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Mixed martial arts

From football to fights, Overstreet thrives in young MMA career

Former Hilltopper off to 3-0 start as amateur fighter

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Who knows how long that championship belt will stay perched on the shelf blending in with the gallon jug, disinfectant wipes, boxing gloves and other personal gym equipment.

One thing is for certain – the belt’s owner, Derik Overstreet, isn’t about to move it. He could care less where it ends up, preferably to fade in the background with other medals and nostalgia tacked on the walls of Donny Wallace’s HICS MMA gym.

Overstreet is laser-focused on the present unlike anyone Wallace has ever trained. This 6-foot-2, 220-pound ex-defensive end doesn’t miss the business side or responsibilities he used to own in his former life captaining Western Kentucky’s football team. All of his concerns are on the next training session, the next 5K run, the next kick or punch and everything that shapes his new career as a fighter.

None of that extra large-sized WKU stuff fits now anyway and the dreadlocks he once wore under a helmet have been substituted for a tighter cut. Maybe all that can return in another life down the road, but right now he’s worried about changing the hip-hop song that just started on the gym speakers. It reminds him of locker room shenanigans he can reflect on later. Presently, he’s filtering everything out for the sake of fulfilling this dream.

“I don’t miss it,” he says with a laugh to his sparring partner Johnie Shelton. “Tired of everyone from Florida and Louisiana.”

To change the song, Overstreet has to walk past that belt on the shelf, the one that represents his unbeaten record in three fights and earned him the light heavyweight amateur championship in the Hardrock MMA series.

“The actual belt, I don’t care about the belt,” Overstreet says. “It’s the fights I can get off the belt that I care about.”

•••

Overstreet is a fighter.

His degree from WKU in criminology can wait for when his current health drops. Being held to a normal day job won’t cut it for the Paducah native now settled in Bowling Green. He learned that not long after he started work at the local juvenile detention center.

He asked himself why he couldn’t become what 10-year-old Derik would’ve wanted, the kid who watched Ultimate Fighter and knew even then he wanted to try mixed martial arts.

Naturally, his mother was against that idea.

“The next closest thing that was socially acceptable was football,” he said. “Just some kind of violent sport, basically.”

Overstreet prepped at Paducah Tilghman and went on to start four years at defensive end for WKU, elected captain his senior year. He had 79 solo tackles and 11 sacks in 49 career games. He was burned out by football and hasn’t watched a game since he stepped off the field in December 2017, a loss to Georgia State in the Cure Bowl.

At one point he considered body building. Then he remembered what little Derik would’ve wanted. HICS (High Intensity Combat Sports) is a jujitsu and mixed martial arts gym that offers a free week of membership. Overstreet visited the place about a year ago and hasn’t left.

It’s his home training base where his amateur status is rising rapidly. He’s won all three of his fights, two have been called by the referee in the first minute. On Sunday, Overstreet’s career takes a new turn closer to professionalism by signing a contract with SuckerPunch Entertainment, a management company specifically for MMA fighters.

“I feel like it’s the most natural form of competition there can be,” Overstreet said. “With football, I have to worry about somebody messing up and rolling into my knee. I mess up and I’m accountable for 10 other people. If you get hit in football, you’re doing something right to try and help the team.

“With this, if you get hit it’s your fault completely and you’re doing something wrong. It’s the accountability aspect of it. It’s just one-on-one, you and somebody else and you’re fully accountable for yourself. It’s who is going to be better today. I appreciate that aspect of it.”

With that comes the anxiety of isolation, and Overstreet isn’t immune. Perhaps the longest day of his life came in the hours leading up to his first fight March 9 at Sloan Convention Center. He dropped 18 pounds in five days to make the 205 weigh-in the day before. He scaled at 203. Everything was a blur for him until he stepped in the ring and saw the victim who didn’t stand a chance.

Anxiousness has dwindled with each match. Maybe it’s because not once in his seven minutes and 51 seconds of combat has anyone landed a clean punch to his head.

But what about when it does happen? What happens when the bigger fish arrives? What will happen at the fourth fight?

“Football helped,” he said. “After you play Alabama, you can’t be stressed about fighting in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I think about that all the time. I played against Forrest Lamp every day in practice. I’m going against 6-foot-6, 300-pound people and you think I’m scared to fight against someone my size or smaller? Even if they’re bigger, I was going against bigger (in football). I have a different perspective.”

•••

Wallace knew pretty early he had a special fighter in Overstreet. A few from HICS MMA went to Nashville three weeks before Overstreet’s first fight and sparred with another club, and Overstreet found himself fighting with professionals Tony “Hulk” Johnson and Irvin Jones.

Wallace knows a fighter when he sees one. He’s fought since 2005 and opened his gym in 2011. He doesn’t feel sorry for anyone wanting to torture their bodies for this cause. That much was evident as his gym baked in the summer evening heat with just doors open for airflow and an industrial floor fan providing relief in the facility.

The sparring in Nashville got intense, to the point Wallace started feeling bad for Overstreet. His fighter could barely lift his arms after two hours on the mat.

Overstreet was a natural and felt like he belonged. Wallace was inspired.

“Having people like him is like a re-inspiration,” Wallace said. “Seeing other people get inspired by him, that’s dope. I’ve had a lot of pro fighters, but they didn’t push themselves in the way he has. That’s the difference. I’ve trained a lot of people and I’ve never seen anyone do this at an amateur level, but that just means he has to live up to some hype also. I’ve been blown away by it. It’s crazy.”

Overstreet embraces that hype. It’s part of what drives him. He believes his name and association with WKU football is the only reason he has support for this dream. His biggest sponsor is Little Fox Bakery, an ironic partnership since the self-proclaimed cinnamon roll connoisseur cuts out bread from his diet.

George Fant is his biggest individual sponsor and helped with the distant connections that led to Overstreet signing with SuckerPunch Entertainment.

“After my first fight, I started asking for sponsors and got a really good response around Bowling Green where people wanted to help me train. I get a decent amount of money off sponsors and that’s crazy as an amateur. Most early pros don’t have sponsors. I have a recognizable name and people associate me with WKU football. They see that and they’re like, ‘I’ll definitely help him. Go Tops and all that stuff.’

“If I didn’t play football, I wouldn’t have this. I don’t think the community would jump on it as much if I didn’t play.”

•••

Sponsors rolled in after Overstreet attacked Adam Cardwell with reckless abandon March 9. It was the first match for both fighters, and Overstreet didn’t want his opponent to even have a prayer. Overstreet flooded Cardwell with an attack that had him on the ground by the cage in 17 seconds.

His second match in Dayton, Ohio, came April 27, and Overstreet wasn’t even the same fighter. He found out an hour before facing Robert Grigsby that only punches were allowed. Overstreet would sneak in a kick, but shots with the knee weren’t allowed. Overstreet’s monthlong game plan went out the door immediately.

This wasn’t Grigsby’s first fight, and that experience kept up with Overstreet through three rounds. Thirty seconds into the round, Overstreet had Grigsby stumbling backward and ended it with a right-handed shot to the face. Overstreet put him down and was borderline abusive with hammer hits before the ref called it.

That second fight was tactical, which is what Wallace and Overstreet’s other coaches, Kevin Harmon and Corey Mayes, want in their amateur. But sometimes strategy and tactics go out the window when another man throws you for a loop.

That’s what happened in Overstreet’s championship match with Jesse Romans.

By now, word is out about Overstreet. Sloan Convention Center was sold out for the main event June 29 for HRMMA 109. The two didn’t even touch gloves before the match. Romans went right after Overstreet, went into a grapple and threw him against the cage. Once Overstreet got separation 30 seconds into it, instinct kicked in and then it was a brawl.

Overstreet delivered consistent knee shots, burying a bracing and now defensive Romans with each blow.

Then Romans became a punching bag and the ref called the match earlier than many would have preferred for a title match.

“It’s a fight so once you get popped, training goes out,” Wallace said. “All we trained for that fight was knees and low kicks. Then (Romans) kind of stuck him and he went balls to the wall body shots and punches. We want the W in the end and that’s what matters.”

•••

Overstreet’s now in a season of training while he awaits his next fight through his new management group, a career move that will only intensify his regimen for future bouts. He’ll keep waking up at 9 a.m. for stretching bodyweight training. He’ll show up at HICS for some bag work and jump rope, eat lunch and go run over three miles.

He’ll be back at the gym at 5 p.m. and stay for three hours. His routine changes on the weekends when he works as a bouncer at a local bar.

For at least a while longer, Bowling Green will still be home until his fledgling career takes him to a bigger platform. But he’s happy now at the gym on the bypass where he’s far and away the most intimidating figure in the building.

But inside, Overstreet is a child living out a dream.

“I feel like I’m a person now that my younger self would’ve looked up to,” Overstreet said. “Most people don’t have that. They get stuck in a job. It’s something I wanted to do back then and I saw myself doing it and I’m actually doing it. That’s crazy to think about, especially how it escalated this fast. People pick wrong a lot of the time. To see that I saw that as a little kid and now that I’m doing it and good at it, I really appreciate the opportunities that I’ve been given.”{&end}

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Covering high school sports and Western Kentucky women's basketball for the Bowling Green Daily News.

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