Alistair Overeem Opts for Cautious Approach in Returning From Elbow Surgery

By Tristen Critchfield Jun 12, 2014
Alistair Overeem wants to be fully healthy before he returns to the Octagon. | Dave Mandel/

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Alistair Overeem had surgery in April, the first time the Dutch heavyweight had gone under the knife in nearly 20 years of combat sports training and competition.

After such a fortunate streak of good health, it is not surprising that the former Strikeforce and Dream champion is taking the recovery process slowly.

“The surgery is healing up well. [I had] bone spurs in both elbows and an ulnar nerve entrapment, which was a long surgery -- 11 hours,” Overeem recently told “It’s pretty tough, but it was necessary. My arms were bothering me a lot for the last few years.”

Overeem has not competed since taking a lopsided unanimous decision victory over Frank Mir at UFC 169 in February. After that bout, “The Demolition Man” knew that something had to be done.

“I remember in the Mir fight [thinking] I’ve really got to get this checked out,” he said. “After the Mir fight, [my] arms [were] not bothering [me], so you forget about it. But then my nerve got entrapped. That was the end of training right there.

“Now I’m recovering from that, getting in shape. I can say I’m already in OK shape. I’m just waiting for my hand to heal up a little bit more because the ulnar nerve controls half of your hand and it’s not entirely restored there yet.”

The ulnar nerve is one of the three main nerves in the arm, and entrapment can occur when the nerve becomes compressed or irritated, resulting in pain or numbness in the elbow, hand, wrist or fingers. Clearly, such a scenario is not ideal for someone who makes a living throwing punches.

While Overeem admits that he still experiences “a little tingly stuff” in his right hand, the Dutchman also says he is improving every day. At this point, however, he is not quite ready to accept a fight. Back-to-back upset losses at the hands of Antonio Silva and Travis Browne last year knocked Overeem off his desired championship course, and he is well aware how crucial it is to be as healthy as possible upon returning to the Octagon.

“I want to get in there as soon as possible. What I want to prevent is to accept a fight and have a setback and then not be optimal because that’s one thing I learned in 2013: Losing a fight costs you dearly,” he said. “I want to be in a high percentage of fitness before I accept a fight because if you accept a fight, there’s pressure. And then if you withdraw from a fight because you’re not ready, then the whole world is going to be pissed and disappointed. So we need to be a little bit professional and go a little bit slower than I would like to. If it was up to me I’d fight again yesterday.”

At the moment, Overeem says he considers himself to be 70 to 80 percent healthy. He would prefer to be near 90 percent – if not better – before signing a bout agreement. In addition, there is the matter of integrating himself into a new gym. The 34-year-old heavyweight is a little more than a week into his trial run at Jackson-Wink MMA in Albuquerque, N.M.

“I just started at this gym,” he said. “They need to get to know me, and I need to get to know them. If you’re going to rush things, that’s no good.”

Overeem believes he has plenty to build upon from his performance against Mir. He has memorized the statistics from that February bout, a contest that resulted in a lopsided 139-to-5 advantage in total strikes for the former Pride Fighting Championships talent.

“I have them memorized because it’s special,” he said. “That’s what you do it for, right? Even if some people said, ‘It was a boring fight.’ Maybe it was a boring fight, but still, those stats are good. And I felt great. I felt like I could do two more rounds, which was a victory for myself. If you’re going to fight for a title you need to know you can go five rounds. I know I can go five.”

In the meantime, Overeem will continue to tweak his skills in New Mexico while he heals. While nothing is set in stone, both the camp and the fighter seem to be meshing well. Whether Overeem decides to plant roots at Jackson-Wink or go elsewhere, he says has at least five or six good years left.

That remaining time is accompanied by lofty goals.

“This ulnar nerve surgery was actually my first [surgery] in 20 years of training, so I have no complaints there,” he said. “So again, we’re going to focus on winning; we’re going to focus on the title. For that you need to be a little bit careful.”


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