There may not be another fighter on earth whose placement in rankings causes the same kind of stir as Alistair Overeem. You can find fans who think that he doesn't belong in the top 20 of heavyweights due to a resume sorely lacking in marquee victories. The title of Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion carries little weight when he has only defended the title once since winning it against Paul Buentello back in November of 2007.
On the other end of the spectrum are places which rank Overeem as high as #2 in the world. Clearly based more on potential and a strong sense of success in the world of "what if?" It's Alistair's oft overlooked submission game combined with his K-1 World Grand Prix championship that boosts him up the rankings. In his one win against a top ten ranked opponent during his current run, Overeem humiliated Brett Rogers. The fight would only last 3:40 before the bout was stopped due to strikes. Those poor unranked souls that step into against Overeem have not cracked the two minute mark during his current reign of terror.
It doesn't take long for Tim Marchman of Sports Illustrated to make clear which side of the fence he resides on:
Alistair Overeem, who owns about as many heavyweight titles he never defends as he does wins over impressive opponents, is a fraud. At those moments when you are tempted to think that fighting is, for all its bright promise, about the most thoroughly debased sport one can follow, think of this thick rope of Dutch muscle and despair.
This Saturday in Dallas, Overeem will take the first really serious fight he's had in four years, a quarterfinal bout in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. If he beats Fabricio Werdum, it will be, speaking generously, the fourth impressive win in a long career, and the first since 2006. That such things can be said of a man widely, if inexplicably, held to be one of the best heavyweights in the world makes him a fine example of what you might call the B.J. Penn Fallacy.
We'll circle back to the idea of the "B.J. Penn Fallacy" shortly. Let's start with Overeem.
I'm assuming Mr. Marchman has little input into SI's MMA rankings, as their June rankings place Alistair in the #2 heavyweight spot. For reference, the USA TODAY / SB Nation Consensus Rankings have Alistair in the #7 overall spot.
The idea that a man with Overeem's skills is a "fraud" is a bit of a stretch, and the "first serious fight" thing overlooks the fact that Rogers was ranked in the top 10 of almost every ranking worth discussing at the time that fight took place.
My biggest problem with Marchman's article stems from the idea of this B.J. Penn Fallacy. He describes:
B.J. Penn deserves to have the fallacy named after him because he is widely thought of as a top welterweight contender despite not having won an important fight in that division since January of 2004, and thought of by many as the uncrowned lightweight champion even though he was thrashed twice by Frankie Edgar, his obvious better, last year. No amount of evidence that Penn is not actually a great fighter will ever convince some large part of the public that he isn't one, because he looks like one, has the physical skills of one, and occasionally does things that a great fighter might do, such as lick an opponent's blood off his gloves. The mere invocation of his name creates a quantum phenomenon, where failures are evidence of superiority and results don't matter.
He knocks people out, he has been successful in another sport, he has title belts to wear, and his freakish muscles have muscles of their own to flex. All of this makes him seem like the sort of person who ought to swan around as a great heavyweight. That none of this counts for anything -- that physique doesn't rate in fighting, that a title belt you won by beating a bum and don't defend may as well have been bought on Craigslist, and so on -- doesn't quite seem to matter.
To say that Penn was "thrashed twice" by Edgar when it seems that the majority of fans and media scored the (very close) first fight for Penn is using extreme ignorance to make a point. As is acting as though Penn didn't have a long and sustained run as the dominant force in the lightweight division, making a better case than any other man for the best lightweight in the short history of this sport. And battling long time #2 Jon Fitch to a draw at welterweight certainly would seem to indicate his contender status at 170.
Then there is the fact that Marchman writes Paul Buentello off as a "bum" despite his long career indicating that he's a good (but certainly not great) heavyweight who was 10-2 since 2003 when Overeem dominated him to win the inaugural Strikeforce heavyweight title.
It's understandable to have a desire to push people to get their view of Overeem in check. #2 in the world is overrating what Alistair has done to this point in his heavyweight career. But passing him off as a fraud or acting as though people should ignore the skills he has is foolish.
"I understand very well (why I'm not ranked highly). There is an argument that, you could say 'Alistair is not top 10 or not top five because he has not fought this guy and that guy.' But I think where the fans get their motivation is that I did fight a lot, I did have a lot of knockouts or submissions. I am the only fighter to hold a major MMA belt with a major MMA organization as well as the K-1 organization, something that has... nobody has ever done that before so... There's arguments, there's arguments for both ways. But I can understand it that people don't place me in the top five but I also understand why people say, 'Yeah, he's the number one or number two or number three.' But the only way to find out is for those fights to happen and now that Zuffa has bought Strikeforce, it's one step closer and we're going to see it coming in two years. And I'm going to make sure I'm damn ready."
It's clearly time for Alistair to prove himself, and that starts with a hell of a fight with Fabricio Werdum this Saturday. If he really is so desperately overrated, it shouldn't take long for Werdum to prove it.