Many fans were surprised when Strikeforce officially announced its first Heavyweight Grand Prix.
They might be more surprised to find out that this tournament won’t narrow down the contenders to Alistair Overeem’s heavyweight belt. Overeem, in fact, will participate in the tournament, his belt on the line.
“It’ll be four nights over a period of eight months, then we’ll have one champion,” Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker told MMAWeekly.com.
“The goal is to have Alistair put up his belt against Fabricio Werdum. If Werdum wins, then he will have to put up the belt, but at the end, you will have one champion.”
That is the goal, but it’s not yet a done deal. Strikeforce still has to work out the details with the athletic commissions in the states where it plans to hold Grand Prix bouts.
“We’re working with the athletic commissions because of the round issue,” said Coker. Most commissions deem title fights five-round bouts; non-title fights are typically three rounds.
When Overeem puts his belt up, it would be a five-round bout. To make the tournament format fair to all eight fighters, plus the alternates, Strikeforce would like to make all tournament bouts five rounds. That is going to take some cooperation from athletic commissions, something that doesn’t always happen between fight promotions and state agencies.
So why even put Overeem in the tournament in the first place? He’s already your champion. It’s already proven difficult to schedule him for fights. And now you complicate the format of your tournament by having to work out issues like the number of rounds with the athletic commissions.
The answer is simple.
“Alistair wanted to be in the tournament,” said Coker. “He asked me in Japan when I was there for Dream, after he knocked out (Todd) Duffee. He said, ‘Scott, I want to fight Fabricio Werdum. I’m gonna avenge all the people that beat me early in my career and he’s at the top of my list.'”
That’s it, end of story. Overeem simply wants to fight Werdum.
Overeem obviously ups the ante on the tournament. His belt will be on the line when he faces Werdum, and continue on through the tournament with or without him. Whoever wins any bout the belt is involved in will be the champion and progress through the brackets, one champion emerging when the finals are said and done.
It promises to be a solid slate of fights if Strikeforce can keep all its competitors intact. The first two quarterfinals are slated for Feb. 12 in New Jersey, where Fedor Emelianenko will face Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Andrei Arlovski squares off with Sergei Kharitonov. The other quarterfinalists – Overeem and Werdum and Josh Barnett vs. Brett Rogers – will meet at an undetermined event in April.
The semifinal bouts will take place at a later event, and then the final on yet one more event in about eight months, wrapping up the Grand Prix.
“I’ve been saying for the last six months, Strikeforce has the best heavyweight division in the world now, why not let these guys go fight each other,” Coker mused.
“It’s gonna be a great time not only for fight fans, but for mixed martial arts as an industry.”