Getting Reemed

If this comes down the chimney, I’m getting the hell outta there.

If there was one incident that made me wonder about people who make fighting their profession, it was the day I found myself in the shower with Alistair Overeem.

When I trained at Golden Glory, there were probably twenty regular guys. The biggest ‘name’ fighter was Chalid Arrab, but the gym also had a number of younger fighters who were just on the verge of making a name for themselves. I felt the four best relative unknowns were Gokhan Saki, Errol Zimmerman, his cousin Benjey Zimmerman and Alistair Overeem.

I liked Alistair very much. He was pretty merciless in sparring; while the others relented a little more to give me the opportunity to learn, Alistair was ruthless and really did beat the hell out of me. He did, however, take the time to teach me things after the fact and show me where I was going wrong.

Alistair had been around for quite a while and was at least five years older than Benjey and Saki. He had also fought a number of times in Japan, as part of Pride. Personally, I feel that Pride set the standard for Mixed Martial Arts: the only prohibited techniques were eye gouging, biting, groin strikes and direct attacks to the spinal column or back of the skull. Essentially, Pride rules were all about eliminating any kind of technique that might kill or entirely incapacitate a fighter. This was in the interests of providing a compelling contest, regardless of the danger to the athletes. Gotta love those wacky Japanese, I say.

Alistair had begun his career as a kickboxer and shifted over into MMA. I was told to watch out for him early on; he had once seriously injured one of the other guys to assert himself. Given this information, I was careful to play low- status and ensure we were on good terms from the get-go. Alistair was freakishly strong. I had watched him wrestle one day and between he and his partner, there was at least two hundred and twenty kilos of muscle, gristle and bone slamming around the ring. The sounds of the impacts they made would have been more at home in a zoo; it was literally like watching lions fight over food.

The first time we sparred, he utterly dominated me. He had astonishing strength of a very different kind to what you experience with a striker. Rather than generating force through eccentric muscle contractions where the arms and legs extend forcefully to make impact, Alistair had tremendous isometric strength; he would essentially grip you, and then man-handle your body into position. All this was accentuated by his ability to manipulate your balance and then exploit your lack of posture.

This was highly unorthodox, and very difficult to interpret. He augmented this with what I considered an odd repertory of strikes; he never kicked, but had immensely powerful punches which he kind of swiped with. He’d then leap up and knee you in the face, or pull your head down into the knee. This is an extremely effective method – just ask Ewerton Texeira. It doesn’t surprise me that Alistair has proven to be as successful in K1 as he has. He has found a whole new way to play the game, coming as he does from a code with so few stylistic strictures.

There was one shower head in the changerooms at Golden Glory. The Dutch winter is brutally, oppressively cold; you can’t leave the gym sweating or wearing light clothes, or you freeze. You have to shower, change and then be dry and rugged up in order to travel home. I had gotten under the water and lathered up when Alistair came in for a shower. He stood in the corner of the large cubicle and talked to me about the day’s sparring, made some suggestions for my improvement and asked a few questions about Australia. I stepped out from under the spray to get my shampoo, and Alsitair calmly stepped under the water to take his shower. I stood and continued the conversation but not sure what to say; standing there as I was, dripping wet and covered with soap. Alistair continued to chat until he had finished, then stepped out and got his towel to dry off. I got back under the water and finished up.

This remains to date the singly most peculiar conversation of my life. I often remember it and wonder to myself, ‘How does Alistair Overeem go to the Post Office and stand in a queue?’    


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