Fans asked. The UFC delivered.
The news didn't stop there, though. The winner of the five round affair will get the next heavyweight title shot against the winner of Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos, airing live November 12th on FOX.
Only just hours old, this match-up is already one of the most highly anticipated fights taking place before year end, and may just be the UFC's most meaningful fight this year.
Heavyweight Division Relevance
Heavyweight prizefights are widely seen as the pinnacle of combat sports. There's nothing quite like the spectacle of 265lb behemoths clashing in a ring or, better yet, a cage.
The addition of Lesnar vs. Overeem to the UFC's 2011 dance card gives them two fantastic heavyweight fights to close out the year—one of them for the belt, and the other for the next shot at it. It doesn't hurt that the former will be broadcast nationwide to some 100 million households, either.
Even though two pay-per-view fight cards and more than a month separate the two heavyweight fights, the UFC should be able to use momentum gained during the FOX broadcast to drive interest for the title elimination fight between Lesnar and Overeem. It only makes sense to tune in to see who will be challenging the beast you just saw on free TV.
Speaking of which...
Given Overeem's lack of mainstream recognition, this fight will need to be heavily promoted to make casual fans understand its importance and who Overeem is. This shouldn't prove to be too difficult, though, as Overeem's physique alone makes him a highly marketable fighter, not to mention his considerable skill set and highlight reel knockouts.
Although Lesnar has looked spectacularly human in his last two outings, he still has a bankable mainstream following and compelling story; he had surgery to correct his second bout with diverticulitis in June, and is already stepping back up to the plate to fight in December. Love him or hate him, that's impressive.
In a year that has yet to see a 1,000,000 PPV buy event, this fight is the UFC's best chance to clear that benchmark. Consider that in 2009 and 2010, three of the four 1,000,000+ PPV buy events were headlined by Lesnar, and it's not hard to imagine the potential for this fight on New Year's weekend.
The Death of Strikeforce
If it wasn't already, the writing is now surely on the wall for Strikeforce.
The top Strikeforce talent has steadily been jumping ship for the greener pastures of the UFC, a process which has only been hastened with Zuffa's acquisition of Strikeforce in March 2011. Amongst the fighters to leave Strikeforce for the UFC are, in no particular order, Jake Shields, Nick Diaz, Jason "Mayhem" Miller, Alistair Overeem, and, most likely, Dan Henderson.
For those keeping track at home, that's four Strikeforce champions who have, or likely will, leave the promotion. Strikeforce has yet to announce any plans to fill the currently vacant welterweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight crowns.
Perhaps most meaningful is how Overeem left Strikeforce. He was summarily released from the promotion in the middle of it's Heavyweight Grand Prix, only to be poached for the UFC's gain.
Let's also not ignore the timing of the UFC's recent announcements. Just over a week before the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Semi-finals take place, Dana White announced that Velasquez and dos Santos would be squaring off on FOX, and now, just three days before Saturday's Strikeforce event, White announced an even bigger heavyweight fight, completely eclipsing all talk of the Grand Prix.
Clearly, now more than ever, Zuffa isn't worried about the long-term health of Strikeforce.
The Sum is Bigger Than the Parts
In a vacuum, Lesnar vs. Overeem is, without a doubt, a huge fight. It is a classic battle between wrestler and striker...only, super-sized.
Add in the environmental context, however, and it quickly becomes clear that this fight is about more than just the two men who will enter the cage. It is an adept business move that sets the UFC up to close out 2011 with, if all goes well, a huge PPV seller, as well as a heavyweight championship fight to look forward to in 2012.
It is also a definitive, and perhaps, sad, sign of what Zuffa has in mind for Strikeforce in the long-run. They will likely finish the Heavyweight Grand Prix, and the two remaining male champions will defend their titles in short order, but the road is surely coming to an end for Strikeforce—yet another promotion left behind during the UFC's rise.
This was originally published by the author for Bleacher Report, found here. All rights reserved.