about me is I always want to be in big fights, big competition and this is one of those big fights so that makes me excited. We’ve been working for this fight and we’re very happy Junior accepted. Training camp has been great. I’ve been injury free and I’m very motivated. Everything is set up for the big victory on Saturday."
Overeem knows better than anybody that he’s not the same fighter he was three years ago when he was originally matched up with Dos Santos, but he believes that will work to his benefit thanks to the coaching he now receives as part of the Jackson-Winkeljohn team in New Mexico.
While he has bounced around to a few different gyms since joining the UFC, Overeem believes he not only found a team but a family in New Mexico. H also believes if anybody is going to get him to a UFC championship, it’s the guys who helped put Jon Jones, Holly Holm and a slew of other contenders into title fights over the years.
He’s a tough guy. He can take a punch. He’s a had a beating in his last few fights though so that’s something that could be a factor.
— Alistair Overeem
"I feel a lot more prepared," Overeem said. "Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, they’re pioneers of the sport. They’ve been doing this for over 30 years. Of course, there are things that you’re naturally good at but with them you get better.
"I’ve been getting better the last few years. Sometimes you stand still, sometimes you stagnate, but in the last 18 months since I’ve joined Greg and Mike, I’ve been getting a lot better. So that builds confidence, that builds motivation and now we’re here."
In preparation for the showdown this weekend, Overeem has studied Dos Santos’ last few bouts, where the former UFC champion has gone to war with both Cain Velasquez and Stipe Miocic.
In both cases, Dos Santos endured a mountain of punishment and Overeem knows that kind of damage can add up over the years. In his last two fights, Dos Santos has eaten 212 significant strikes total over 45 minutes spent in the Octagon.
Damage to the body is like water eroding soil — the effects aren’t always seen at first but the constant flood of punches and kicks to the head eventually take their toll.
"He’s a tough guy. He can take a punch. He’s had a beating in his last few fights though so that’s something that could be a factor, I don’t know," Overeem said. "I’m expecting the best Junior out there. He’s a dangerous guy, I’m not going to downplay the threat. He has dangers there, but I really just feel confident that my all-around game — I’ve got my kicks, I’ve got my knees, I’ve got my hands — I think that’s going to be too much for him."
Overeem knows that he can dole out punishment with the best of them, and there are plenty of heavyweights in the UFC who can attest to his ability to hurt somebody minute-after-minute and round-after-round. The former K-1 kickboxer certainly has one-punch knockout power, but the accumulation of shots landed is what could hold the key to beating Dos Santos on Saturday night.
"We’re going to see what happens. I did a lot of damage to Stefan Struve. I did a lot of damage on Roy Nelson. I did a lot of damage on Frank Mir. So I am the damage guy," Overeem said. "So we’re going to see what’s going to happen."
There’s a lot riding on this fight for Overeem, who finally has a chance to not only face Dos Santos but get a key win over a top five opponent in the division.
Overeem has flirted with a heavyweight title shot several times, but never attained that goal since arriving in the UFC. However, considering he holds a win over current champion Fabricio Werdum, he knows coming out on top against Dos Santos could hold the key to a very profitable matchup next year.
"I visualized it a thousand times with different scenarios. The end always remains the same — I’m going to have my hand raised," Overeem said.
"I definitely do believe that the winner of this fight has the claim on the next title shot."