When word broke yesterday that Alistair Overeem had suddenly been withdrawn from the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament over what was believed to be a dispute over the timing of his next fight there were fears that the current champion may be about to be kicked out of the promotion entirely.
Not so claims Dana White in a new interview with MMAJunkie in which he explains exactly what happened.
Firstly, regarding the decision to hold the semi-finals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand-Prix on September 10th instead of October as Overeem had originally been told, White says that decision was out of their hands.
“Sept. 10 was the date Showtime wants us to go, so it’s the date we’ve got to go,” said the UFC president.
In an interview with Ariel Helwani yesterday Overeem claimed that Zuffa were threatening to kick him out of the tournament if he didn’t agree to fight on the scheduled date, but White says that an injury to the fighter’s pinky toe is the real reason behind his withdrawal.
Overeem is under contract, and when his pinky toe heals up, we’ll get him another fight,” he said.
That’s all well and good, but what is really going on behind the scenes?
We can only speculate, but it seems that there’s a lot of gamesmanship going on here. While White is playing it cool on the surface with his “business as usual” tone, there’s no doubt that the promotion will have been angered by Overeem’s refusal to fight and his decision to use ‘The MMA Hour’ show to air his grievances and indicate that he might fight elsewhere next time out if the dispute wasn’t settled.
The rumor is that Overeem was in fact attempting to play hard-ball with Strikeforce, using the fact that he is the biggest name fighter left in the grand-prix as leverage in an attempt to improve upon his salary.
It does seem somewhat coincidental that late last week Overeem suddenly began to talk of potentially moving to boxing to fight the Klitschko brothers just a couple of months after another Strikeforce fighter Nick Diaz used the same tactic as leverage to earn a new deal that lead to him being signed by the UFC.
If true it’s a strategy that appears to have backfired as Zuffa called his bluff and withdrew him from the tournament anyway, demonstrating that they won’t be held to ransom.
Now the ball is back in Overeem’s court and it’ll be interesting to see whether he sticks with White’s version of events, or whether has something more to say on the most recent developments in this story.