We knew this would never work.
From the moment of its unveiling back in January, the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix tournament struck us all an ambitious, shoot-the-moon gambit from a company best known for organizational chaos. The bracket looked admittedly epic, but before a single fight had been staged the doubters were lining up to point out the many ways it might fail.
Conventional wisdom said there was simply no way to get three superstars as notoriously flighty as Fedor Emelianenko, Josh Barnett and Alistair Overeem to sit still for a tourney that would take at least three events and a full year to finish. No way Strikeforce could avoid disaster long enough to pull off a gesture this grand. No way, no how.
Score one for conventional wisdom. With the sudden removal of Overeem from the field on Monday, it’s clear we were right to be suspicious of this tournament, even after Zuffa’s purchase of Strikeforce brought an added aura of legitimacy and even feasibility to the proceedings.
Prior to this year, Overeem had fought just once in Strikeforce since winning the promotion’s heavyweight title back in 2007, so it should come as no real surprise that after just one appearance in the grand prix, he’s already talking about bolting to chase a fanciful fight with a Klitschko brother or go back to kickboxing or some other endeavor that could conceivably make him more money.
We should also not be shocked that with the ink barely dry on the quarterfinals, the grand prix now appears damaged beyond repair. We hate to say we told you so, but just about everything that could go wrong with this tournament, has.
The opening round took four months to complete and even though Strikeforce stacked one side of the bracket with Emelianenko, Overeem and Fabricio Werdum -- ostensibly because not even the company believed it could get two out three all the way to the final -- Emelianenko's loss in the first round to Antonio Silva scuttled reported plans to put the semifinals on pay-per-view. One of the participants best known to casual fans, Andrei Arlovski, got knocked out by Sergei Kharitonov in the first round and Overeem’s only appearance was an absolute stinker against Werdum in June.
There was also bad news out of the cage. First Shane del Rosario had to put his MMA career on hold after being hit by drunken driver, then Brett Rogers was arrested on domestic violence charges just a couple weeks after losing to Barnett in the tournament’s first round. All that is to say nothing of the grand prix’s very murky “alternate system,” or the even murkier “competition committee” we were told was overseeing things. As if that was meant to reassure us.
Officially, Overeem is out owing to an injured toe, though the conspiratorial buzz (about his contract, a possible UFC crossover and whether or not he’s using threats to leave MMA for boxing as a Nick Diaz-style negotiating chip) has been thick ever since his appearance on AOL’s “MMA Hour” on Monday. Zuffa brass moved quickly to quash some of those rumors, confirming that Overeem is still legally bound to Strikeforce for at least one more fight and they’re intent on having him fulfill the deal as written. Sounds like "The Reem" won’t be going anywhere for a little while.
What he leaves behind, however, is a tournament badly hurt by his withdrawal. Don’t get me wrong, Silva is a Top-5 heavyweight, Daniel Cormier is a blue-chip prospect and Barnett is more relevant now than he has been in years. A tournament win for any of them will still be newsworthy, but after Emelianenko's unceremonious exit, Overeem was the real show here. As the Strikeforce heavyweight champion and the top-ranked fighter still in the field, much of the drama left in the bracket concerned whether he could live up to expectations and make his case as a viable candidate for a world No. 1 ranking.
In a sadly predictable way, Overeem being forced out midstream did in fact live up to our expectations for this tournament. We knew all along it was doomed, and it was.
Sometimes it stinks to be right.