(I know what you’re thinking, Alistair, and yes, that shirt is breathtaking. / Photo via Sherdog)
As we’ve seen so many times before in MMA, some fights only come together out of total desperation. When Alistair Overeem was booked against James Thompson for DREAM’s “White Cage” event in October 2009, we rolled our eyes at the prospect of yet another Japanese squash match. At the time, Overeem was steadily building his reputation as the scariest heavyweight outside of the UFC, while Thompson had suffered stoppage defeats in his last four fights. Why in God’s name would anybody think this was a good idea?
Well, nobody else would fight Overeem, for one thing. Also, Thompson had gambled away all his money and the bank was going to take away his ex-girlfriend’s house. Thompson explains the whole sordid affair in a two-part column with Fightland, which you can (and should) read here and here. Here’s an excerpt:
I was living in London and training at London Shoot fighters. Well, I say “training”; it was more like the idea of training that would quickly dissipate into nothingness at the sight of the bookies (gambling establishment) and that’s were you’d find me surrounded by other hopeless souls — human-ish males all queuing up to feed what little money they have into the never-ending abyss that separates you from much more than the money you feed in, in hope it spits more money (aka “hope”) back out at you. It wasn’t the best of times for me, to say the least, and the phone call I received next wouldn’t be improving said situation
It was from my ex (my fiancée now) Graz Merlino, aka the Merlean. I was in the bookies and winning, so at the time I was in a good mood, so I took the call (small note: Fellas, if you’re in a good mood, the chances of talking to your ex and that mood improving or even maintaining are slim to none). The Merlean started to explain to me that the bank had sent her papers saying they had mistakenly paid me too much money (which I’d gambled away), and since her name was on my account (part of a failed attempt to make it harder for me to gamble), they were now in the process of taking one of her assets, i.e., her house.
I don’t want to go into this too much as there’s no need, and it gets complicated, but the crux of the matter was the Merlean had tried to help me and now might lose her house because if it. We’d split up due to my gambling and I’d really put her though it—and when I say “it,” think about a shitter version of hell. Even after we’d split up it seemed I was still able to fuck her life up. I tried to calm her down, while secretly freaking out. I promised I’d get her the money. I apologized and told her I’d be in touch real soon. I put the phone down and racked my brain about how to get a large amount of money quickly. Actually, that’s not quite true: I went back in the bookies, lost around a grand, then I racked my brain about how to get a large amount of money quickly.
That phone call had really taken me aback. I only had a small amount of money left. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do; I only known I couldn’t let the Merlean lose her house due to my shortcomings as a human.
That night I was woken up by a phone call at the unsociable time of three in the morning. It was my agent, Ken Pavia, aka the Pav. He was calling from some remote part of the world where the time difference was, well, very different. The Pav has never been great with time differences, something I pointed out to him using as many four-letter words as I could, all of which didn’t affect him at all. The Pav was already five espressos into his day and firing on all cylinders.
I managed to make out that a couple of Alistair Overeem’s opponents had pulled out of the Dream 12 main event in Japan, and that the promoters were asking if I would fight him? The money was good, Pav said, because the offer was last minute. “What’s ‘last minute’?” I asked. “This Sunday” was the reply. This convo was talking place on Tuesday, and our flight would be Thursday and I’d fight Sunday. “I’m in,” I said…
I was due to fight Alistair Overeem, one of the best heavyweights in the world, in a couple of days. And I was in the worst shape ever. I felt an amalgamation of emotions. The first was relief that I could now save the Merlean house. This was closely followed by abject terror…
What had I done? What was going to happen to me? Whatever it was, I was treating my life like a joke and now I had to face becoming the inevitable punchline, which I was guessing wasn’t going to be too funny. I wasn’t too worried about being hurt. I’m not trying to sound tough here but it’s true. I was just sad that it had come to this. I’d always fought because I loved the sport and being part of it in whichever way I could. But in this instant there was no hiding the truth: I had taken this fight strictly for the money, and it made me feel hollow.