Alistair Overeem fighting to shake stigma of failed drug test

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Ever since he defeated Brock Lesnar on Dec. 30, 2011, on what appeared to be the crowning night of his life, things have gone in the wrong direction for Alistair Overeem.

On March 27, 2012, the day he arrived at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas for a news conference to announce a fight for the UFC heavyweight title, Overeem failed a random drug test administered by the Nevada Athletic Commission.

Upon his return following a nine-month suspension, he fought sluggishly on Feb. 2 at UFC 156 and was knocked out by Antonio Silva in the third round of a bout he was expected to win easily.

He's been off another six months, meaning he'll only have fought once in more than 19 months when he climbs into the cage on Saturday at UFC Fight Night 26 at TD Garden in Boston to face Travis Browne.

After his loss to Silva, Dave Meltzer of MMA Fighting reported that Overeem's testosterone levels were dangerously low. Meltzer reported that Overeem's testosterone level was at 180 for the match against Silva, far less than the 400 figure that is considered normal.

A testosterone level that low would explain the fatigue and sluggishness that Overeem displayed in the bout.

But his low level proved somewhat curious, because Overeem was suspended nine months earlier after having a greatly elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone (T:E) ratio. Overeem was 14:1 when he was surprise tested by Nevada, more than three times the state's legal limit of 4:1.

One cause of the kind of low testosterone levels Overeem showed in the Silva fight is hypogonadism. However, that condition is extremely rare in otherwise healthy males between the ages of 18 and 40 (the age range of the vast majority of pro MMA fighters).

Another potential reason for a low testosterone level is previous steroid use. When a person takes steroids for a prolonged period, the body shuts down natural production of testosterone and, as a result, the person will need to take exogenous testosterone to make up for it.

That puts Overeem in a very difficult situation against Browne. He needs to show that his sluggish performance against Silva was simply a bad night, and not the result of his body shutting down production of testosterone because of previous steroid usage.

If he looks sluggish or listless again, it's going to lend credence to the allegations of PED use that have been frequently levied at him.

Overeem has always vehemently denied cheating, and insisted that his failed test was the result of a mistake by a doctor, who gave him a shot to help heal an injury.

He goes into the Browne fight facing a public increasingly skeptical of athletes who cheat. There hasn't been the kind of public outcry among fight fans as there has been among baseball fans, but at least it is on the radar and pressure is increasing on the sport's regulators to contain it.

Overeem has kept a low profile since losing to Silva and hasn't had much of a media presence prior to the match with Browne.

That's not good, because he's an articulate, engaging guy who has plenty to offer. A successful Overeem changes the entire face of the UFC's heavyweight division, as well.

There aren't a lot of names in the Top 10 who are keeping champion Cain Velasquez and No. 1 contender Junior dos Santos awake at night. Daniel Cormier is expected to drop to light heavyweight after his October fight with Roy Nelson, and there are plenty of question marks about the others.

But with Overeem healthy and successful, there are a series of great matches that could be made.

Overeem had an air of cockiness about him that infuriated some and engaged others, but it made people want to see him fight. He was almost disdainful of Silva prior to their bout, and was speaking openly of a title fight.

He looked foolish when he did little against Silva and then was knocked out. But his pre-fight words were brazen.

"It's just a matter of time in my sense," Overeem said on Jan. 28, 2013, during a pre-fight conference call. "We still have one more mountain to climb, [and] that's Bigfoot. But to be honest, I do not see any problem and then, yes, it's going to be an exciting day."

Rather than getting that title shot, Overeem is on the comeback trail yet again. He's 8-1 with one no contest in his last 10 fights and yet is being inundated with questions about whether his success is the result of hard work and natural talent or if it's mainly attributable to PED use.

Being linked to PEDs can't be helping him keep and attract sponsors. The suspicions refuse to die because the massive change in his body, the 2012 failed test and then the sluggish effort with the low testosterone levels in the Silva fight are seen by some as evidence of regular PED use.

But if, as he continually says, he's truly innocent and only failed a drug test because of a questionable doctor, he deserves to be exonerated once and for all and celebrated for his talent.

That is why there's probably nobody on the card on Saturday who needs a dominant win and then a clean drug screen more than Alistair Overeem.

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