Overdrawn, Overwhelmed, Overmatched, Overeemed - Part 2
The last day before we set off for Japan I was still aching from the cardio and rolling I'd done the day before. I was formulating some kind of game plan. So I got in the cage with Paul and Alexis and thought, “How I might actually win this thing?” It was obvious if I was going to win the fight it would have to be quick. Best-case scenario I had one good round in me. We decided I'd have to crowd Overeem--get in his face, get him to the cage, go for a single leg, and try to get to north/south position and throw knees to his head (which are legal in Japan), a strategy that gave me the smallest chink of daylight to win. We went though this, practicing holding north/south and landing knees, and from the single leg keeping my head on the inside in order to avoid guillotines, which Overeem was known for.
Training done, it was time to go pack, and even though I felt far from great at least I had a decent game plan to work towards, a good team, and a friend from the gym, Zelg Galistic, fighting on the same card. Things weren't too bad.
We set off for Japan, I always loved fighting in front of a Japanese crowd simply because they got it. I was still more nervous than I was before in previous fights--the combination of fighting the best person you've ever faced and doing the least training you’ve ever done was never going to have a great effect on my mental state—but on the day of the fight something strange happened.
Considering that the sword of Damocles was dangling over my head and I was careening forward towards judgment day, you might have expected me to be a nervous wreck, but I felt calm and even somewhat ready. I didn't look at or question this feeling too much; I just felt better.
I did some interviews. I usually like doing interviews, especially in Japan because they'll ask random questions like "What does strength mean to you ?" But this time I had to lie about pretty much everything. I mean what was I going to say to the Japanese fans, who had welcomed me back and given me another chance after my disastrous first fight in Pride: "It's a great honour to be back fighting in Japan. I’m honoured to be selected to fight Alistair Overeem in the first-ever Dream cage match. I've been preparing by eating food fast and making sure that the pockets of Mr. Ladbrokes and Mr. Hill have been thoroughly lined and padded with my cash.” Nope I did what every self-respecting person would do and lied though my teeth. So I bluffed my way though the last of the interviews before me and Zelg, Mike, and Paul made our way to the arena.
Thompson's Japan debut, against Aleksander Emelianenko, Oct. 2004
When my name was finally called I still felt very focused on the mammoth job at hand. Soon I was in the cage waiting for Overeem to make his way out. His music blared, "Tonight's gonna be a good night," by the Black Eyed Peas. I thought, “Yes, it is going to be a good night.” I even started to dance a bit. I didn't know if it had all gotten to be a bit too much for me and I'd lost the plot or what, but I wasn't trying to be relaxed; I really was. I had a game plan and no matter what was going to do my best to follow it.
So the fight started. I threw an overhand right, which missed. Overeem went for a highlight-style KO with a flying knee but flew over my head as I ducked. Overeem was over my back and when I righted myself I almost accidentally threw him over the cage that Dream was trying out for the first time.
As he landed I got him to the cage and dropped for a single leg. So far so good. I made sure to keep my head on the inside so I couldn't get caught in Overeem’s patented guillotine. No one told Overeem this, though, and he locked in the choke. I was shocked. My head was being cranked the wrong way and my throat was being squeezed like silly putty. My brain was screaming at me, “Your not safe!” I tapped. That was it. The match was over quickly.
I was disappointed, more in myself than the result. I mean, what did I really expect: to walk in on no training and out of shape and win? Life seldom works like that. I should be grateful I ducked that first knee.
I went back home, paid the money to my ex, and all was well with the world.
When I look back I'm curious as to why I felt so relaxed when I was out of shape and not ready. The conclusion I came to was that I didn't put any pressure on myself. It was a simply case of do or die, and I was just going to do my best. That's why against the hardest opponent I'd faced in the worst shape of my life, I felt the best I’d ever felt.
But the fact remained that I took a fight when I wasn’t ready just for the money; I'd never done this before. Before I plunged into a deep dark depression, I decided to never to do that again. It will kill your love for the sport quicker than a bullet to the brain. So at least I learnt something, which I guess is what it's all about.
Check out Part 1 here.