New England mixed martial arts fans are getting a double dose of Octagon action in the coming weeks, as the UFC has a pair of exciting local cards set to finish out the summer.
Following the promotion’s first ever trip to Maine on Aug. 16, the UFC will be bringing a stacked night of fights to Foxwoods on Sept. 5, headlined by the highly-anticipated rematch between top 10 middleweights Gegard Mousasi and Ronaldo “Jacare’’ Souza. The event will also feature a lightweight scrap between “The Ultimate Fighter’’ season 15 winner Michael Chiesa and seasoned veteran Joe Lauzon, who fights out of Bridgewater.
Considering how rival MMA promotion Bellator will also be holding fights in Connecticut that day, the UFC is bringing out its big guns for the September card, as heavyweight legend Alistair Overeem will take on Ben Rothwell in what will likely be the night’s co-main event.
Overeem stopped by the Boston.com office last week to talk about his upcoming bout. While “The Reem’’ isn’t underestimating his next opponent, he does expect a quick battle against “Big Ben.’’
“My goal is to knock Ben out in the first round, I’m going to be honest,’’ Overeem told Boston.com. “I’m also here to give the fans an exciting fight. That’s always been my goal.’’
Overeem comes into his fight against Rothwell following a unanimous decision win over former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir at UFC 169. However, prior to the victory, the Dutch-English fighter suffered a brutal knockout loss to Travis Browne on the UFC’s Boston card last August.
“The Reem’’ hopes to put on a better show for area fans when he returns to New England in September.
“Last time I was here, I gave them an exciting fight, but I didn’t give them a knockout in the first round,’’ Overeem said. “I was close though, nobody can say I wasn’t, but that promise stands for this fight as well.’’
The towering heavyweight, who’s actually looking quite lean and mean these days, recently switched training camps from the Florida-based Blackzilians (which houses the likes of former UFC champs Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort) to Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque, N.M. The new gym, led by famed coach Greg Jackson, is home to a ton of big-named fighters, including current light-heavyweight champ Jon Jones, brother of Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones.
New Mexico may not boast the same kind of nightlife as Florida, but Overeem likes his new, quieter setting.
“I’ve trained at many different gyms, but training at Greg’s has been a very positive experience,’’ Overeem said. “There’s no ego in the gym, so the focus has just been on improvement. Also, Albuquerque doesn’t have that much distractions, so it’s just training and sleeping. So far that I’ve worked there, two and a half months now, I’ve been having great results.’’
The big change in camps is the subject the latest episode of “THE REEM,’’ an online documentary starring the heavyweight fighter. Between his own production as well as the numerous behind the scene videos the UFC puts out, Overeem doesn’t mind giving fans access to his life outside of the Octagon, as long as the timing is right.
While he appreciates the fact that MMA stars are more accessible to fans than a LeBron James or a Derek Jeter, Overeem does like to keep some things out of the public eye.
“I like it, but I also like to have my private space,’’ Overeem said. “It depends a little bit on the timing. Sometimes I don’t like it and sometimes I do like it. Sometimes you need your own space. But it indeed is different when compared to other superstars. It’s completely different.’’
Sporting a leaner physique and training with a new, world-class team, Overeem isn’t overlooking Rothwell, but does have his sights set on making a run at the UFC heavyweight title, currently held by Cain Velasquez. As the former Strikeforce and Dream champion, as well as holding a K-1 kickboxing title, a UFC belt is the only piece of hardware missing from Overeem’s trophy case.
“The UFC title is the only thing missing to my career right now,’’ Overeem said. “For me, it would be the ultimate crowning to my career. I would have won the belt in all the major organizations. The UFC is that world organization now that really has become way bigger than the other ones, so yeah, the ultimate goal is the UFC heavyweight belt.’’
Regardless of whether he wins a UFC title or not, Overeem wants to leave a legacy of exciting bouts that fans will remember for years to come.
“Exciting fights. Great fights. I have a high finish ratio, I think I only won two or three by decision out of 70 fights or something,’’ Overeem said. “But yeah, positive vibes!’’