Brett Rogers was being fair. Watching the melee that concluded Strikeforce’s last show, one aired nationwide on the Columbia Broadcasting System and which put a black mark on MMA’s reputation, he was shocked. He became aware of the backlash: Dana White blasting his competition. Talk that CBS would pull the plug on their relationship. The MMA haters filibustering over such a diabolical disgrace.
There are two sides to the story, reasoned “The Grim.” Why it wasn’t supposed to happen and why it did happen. Right or wrong, stuff happens, and Mike Tyson’s track record is a lot worse. And like the public shelling out dough to watch Tyson even past his prime, sinister curiously is stroked and massaged, glossed over with a hype machine that asks what could possibly happen next.
“If I was at it as a fan I’m pretty sure I’d be excited,” Rogers said, looking back at the Melee in Nashville. “I know if I was watching that and the show was great and then all of a sudden that happened, I think I’m going to tune into the next show. I want to see what’s going to happen and how that’s going to go down.
“We’re all fighters and we all make mistakes. We don’t always think first, we do first, and that was one of those examples. Everybody is going to take that small piece and blow it up to the point where it’s huge thing, but that was not for nothing. In my eyes that was part of the business, part of the game. It happens.”
Strikeforce’s next show is Saturday in St. Louis, one headlined by Rogers’ challenge to Alistair Overeem and the heavyweight championship. Billed as “Heavy Artillery” it’s a shot at ultimate salvation for both Rogers and his employer. To many, mixed martial arts is restricted to the Ultimate Fighting Championship and the uneducated are in no man’s land as to whether to accept the sport as legitimate competition, mano y mano between two gladiators and not something that caters to Michael Vick’s blood lust.
“That’s a group we usually have problems with because they want to really throw out the negative comments,” Rogers said. “They need to sit back, relax, give it a chance and see what everybody else thinks. For me as a fighter, I’m not going to hate on a situation. I’m pretty sure it’s happened in the past.”
Rogers’ most recent fighting past is a blemish too stubborn for Tide To Go. He was undefeated in 10 MMA bouts, eight coming in the first round, entering his biggest fight against the great Fedor Emelianenko on November 7, the main event of Strikeforce’s debut on CBS, and actually got Emelianenko’s attention by opening a cut on his nose.
An “amateur move,” one telegraphed that left an opening for Emelianenko to pounce, led to a second-round TKO loss and a revamping of Rogers’ regimen. He left his St. Paul, Minn., home to train out of town with renowned coach Mike Reilly to avoid the distractions of dealing with inner-circle demands. His biggest lessons learned in defeat and during preparation for Overeem is the ability to relax and let the situation play out rather than go for the kill too quickly.
Overeem hasn’t defended his title since winning the vacant strap in November 2007. The Dutch fighter has since competed overseas, primarily in Japan and DREAM, and is riding an eight-fight unbeaten streak. That will work against him, Rogers believes, for The Grim has noticed a trace of arrogance surrounding the champion’s return to the United States. He’s now in Rogers’ yard and the plan is that neither he nor anyone else will ever catch him easily as Emelianenko on that fateful evening.
“I know he’s cocky,” Rogers said. “Alistair is a respectful heavyweight champion – for the time being. He’s a challenge and I like a challenge. He’s definitely beatable. He’s kind of cocky and ultimately confident, and that will get clouded once I hit him.”
Anything else is unacceptable. Rogers is going for the knockout, this time with patience and tact. He has a sport to market, a reputation to repair and a belt to win.
“I just want to check in and check out right away,” Rogers said. “I don’t care [if it’s quick]. I’m not getting paid by the second. I’m looking for a great knockout, and if I can’t do that, a great ass whooping, one of the two.”