It’s amazing how Strikeforce’s Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament went from the sterling example of all that is right in MMA to a complete joke in the span of a few short months. With the announcement Monday that Strikeforce heavyweight champion, and the top seed in the tournament, Alistair Overeem would be released from the Grand Prix due to an “injury” the collective MMA world let out an audible Charlie Brown, “Good Grief!” Granted, fighters get injured which is why you have viable alternatives, but in this case it seems that the reason for the tournament upheaval has more to do with a power play by two opposing factions rather than any real injury.
Let’s do a brief recap of yesterday’s events for those who may be unaware. On Monday, Alistair Overeem appeared on MMA Fighting’s MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani. On the show Overeem voiced his frustration with the Strikeforce brass who wanted him to return to action against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva on their September 10 card. Overeem claims that September was too soon for him to return as he is dealing with a nagging toe injury suffered in his lackluster win over Fabricio Werdum this past June. Overeem countered that October would be a more ideal date to fight at which time Strikeforce (UFC?) reportedly started to volley threats of pulling Overeem off the card.
On Monday, the promoter made good on these threats and pulled Overeem from the tournament. Stepping in to face Silva on September 10 will be alternate Daniel Cormier.
Ok, a few things to examine here. First of all, it seems like an incredible lack of foresight to dismiss inarguably the biggest name still in the tournament. Overeem is a global icon who commands media attention and aids in ticket sales. Nothing against Cormier, but he is simply too green and unknown outside of the most hardcore circles to warrant inclusion in a tournament that was marketed as a quest to crown the best heavyweight in Strikeforce. This claim now rings hollow given the fact that the best heavyweight in the promotion right now has been booted out of the tournament.
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Now, there is a school of thought that puts Overeem to blame. It’s been rumored that Overeem and his team have been in negotiations with Strikeforce over his contract which is set to expire shortly. This thought being that Overeem’s “toe injury” and his recent flirtation with professional boxing are all just clever negotiating tools to land a more lucrative deal. This is in addition to the fact that Strikeforce had a hell of a time trying to actually get their champion in the cage to defend his title as Overeem seemed bent on fighting everywhere but Strikeforce.
What strikes me as the most amusing statement to come out of this is that of UFC’s Dana White who told MMA Junkie:
"September 10 was the date Showtime wants us to go, so it's the date we've got to go," White said. "It's unfortunate that Alistair is unavailable, but situations like this are why there are alternates in the tournament."
Showtime, Strikeforce’s broadcast partner, is no stranger to the headaches associated with hosting a tournament. There critically acclaimed Super Six super middleweight tournament in boxing has had more than its fair share of injuries, postponements, and fallouts. It seems unreasonable that Showtime would hardline a September 10 date with the risk of losing the most popular and marketable star in the tournament. It’s the proverbial cutting off your nose to spite your face routine. Besides, if Showtime can bend over backwards to accommodate their boxing tournament which spans multiples players throughout the globe it seems very likely that they would have been open to pushing the semifinals back a month.
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Oh, and let us not overlook the fact that there hasn’t even been a venue named to host this September 10 card. How can a date not be flexible when no location has even been finalized?
This whole chain of events seems fishy and neither party should be absolved from blame. But, if you are trying to showcase a return to the glory days of MMA when fighters engaged in tournaments to be crowed the undisputed ruler of whatever promotion or weight class they were fighting in it seems disingenuous to omit a fighter who already holds such a public perception.
The Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix had so much promise. It’s a shame that it has now been reduced to a tournament to crown the number two guy in the Strikeforce heavyweight division.