News broke last night that current Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem, who is coming off an unanimous decision victory over Fabricio Werdum in the quarterfinal leg of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix in June, would not be fighting on September 10th against Antonio Silva in the semifinals. The story sparked a massive amount of speculation among fans, and reports surfaced citing contract negotiations had turned sour and a toe injury was to blame for the withdrawal from the fight. Overeem's recent comments regarding a boxing match with Vitali Klitschko somewhat lend evidence to the notion that he may have been trying to leverage a Nick Diaz-like strategy at the negotiating table. Whatever the case, Overeem is out of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, and fans and media alike are severely disappointed with the news, some going so far as to say that it doesn't even matter anymore.
I'm in the scarce group of fans who isn't drowning in my own beer about the news. While there is disappointment that we won't get to see Overeem fight Barnett, Kharitonov, or Antonio Silva, Daniel Cormier as a replacement is interesting, and his inclusion has the potential to push him into the upper echelon of the worldwide division. It's possible that he isn't ready for the type of talent he will see in in this tournament, but now is as good a time as any to prove his status.
A Cormier Cinderella run to the top intrigues me the most, and perhaps I'm the only one. The biggest complaint I've heard from fans is that the point of this Grand Prix was to determine the best heavyweight outside of the UFC. My initial reaction to that statement was confusion, mainly because we've heard broad arguments from fans and media that finding the best heavyweight outside the UFC doesn't really matter in the long run. They'll be absorbed eventually. Fair enough.
But how is the Grand Prix not determining the best heavyweight outside of the UFC without Overeem? Overeem was obviously already perceived as the best, dummy... that's why, says the angry fans. My question to you is why can't Zuffa place the Grand Prix winner against Alistair Overeem in a heavyweight title match-up? Isn't that what fans have wanted? Proof that Overeem is the best or isn't the best?
Right now, there isn't any set-in-stone future for the Grand Prix winner, but with the exit of Alistair Overeem -- Zuffa will need to step up and create a match-up that pits the winner of the Grand Prix against him. I think that goes a long way to maintaining some interest.
That doesn't fix things for most fans however. I understand the frustration being vented, but I'm not under the same belief that the interest has been sucked away from the Grand Prix entirely. Injuries and upsets were bound to happen, and they happened to some of the key players in this tournament. To say that the Grand Prix is garbage is an opinion. In my own opinion, it's one that runs parallel with narrow-minded thinking without seeing the bigger picture. Be disappointed, but don't throw the Grand Prix into a endless void.
The heavyweight talent pool is one of the most shallow in the world. It's difficult to cultivate talent. It's even more difficult to find talent that has the potential to be highly successful in the division. The Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix still possesses four top notch heavyweights who have the potential to shake things up, possibly paving a path for themselves to the UFC. So, I ask you... why would anyone believe these fighters don't matter now? Why does Alistair Overeem's withdrawal suddenly eliminate all interest?
The reaction isn't surprising. We've seen on numerous occasions where one marquee match-up sinks interest in an entire ten-fight UFC card. The attention span of your four-year-old boy or girl is the same as the attention span of a mixed martial arts fan. We want the interesting right now, not what could become the interesting. We're all a bunch of Veruca Salts, spoiled by the epic battles we've seen and now crushed that one of those epic battles won't happen.
Is Antonio Silva vs. Daniel Cormier and Sergei Kharitonov vs. Josh Barnett really that uninteresting? I don't think it is at all, especially when you look at what the UFC has offered in the past. I think it's a solid line-up, and I'm disappointed to see so many fans write off fights that have the potential to bring us to our feet in amazement.