Despite exercising its right to terminate the final fight on Alistair Overeem's contract, Forza LLC, which operates Strikeforce and is a subsidiary of UFC's parent company, Zuffa LLC, has not released the Strikeforce heavyweight champion.
Bas Boon, who represents Overeem through Dutch management firm Golden Glory, clarified to ESPN.com that the 31-year-old fighter is currently "in a negotiation period with Zuffa." Boon declined to discuss details, though sources familiar with the arrangement between Overeem and Strikeforce explained the fighter is bound to exclusive and separate 120-day negotiation and matching periods with the Las Vegas-based promoter.
Zuffa, through a representative, declined to comment on Overeem's contractual status.
Because Overeem, ranked No. 4 by ESPN.com, turned down a Sept. 10 bout against Antonio Silva -- he blamed toe and rib injuries and inadequate time to prepare -- Forza executed clauses in the contract that allowed them to remove a fight from his deal. As it happened, the bout was Overeem's last on a contract that was assigned to Forza from Explosion Entertainment after Zuffa bought Strikeforce on March 10.
Overeem was scheduled to fight Silva during the semifinals of Strikeforce's heavyweight grand prix. Had Overeem won, he was free to negotiate a new contract while possessing considerable leverage. Sources say a handshake agreement between Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker and Golden Glory covered a finals appearance had Overeem advanced, but nothing was put down on paper.
"The problem with Strikeforce was that we made some agreements with Scott which were creating headaches (after) Zuffa took over," Boon said.
Attempts to renegotiate Overeem's deal ultimately failed.
In addition to the exclusive negotiation period and, if necessary, a subsequent matching timeframe, a source with knowledge of Overeem's contract said the fighter was not stripped of his Strikeforce belt and remains tied to the promotion via the so-called "champions clause," a common passage in fighter contracts that allows MMA promoters to maintain contractual rights to titleholders after their deals expire.
In a statement issued Thursday, Boon offered Golden Glory's first official comments since Overeem, his brother Valentijn, former Strikeforce bantamweight women's champion Marloes Coenen, and UFC-signed heavyweight John Olav Einemo were cast out of Strikeforce and UFC, in part because of their affiliation to the Dutch fight camp. Sergei Kharitonov, himself a participant in the semifinals of the Strikeforce grand prix, remains the only active Golden Glory fighter affiliated with Zuffa.
UFC president Dana White stated publicly that the moves were a reaction to Golden Glory's demands to handle fighter payments. Rather than having fighters collect their checks, White told media that Golden Glory wished to be paid directly, which is outside Zuffa's standard business practices and conflicts with policies established by certain state athletic commissions.
Golden Glory fighters have often endorsed checks over to their management so purse money could be wired into accounts handled by the Dutch group, according to sources who participated in the process.
"The reason that the Golden Glory management company is doing this business for the GG fighters for over 12 years with payment dirrectly (sic) to the management company is for the benefit of the fighters," Boon said in the statement. "Coaches and trainers are paid on time and the management company will take care of bookkeeper and taxes and exchange rates and legal help for the fighters."
When Zuffa signed Einemo to fight in the UFC last year, the method of payment was clearly established and Golden Glory agreed to abide by the promoter's standards.
"That matter was solved," Boon said.
Coenen, Einemo and Alistair Overeem took to Twitter and conducted interviews in support of Golden Glory. Each fighter claimed they received direct payments from Zuffa or Forza in recent fights, and that the issue was of no concern to them or their management. Coenen told ESPN.com, however, that she preferred Golden Glory to handle her money because of exchange rates between the U.S. and the Netherlands, and to help lower her tax burden.
Sources said the pay issue was among several things that bothered Zuffa officials about the manner in which Golden Glory operates. Prior to Einemo's unexpected signing in 2010, it had been nearly 10 years since a Golden Glory camp member fought in the UFC. When Zuffa purchased Strikeforce, they also essentially paid for the privilege of working with entities like Golden Glory and M-1 Global, who had established agreements with the previous Strikeforce regime.
Both Golden Glory and M-1, which famously handles Fedor Emelianenko, sometimes act as promotional companies -- long considered a conflict of interest as far as Zuffa is concerned.
Alistair Overeem, who was allowed to fight overseas with written permission based on the terms of his non-exclusive contract, was linked to a United Glory card in Moscow after his Strikeforce contract had been accelerated. However, his injuries and the period of time Zuffa can solely negotiate with him means he will not participate.
It's possible Alistair Overeem won't fight again until 2012, a source close to the fighter said.
Talks continue between Zuffa and Golden Glory.
Josh Gross covers mixed martial arts for ESPN.com.