Much has been made of the dispute between Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem and Zuffa over the past few weeks. I think any rational person would agree that Overeem in the UFC, or at least fighting under the Zuffa umbrella, is in the best interests of both parties. At this point, both sides have made it clear that they are still willing to come to an agreement if the terms are right. For his part, Overeem is pushing for an immediate UFC title shot if he were to strike a new deal with Zuffa. There are two major reasons why this is unlikely to happen.
First, UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez is already set to defend his title against top contender Junior dos Santos in San Jose on November 19th, a week after the UFC's first show on FOX. Without getting into a discussion about how the exposure on FOX will do great things for the pay-per-view buys, the fact remains that scheduling is an issue for Overeem if he wants an immediate title shot. Assuming no major injuries to whoever emerges as champion on November 19th, the earliest we would see the next title defense would be about four months later, which means a date somewhere in the middle of March. Overeem last fought in June. If he were to wait until March for his next fight, that would mean nine months between fights. It is never a good idea for any fighter to take that long between fights if he is healthy, especially someone like Overeem who consistently talks about how he likes to be active.
Second, Overeem is not the well known name he thinks he is. He keeps talking about how he holds all of these other combat sport championships, as if that is enough to warrant a UFC title shot. To hardcore MMA fans, sure. But to the UFC, and to the rest of the consumer public, what matters is whether a fighter is well known enough to sell a fight. And the fact remains that Overeem is largely unknown to the casual fans who make up the rest of the consuming public. His stinker of a fight back in June did little to help that. That means that it isn't prudent for the UFC to simply thrust him into a title fight. While showing clips of Overeem's past violent wins and promoting him in other ways would surely boost his exposure, nothing is as effective as a live fight. The result is that if Overeem wants to fight for the UFC title, he's going to have to win a big fight first, preferably in the UFC. And there is no greater opponent for him than the UFC's biggest attraction, Brock Lesnar.
From Lesnar's perspective, a fight with Overeem makes too much sense. Lesnar was already booked for a number one contender's bout against dos Santos before he had to bow out due to injury. There's no reason why he wouldn't find himself in a similar position for his return bout in light of the fact that he just lost the championship in his last fight, is still ranked as one of the top five heavyweights in the sport, and is the biggest star in all of MMA.
Looking at the current crop of heavyweight contenders, the only other opponents that make any sense at all for Lesnar would be the winner of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Brendan Schaub or Frank Mir. At this point, Schaub is a talented prospect but has still not solidified himself as a draw. Nogueira would be "in the mix" with a win over Schaub but his two recent knockout losses are still fresh in the mind of most fans. And while Mir is coming off of two big wins over Mirko Cro Cop and Roy Nelson, noone seems to be clamoring for a third fight with Lesnar at this point. A fight with Overeem is one that would be a much bigger attraction than any of the other opponents just mentioned, and it makes more sense in terms of sport because Overeem is higher in the rankings than any of the others.
From Overeem's perspective, a fight with Lesnar is probably even more enticing than a shot at the title. Win or lose, more eyeballs would be on this fight than any of Overeem's other career bouts, and by a wide margin as Lesnar's fights are consistently the biggest fights of the year. That means Overeem would be given the opportunity to finally become a big star here in the states. And a victory would undoubtedly solidify Overeem as the top contender to the championship, thereby shutting the mouths of all of his detractors. If he were to win, he would go into a title fight with more hype behind him than ever before and that would no doubt increase both his purse and his potential sponsorship income.
Finally, in light of today's UFC on FOX press conference, the perfect date for this fight would be the UFC's first show on FOX on November 12th, a week before Velasquez vs. Dos Santos. For one, a Lesnar fight on network television would garner massive, potentially record shattering ratings. On top of that, promoting it as a number one contender's bout to meet the winner of the title fight the following week would no doubt heavily increase the buy rate for the UFC 139 pay-per-view. That alone is reason to put it on network TV.
Without a doubt, this is the biggest fight the UFC could possibly put on for its debut on FOX. Considering the fact that Overeem will be healthy by then and Lesnar has declared that he is ready to go, there is no reason either man would turn the date down. The undercard could then be padded with up and coming stars like Phil Davis, Alexander Gusafsson, Rory Macdonald, and Donald Cerrone. The UFC could use this show to not only promote its brand to the American public, but to promote its pay-per-view the following week as well as a slew of the company's younger stars.
In light of all of these factors, I not only think the UFC should slot Lesnar vs. Overeem as the main event for its first FOX show but I expect an announcement in the coming days. The fight makes too much sense not to book.