...OH, ONE MORE THING - PLEASE BOOKMARK US & VISIT DAILY!
By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
On January 4, 2011, Strikeforce announced the most ambitious endeavor they had ever undertaken as a fight company with an eight man Heavyweight World Grand Prix. With major heavyweight names in Fedor Emelianenko, Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem, Josh Barnett, and Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva topping a field also featuring Brett Rogers, Sergei Kharitonov, and Andrei Arlovski, it was, at the time, considered to be perhaps the greatest heavyweight tournament in MMA's young history.
Strikeforce hoped the tournament would legitimize their heavyweight division as at least on par, if not better than, the UFC's, and hoped the victor would emerge as one of the top fighters in the division in general. With the best intentions they went forth with this plan, setting up the first two quarterfinal fights for February 12, 2011, and hoping to book the next set of fights two months later.
However, there were many challenges with a tournament like this, with many moving parts surrounding the proceedings. Many perceived a number of things that could go wrong with the tournament, but by the time things would finally come to a close this past Saturday night, much more would affect the tournament that no one could have possibly predicted.
A crazy timeline of events brought this from a great collection of heavyweights and record-setting ratings on Showtime to a bit of a whimpering conclusion. Ultimately, a combination of poor decisions and completely unforeseen circumstances led to a fighter uninvolved with the tournament at its outset being crowned its winner on Saturday in San Jose. The following is the that timeline, telling the story of the Strikeforce Heavyweight World Grand Prix:
Dec. 20, 2010: The first rumors of an eight-man heavyweight tournament begin making the rounds.
Jan 4. 2011: Strikeforce and M-1 Global announce an eight-man tournament field. Four quarterfinal fights are set, but not for the same date. Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva and Andrei Arlovski vs. Sergei Kharitonov are set for Feb. 12 in New Jersey, while Alistair Overeem vs. Fabricio Werdum and Josh Barnett vs. Brett Rogers are left without a date, with Barnett's licensure issues expected to be a cause for the delay. At the outset, it was believed Overeem's Strikeforce Heavyweight Championship would be on the line in his tournament bouts. Additionally, two alternate bouts were set for the Feb. 12 event, with Shane del Rosario vs. Lavar Johnson and Chad Griggs vs. Gian Villante added to the card.
Jan. 13, 2011: The first issues with the tournament surface, as it is announced that Overeem's Heavyweight Title would not be contested during the tournament. Because of that, it was possible for Overeem to lose in the field while keeping his Championship.
Jan. 17, 2011: Strikeforce's lofty goals get loftier, as Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker reveals preliminary plans to bring the tournament bouts worldwide.
Jan. 27, 2011: Overeem-Werdum and Barnett-Rogers are reported as heading to an event on April 9. That puts it two months behind schedule of the first set of quarterfinals, putting the first delay on the tournament with the first round being held up.
Feb. 12, 2011: The tournament kicks off with a major upset, as "Bigfoot" Silva defeated Fedor Emelianenko by TKO in the second round. That result took out Strikeforce's biggest draw out of the field in the first round, taking out a potential rematch with Fabricio Werdum or the fight many hoped to see when he was signed against Alistair Overeem. Also on the card, Sergei Kharitonov moved to the semifinals with a first round KO of Andrei Arlovski, and Shane del Rosario and Chad Griggs won their respective alternate bouts. The kickoff to the tournament was treated differently by Showtime and was perceived well by fans, who responded by making it the most watched Strikeforce event ever, peaking with over a million viewers on the premium cable network. While they lost the top draw, they kicked things off with a bang.
Feb. 22, 2011: After losing the tournament's top draw, reports emerge that the second half of the quarterfinal round was being delayed again. With those fights moved off the April 9 card, it meant a major difference in time between first and second-round fights for Silva and Kharitonov than their respective opponents would deal with.
Mar. 2, 2011: The second set of quarterfinal bouts was officially moved from April 9 to June 18, meaning more than four months between the two sets of first round fights. At the time of this development, MMATorch's Rich Hansen wrote that Coker seemed determined to destroy the Grand Prix more efficiently than UFC President Dana White could, a sentiment that would become a bit ironic with the next development in this saga.
Mar. 12, 2011: Of all the things people thought could go wrong for the tournament, not one person expected that Zuffa, parent company of the UFC, would purchase Strikeforce. But that's just what happened. Scott Coker's business partners at Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment, Inc. decided to get out of the fight business, and Zuffa stepped up to purchase the organization from them. No one was sure at this point how the Grand Prix would be affected, but the feeling was widespread that, in some capacity, it would be, despite UFC President Dana White's insistence during the announcement that it would be "Business as Usual."
April 10, 2011: Daniel Cormier is announced in a bout against Shane Del Rosario for the June 18 event, the first appearance for Cormier in any alternate capacity.
May 6, 2011: Del Rosario was removed from the bout with Cormier after suffering injuries in a car accident.
May 15, 2011: Jeff Monson announced as Cormier's new opponent on June 18, though status as alternate in tournament was not made clear for either fighter.
June 9, 2011: Though not officially affecting the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, the UFC set a precedent that would eventually have an effect, as Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz vacated his belt to move over to the UFC.
June 18, 2011: The second set of quarterfinal bouts finally takes place, with Josh Barnett cruising past Brett Rogers with a first round submission, and Alistair Overeem defeating Fabricio Werdum by decision. However, the lustre of the tournament field again took a bit of a hit with a poor showing from both Overeem and Werdum, leading to a heavily derided main event fight. Viewership was again high for the tournament, with the event drawing the second highest rating for MMA on Showtime, behind February's tournament kick off. Also on the card, Cormier defeated Jeff Monson by decision, though he was still not named as an official tournament alternate.
July 18, 2011: Zuffa and Strikeforce set up the semifinal round of the tournament for Sept. 10, however, Champ Alistair Overeem wasn't ready to return by then, and was threatened with removal from the event if he didn't fight on that date. The Sept. 10 date was less than three months after his fight with Werdum, giving his opponent "Bigfoot" Silva a seven month lead up while he had less than three. The same day he revealed the threats by Zuffa to pull him from the card, the move was officially made, with Daniel Cormier being placed into the bout against "Bigfoot" Silva. The Grand Prix tournament was now without the two biggest names in the field with Fedor's loss and Overeem's removal.
July 29, 2011: Strikeforce's heavyweight roster takes a hit, as Overeem is cut from the organization in conjunction with his removal from the tournament.
Aug. 4, 2011: Dana White reveals that Fedor Emelianenko is done with Strikeforce after a July loss to Dan Henderson, taking away another top name from Strikeforce's heavyweight roster.
Sept. 6, 2011: Overeem is signed by the UFC and scheduled for a Dec. 30 bout with former UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar.
Sept. 10, 2011: The Grand Prix semifinals take place with decidedly less excitement than the first two rounds. Josh Barnett notches another first round submission win over Sergei Kharitonov, while Daniel Cormier knocks out Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva in the first round to set up the finals matchup. However, after record setting numbers for the first two events, this semifinal event drew what was, at that time, the second lowest average viewership for the organization on Showtime. Strikeforce lost two thirds of the average viewership from the first event to this card.
Dec. 15, 2011: With a new contract between Strikeforce and Showtime announced, it's revealed that the entire heavyweight division of Strikeforce will be phased into the UFC. The Heavyweight Grand Prix Finals would take place, along with one more heavyweight fight, but the rest of the division was then moved almost immediately. In less than one year, Strikeforce went from setting this tournament up to display a comparable heavyweight division to the UFC to not having a heavyweight division at all.
Dec. 16, 2011: The Cormier vs. Barnett finals bout is reported as headlining a March 3 event in Columbus, Ohio, which would bring the tournament to a conclusion after just over one year.
Jan. 7, 2012: The March 3 Columbus event is announced without the Grand Prix Finals, as Daniel Cormier's hand injury forces the fight to be pushed back to May 19.
May 19, 2012: Daniel Cormier defeats Josh Barnett in a fantastic five round main event to bring an end to the Strikeforce Heavyweight World Grand Prix 15 months after the tournament began. Ratings numbers are not yet known for the card, but the event was placed a week before an all-heavyweight main card for the UFC, and took a lot less importance and significance than originally expected.
The Strikeforce Heavyweight World Grand Prix was a big idea and a lofty goal on Strikeforce's part. Unfortunately, due to things they could and could not control, it didn't play out as they hoped it would. That will be the unfortunate legacy of the tournament, but when all was said and done they did accomplish one thing: Daniel Cormier has emerged as a highly regarded heavyweight, and may be a contender in the UFC for years to come.
DON'T GO YET... WE SUGGEST THESE MMATORCH ARTICLES, TOO!
Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
STAFF COLUMNISTS: Shawn Ennis - Jason Amadi
Frank Hyden - Rich Hansen
Chris Park - Matt Pelkey
Interested in joining MMATorch's writing team? Send idea for a theme to your column (for Specialist section) or area of interest (i.e. TV Reporter) along with a sample of writing to email@example.com.