Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem is ready to fight the best the promotion has to offer – whether his belt is on the line or not. Many fans were surprised when Strikeforce officials included Overeem (34-11 MMA, 3-0 SF) in its upcoming eight-man heavyweight tournament, which kicks off Feb. 12 at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J., and paired him with Fabricio Werdum (14-4-1 MMA, 3-0 SF), whom he targeted in June following Werdum’s upset of Fedor Emelianenko. But Overeem said it’s a logical progression in his goal to be the best in the world. “I have been looking for a big fight for more than a year now,” Overeem told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com).
The heavyweight champ is targeted for the tournament’s second quarterfinal event, which has yet to be formally announced. The first quarterfinal event features Emelianenko vs. Antonio Silva and Andrei Arlovski vs. Sergei Kharitonov, as well as two reserve bouts, Shane Del Rosario vs. Lavar Johnson and Ray Sefo vs. Valentijn Overeem. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said he expects the Showtime-televised tournament to be completed by the fall. Overeem has found a few big fights, though not inside the Strikeforce cage. This past month, he became the first dual titleholder in kickboxing and MMA when he won the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix in Tokyo. He then took out Todd Duffee in short time at DREAM “Dynamite!! 2010″ to win the promotion’s interim heavyweight title.
But there are still more items on Overeem’s agenda. Despite a first-round TKO victory over Brett Rogers this past May at “Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery” – his first title defense in nearly three years – Overeem faced critics who said Rogers wasn’t a true test of his abilities. So he campaigned to meet Werdum this past fall. When an elbow injury took the Brazilian off the market until 2011, Overeem shifted his attention overseas to the Japanese market. But he didn’t forget his plan to prove wrong his doubters, which have dogged him during his extended absence from the California-based promotion. “Tournament or no tournament, Werdum was going to be my first fight in Strikeforce,” Overeem said.
There are many fans who feel Overeem’s participation is the only way to lend legitimacy to the competition, though many say the champ actually faces tougher competition in the quarterfinals and semifinals than the bracket opposite him. Then there’s the issue of whether his belt is on the line against Werdum, and if the rest of the tournament fights are extended from three rounds to five rounds so as to even the playing field in matchups that normally would be non-title length. Overeem said that decision is still up in the air, though MMAjunkie.com on Sunday confirmed that the New Jersey Athletic Control Board, which oversees the first quarterfinal event in East Rutherford, in principle has approved the five-round format. Of course, that doesn’t address the second quarterfinal event.
But as for the tournament pairings, Overeem is happy with them as long as he first meets Werdum. It’s all on him from there. “All the fighters in that tournament are good, so there are no easy fights,” he said. “I’m a little surprised about it, and I don’t know why this bracket is designed this way, but my job is to fight. I’m not picking opponents, so if that’s the way they made the bracket, so be it.” What’s to become of the work that Overeem has done in K-1 and DREAM? Will he defend his new belts this year?
“When my schedule allows it, I will always try to find more fights,” he said. “I’m a active fighter, so I will never say no to a fight if my management can make the fight.”I’m focusing on one fight at a time, and my management will talk to the promoter and see when we are ready to fight in Japan.” But for now, Overeem’s sights are set stateside. “I can show the American fans that I’m the No. 1 fighter of Strikeforce,” he said. “Entering such a tournament is not only great for the MMA fans but also a great way to prove that I’m the best fighter in the world.” Props to Mmajunkie for this article .