Wednesday, June 8, 2011

AMADI: Can Zuffa afford to continue the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix?

By: Jason Amadi, MMATorch Columnist

This past weekend's lightweight tilt between Clay Guida and Anthony Pettis illustrated just how robust the talent pool is at 155 lbs. Anthony Pettis, the final WEC lightweight champion, had a four fight win streak snapped by Clay Guida, who with the win over Pettis has now put together a four-fight win streak of his own. After the bout, UFC President Dana White confirmed that even with a four fight unbeaten streak that includes three submissions and a unanimous decision victory over the former #1 contender that there is still work to be done before Clay Guida can get a crack at lightweight gold.

Some would consider the logjam at 155 lbs. to be a problem for the UFC, but with so many high profile lightweights either riding lengthy winning streaks or just coming off one, Zuffa has options at lightweight that they can only dream of for other weight categories... like the heavyweight division.

If lightweight is MMA's deepest pool, then heavyweight must be one of MMA's discarded teardrops. There just isn't any way around the fact that the depth of the heavyweight division is severely lacking. This weekend at UFC 131, Junior Dos Santos meets Shane Carwin to decide Cain Valasquez' next opponent, but beyond that fight there just isn't a fresh, established challenger for the UFC heavyweight title.

Luckily for Zuffa, once discussion of UFC 131 comes to an end, discussion of Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum can begin. This event will feature two major heavyweight clashes, as Josh Barnett takes on Brett Rogers and Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem squares off against Fabricio Werdum.

However, to be quite honest, there just isn't any way to get excited about this heavyweight tournament. The fights are still awesome, but considering the gap between when this tournament was first announced and how long it will take to be completed, there just isn't a meaningful way to connect these bouts to one another. The casual fan doesn't remember that Sergei Kharitonov lathered Andrei Arlovski, or that Antonio Silva's domination of Fedor Emelianenko served a greater purpose than sending the sport's all-time greatest heavyweight into a 220 lb. catchweight bout.

Frankly, there isn't even a conceivable way to turn the successful completion of this tournament into anything positive. Anyone but Alistair Overeem winning the heavyweight tournament would invalidate the Strikeforce championship and create a situation where Zuffa has two world heavyweight champions, a guy who defeated one of them, and possibly a third man who could wind up being the actual winner of the tournament. Conversely, if Alistair Overeem wins the tournament, he would have outlasted every possible challenger to his title, and Zuffa would be forced to find him a new opponent anyway.

If Zuffa can get Nick Diaz into the UFC to fight Georges St. Pierre, then it would serve them well to do likewise with the Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion and finally give this faux tournament a proper burial. With Cain Valasquez set to return, he could defend his championship by the end of this year, and the winner of that fight could meet the Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion in early 2012, sustaining interest until the UFC can absorb Strikeforce's heavyweight division in full.

Reader Question: If Alistair Overeem defeats Fabricio Werdum this month, should he fight the UFC Heavyweight Champion next or continue on in the heavyweight grand prix? Web visitors, comment below in our new Reader Comment Area (linked to Facebook). App users, send us your thoughts at or visit our desktop website to comment.


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