It started on April 25, 2004.
The Pride Heavyweight Grand Prix. At the time, it was widely considered one of the best gatherings of heavyweight talent in the MMA world, if not the greatest. The eventual winner was former No. 1 heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko, who will also be a participant in the upcoming Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix kicking off Feb. 12 in New Jersey.
Emelianenko is the only participant in the upcoming Strikeforce tournament who was also a part of the Pride Heavyweight Grand Prix over six years ago.
Despite the legendary field of 16 heavyweights in that tournament, Emelianenko believes Strikeforce may have surpassed it with the crop of eight fighters they have kicking off their own Heavyweight Grand Prix in 2011.
“I believe that this tournament has assembled enough quality fighters and some of the strongest and most interesting heavyweight fighters in the world. So I think that in no way is this tournament any less than the ones I competed for with Pride,” said Emelianenko.
“I believe it’s just as good, if not better.”
Strong words from the fighter who would gain his fame and prestige from his time in the once great Japanese organization, but he feels like the talent amassed by Strikeforce rivals or surpasses that of the Pride days.
There is no denying the tournament is filled with Top 10 fighters or Top 10 level talent from top to bottom. Beyond Emelianenko, the man who defeated him last year, Fabricio Werdum, as well as Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem, make up three-fourths of one side of the bracket.
On the other side, perennial Top 10 fighter Josh Barnett sits in the tournament as well as several fighters that have been ranked among the best in the last few years, including former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski.
The Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix will kick off in February with the first round match-ups between Emelianenko and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva as well as Andrei Arlovski against Sergei Kharitonov.
While his Pride days are long behind him, the mental preparation and toughness that Fedor endured to get through the past Grand Prix tournament can’t be ignored, but while he feels experience is always important, it’s not going to get him through to the finals.
“I don’t think that the years I spent in Pride can give me any type of advantage or dictate how I will perform in this tournament,” said Emelianenko. “Certainly experience in this tournament is something that is valuable. Nevertheless, I have to train very hard for this fight and we’ll see what happens.”
The tournament’s opening round fights will take place on Feb. 12 and then another event sometime in early April. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said that the semifinal rounds will likely then take place in June or July, with the finals happening after that, although no timelines have been set.