Alistair Overeem looks like he was created by the gods to provide humanity evidence of an anatomical ideal. And when he gets knocked out he's the proof they point to of our ever-lingering fragility. If Alistair Overeem can be crushed, the lesson goes, we can all be crushed.
Today the Ohio Athletic Commission released their list of medical suspensions from UFC 203 last Saturday in Cleveland, and at the top of the list was Overeem, who suffered a knockout in his main-event title fight against heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. At first when I read that Overeem had been suspended indefinitely pending a neurological scan and an MRI, I thought for a brief, hopeful second that mixed martial arts had come to its collective moral senses and decided that Overeem, who had just suffered his fourth knockout in three years and his 13th in a fighting career that's lasted nearly 20, would be required to sit down while we as a community decided how much more suffering we were willing to allow him to take for our sakes. But then I remembered that this was prizefighting I was talking about and that there was nothing special about Overeem's suspension, that he was one of five fighters to get indefinite suspensions following UFC 203 (some pending clearances on body parts as ethically insignificant as fingers and hands), and I decided that some things will never change.
Or so I thought. Yesterday, adding a bizarre coda to a bizarre UFC event (one that saw Travis Browne convince a referee to pause a fight so he could coddle a damaged finger; Browne's opponent, Fabricio Werdum, kick Browne's coach after the fight was over; and a former professional wrestler sacrifice his body and the dignity of the UFC for the chance to cross an item off his bucket list), UFC color commentator and post-fight interviewer Joe Rogan announced on Twitter that he had asked the UFC to "refrain from interviewing fighters after they've been KO'ed."
"If you've ever talked to a friend who has been KO'ed their perception of reality can be drastically off and their memory is severely impaired," Rogan wrote yesterday. And he's right. According to doctors, concussions can adversely impact a person's memory, concentration, cognitive abilities, and the speed at which they can process information.
The incident that precipitated Rogan's request was the post-fight, in-cage interview he conducted with Overeem not five minutes after the fighter regained consciousness, a bizarre conversation that saw a slow and sedated Overeem claiming that Stipe Miocic had actually tapped to a guillotine choke earlier in the fighter but that it hadn't been seen by the ref. Essentially Overeem was arguing that Miocic's knockout was illegitimate and that as a result he, Overeem, should be the current heavyweight champion. It was a strange performance that at first seemed like the worst kind of sour grapes: sour grapes bordering on slander.
"I got him in a guillotine choke, and I clearly felt a tap," Overeem said. "The ref didn't see it, the ref didn't jump in, so the fight continued. But in my opinion, he tapped and it's a bummer and we're going to have to go back to the drawing board."
"Did you let go when you thought that he tapped?" Rogan asked.
"Yes," Overeem responded. "The referee didn't come in. But he clearly tapped."
Rogan then had the production crew play back the tape of Overeem attempting the submission, and when no phantom tap was revealed, even from two different angles, the pro-Miocic crowd began booing and Overeem was left looking resigned—his second loss in one night—before he suddenly decided to switch topics and thank the city of Cleveland for their hospitality. At that moment, what seemed at first to be a desperate fighter's ploy to excuse a loss began to feel like something darker and more tragic. The suspicion started to arise that maybe Overeem wasn't in his right mind when he made his accusation. That maybe he hadn't recovered his mental faculties after getting knocked out. That possibly his memory of the fight he'd just fought was sketchy at best, and wiped out at worse. That maybe interviewing a fighter right after he gets knocked out isn't the best thing to do for his reputation, which can be quite ruined by leveling accusations of cheating. As Rogan would put it the next day, "I don't think it's wise nor fair." A defeated Alistair Overeem may be a living reminder of our mortality but no man deserves to be the poster child for head trauma.
So Rogan put out his call to the UFC, and now we'll see what kind of moral stuff the new regime is made of. And while he suffered the online criticism of fans and fighters (including UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley) who thought he should have recognized the situation earlier and let Overeem off the hook without publically humiliating him, Rogan did make a small but significant gesture in the direction of humanity—which, in the world of prizefighting, almost justifies a medal.