In many respects there’s bound to be mixed feelings for Strikeforce execs after their Fedor Vs Silva event in New Jersey on Saturday night.
There was certainly room for satisfaction at what happened in the cage. The main card on Showtime continued the promotion’s recent momentum with a number of fast and furious fights, and no three round snoozers in-between. In fact in their last three events Strikeforce fans have only seen one out of 14 fights going to a decision.
There was also plenty of drama and excitement in the opening Heavyweight Grand-Prix bouts, with Sergei Kharitonov showing why he shouldn’t be underestimated with a first round KO over Andrei Arlovski, and of course Fedor Emelianenko’s second loss in a row to Antonio Silva sending shockwaves around the MMA community.
So from a promoter’s point of view, Scott Coker and Co. did their job – giving fans an entertaining night of fights. Having said that, though they are unlikely to admit it publicly, things didn’t exactly the way they had hoped.
Fedor’s loss is clearly a major blow to the tournament, and you only need to look at the picture that adorns the top of this article to understand why.
It shows the first poster that Strikeforce released when the GP was first announced, and there’s no mistaking who they believed the star of the show was, with Fedor taking up most of the real estate, while the others were relegated to a small picture inset.
To be fair that did seem to match the mood of the fans who greeted the fighters in the days leading up to the show, with Fedor undoubtedly the fan favorite.
Strikeforce admitted prior to the tournament that the brackets had been specifically designed to give fans the fights they wanted to see, as quickly as possible. That meant that the trio of most talked about stars – Fedor, Overeem and Fabricio Werdum, were all placed on one side of the bracket, and either of the two biggest fights the promotion could put on – Fedor Vs Overeem, or Fedor Vs Werdum, would take place in the semi-finals.
Only problem was they hadn’t planned on Fedor’s quarter-final opponent ‘Big Foot’ throwing a spanner in the works. By knocking Fedor out of the tournament, the Brazilian ensured that neither of the two blockbuster fight’s many had been ancitipating will occur in the GP.
That could have broader implications for Strikeforce’s outlook in the remainder of the year. There had been talk of Strikeforce holding their first pay-per-view later this year, but with Fedor out of the picture that now looks like being a tough sell for the company.
Meanwhile Arlovski’s loss, while not nearly as significant as Fedor’s, was also a minor blow.
Despite having lost his previous three fights, Arlovski’s reputation from his days as a heavyweight champion still seem to carry weight with some fans, and he was one of the best supported fighters in the tournament.
That was reflected in a poll hosted by Strikeforce during the event which showed that ‘The Pitbull’ had been voted 3rd favorite to win the entire GP by fans, gaining considerably more support than the rest of the fighters below him. Even the Strikeforce commentary team expressed shock at that result, and were forced to conclude that the poll should be viewed more as a popularity contest than anything else.
With Arlovski out, Strikeforce are left with Kharitonov who’s still a relative unknown amongst casual fans due to his lack of high-profile MMA fights in recent years, though his impressive performance on Saturday night will have no doubt have won him some new fans.
So on reflection it’s an unfortunate set of circumstances for Strikeforce, and highlights both the beauty and the curse of a tournament format where anything can, and often does, happen.
It’ll be interesting to see how things progress from here. A lot of focus now shifts to Alistair Overeem.
Part of the pre-fight hype surround the Grand-Prix was whether the winner could legitimately claim to be the No.1 heavyweight in the world. The reality however is that with Fedor out, only Overeem really now has the kind of form that could challenge the UFC’s Cain Velasquez for that spot.
He also carries the most star power amongst the rest of the participants, and so I believe it’s crucial that he makes a big impact in his quarter-final with Werdum in April.
Given the beating he handed Fedor, a ‘Big Foot’ Vs Overeem fight in the semi-finals would be interesting, certainly far more so than a ‘Big Foot’ Vs Werdum fight would since they already fought in Strikeforce within the last 18 months, and there’s been no real clamor for a rematch up to this point.
The real irony here however is that, despite all the hype generated about the GP in recent months, the biggest fight in Strikeforce’s heavyweight division this year may now come outside of the tournament.
After the weekend’s event the Scott Coker indicated that if Fedor doesn’t choose to retire following his defeat, then they could still set him up with the loser of the Overeem Vs Werdum fight.
Overall there’s still a lot to look forward to this year in Strikeforce, and if they can continue to deliver the levels of excitement and entertainment they’ve managed to over the past few months then they’ll be doing well.
Saturday’s results definitely make life more difficult for them however, and they now need a little bit of luck and good fortune in order to make 2011 as big a year as we all hoped it would be at it’s onset.