What a difference a year can make. Last year at the end of June, the MMA world was abuzz with Jose Aldo bailing on the UFC 189 headliner and Chad Mendes being inserted into an interim title fight with Conor McGregor. Yoel Romero was saying strange things in post-fight interviews. Michael Bisping wasn't within spitting distance of a UFC title shot. And Alistair Overeem was considered a huge flop.
I don't generally make overt statements like that last one, but the proof is in the pudding - you, the reader, voted him as such. A year ago yesterday, I decided to write a fun article looking at the WEC and Strikeforce fighters that stunk it up the most in the UFC. It wasn't a thought-provoking piece. It was just something goofy to try to lighten the mood since there was a lot of controversy going on at the time. Boy, did it provide some perspective though.
I listed 10 fighters eligible to be voted on in that poll. Some of them, like Nick Diaz and Gilbert Melendez, probably didn't even belong on the list. After over 6100 votes, a few guys emerged in a battle for second. Miguel Torres. Jason Miller. Josh Grispi. The aforementioned Diaz (haters). They each got 10-13% of the vote.
The winner got 35% of the total vote. 2138 people believed that Alistair Overeem was the biggest UFC flop to ever come out of Strikeforce or the WEC.
Author's note - BE readers also voted Matt Brown as fighter of the year in 2012. You can read into that however you want.
The surreal part is that it wasn't even surprising at the time. The man had been a champion in virtually ever other place he had competed - Strikeforce, Dream, even K-1. But in the UFC? Not so much. One year ago, he had a very pedestrian record of 4-3 in the Octagon. Knockout losses to Antonio Silva, Travis Browne, and Ben Rothwell seemed a lot more noteworthy than tepid decision wins over Frank Mir or Roy Nelson. Despite having a skill set that could compete with any heavyweight in the world, he wasn't getting it done.
He was overrated. He was a bust.
In MMA though, and especially in the heavyweight division, you're only a couple of knockouts away from breaking through. And that's exactly what Overeem did. He surprised nearly everyone by stopping former champion Junior dos Santos in December. You could say a lot about that fight - that Dos Santos looked gunshy and terrible that night, that he wasn't himself, etc - but it doesn't matter. Overeem won. When he followed it up with a beautiful knockout of pseudo-teammate Andrei Arlovski in May, suddenly he was in an enviable position again.
Now he will fight Stipe Miocic for the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 203. The fact that Miocic is the champ might be as surprising to some as the idea of Overeem getting a title shot. Overeem vs. Miocic sounds like a UFC Fight Pass headliner in some European city half of us can't spell. But again, that's the heavyweight division for you. Overeem will go to Cleveland and try to claim yet another title in front of Miocic's hometown fans.
That's a big part of what makes MMA so much fun. Who could have predicted this a year ago? Who could have guessed Michael Bisping would be middleweight champion? Who would have anticipated that Anthony Pettis would be on a three-fight losing streak and dropping to 145 to re-invent himself? Who would have called CM Punk not fighting yet? Okay, scratch that last one.
So, with Overeem out of the running, who is the biggest WEC or Strikeforce bust now? Is it Mayhem? Is it Nick Diaz? Would Ian McCall make the list now? Anthony Pettis? Could I ask any more questions in two paragraphs?
With six UFC events in the month of July, and six more going down before the end of September (including UFC 203), the narrative will probably change directions once again. MMA has its share of issues and sad tales, but witnessing the path to redemption for guys like Overeem and Bisping makes the sport that much more compelling.
Nothing against Stipe Miocic, but I'll be rooting for Overeem at UFC 203. A proper story needs a happy ending, and an Overeem win would definitely qualify. I never thought I would be writing anything like this, but that just goes to show how surprising this sport can be - for fans and writers alike.