Publicity for the Strikeforce eight-man heavyweight tournament kicked into high gear with a presser at Chelsea Piers in New York City on Wednesday to promote this Saturday’s night of fights at the Izod Center in New Jersey.
Set against a beautiful view overlooking the Hudson River, all eight participants including Fedor Emelianenko, Fabricio Werdum, Josh Barnett, Antonio “Big Foot” Silva, Andre Arlovski, Alistair Overeem, Sergei Kharitonov and Brett Rogers, were present to demonstrate the magnitude of the event, which airs on Showtime.
“When I look at them, I think, ‘What a fine group of young men here. What fine, upstanding citizens,’” said former UFC heavyweight champion and PRIDE veteran Josh Barnett of his fellow tournament participants, “Quite attractive, well-dressed. I should think that when they get up in the morning, they should spend a little extra time thinking about what they’ve created for this world.”
Jokes aside, there is no debating that the Strikeforce tournament houses some of the most accomplished names in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts: Dutch fighter Alistair Overeem currently holds three different titles as champion in Strikeforce, DREAM, and K-1; Fedor Emelianenko was the undisputed pound-for-pound king at heavyweight; Arlovski and Barnett both held the UFC heavyweight title at one point in their careers; and Fabricio Werdum was two-time champion at the ADCC world submission wrestling competition, as well as a two-time world jiu-jitsu champion.
“Sergei has titles from 32-man tournaments in Russia. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment in my book,” explained Barnett.
Judging by the mood of the press conference, there will be no ear-biting or weigh-in scuffles between these combatants. There is genuine respect and admiration among them, simply because it will be extremely difficult for any of the fighters just to make it out of the first round. Injuries, licensing issues or other unforeseen circumstances could also knock the odd participant out of action, just as Jermaine Taylor and Andre Dirrell found themselves out of Showtime’s Super-Six tournament. The contingency is for the winner of the Shane Del Rosario-Lavar Johnson bout this Saturday to become the first alternate should a replacement be needed.
Barnett also voiced criticism of the public perception that the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) stands alone as the only representative of top-tier MMA, saying, “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where we fight, where we put this thing together…it’s about the fighters themselves.”
Fedor’s loss to Werdum last June hung heavy over all of the proceedings. It was assumed that the title of world’s best heavyweight had passed with Fedor’s loss to the winner of the Brock Lesnar -Shane Carwin clash. But as a nearly defenseless Lesnar cowered in the fetal position during the first round against Carwin, his capability as a well-rounded martial artist was put in doubt, even in victory in that fight. Lesnar’s reign was then cut short last October when American Kickboxing Academy standout Cain Velasquez demolished him at UFC 121.
At the moment, Cain Velasquez is out-of-action with a torn rotator cuff, and Junior dos Santos is set to face the already-beaten Brock Lesnar for the interim UFC heavyweight title. Due to these circumstances, all bets on the rightful heir to the heavyweight throne are off until someone strings together more than a handful of good wins.
This all brings us back to the pivotal question: who among the eight tournament participants has what it takes to come out on top? With Fedor facing Silva and Arlovski matched with Kharitonov, this Saturday we’ll get a small hint of the shape of things to come. Audiences will be just as concerned with how victory is attained as they are with the results. The favorites could return to form, or be supplanted by fresh blood—and the underdogs could aim for upsets, or crumble as expected.
Beyond the hype, there is the potential for a compelling set of matches. Every man involved in the tournament will have the opportunity to make their case for themselves.
“Over here, we have the seven best fighters in the world,” said Alistair Overeem, motioning across the stage. “The winner of this tournament is going to be the number one in the planet.”
Brian J. D’Souza is a Canadian writer who has covered Mixed Martial Arts for ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, CagePotato.com, Heavy.com and FIGHT! magazine.