Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker talks upcoming heavyweight tournament
Strikeforce made waves to kick off 2011 with news that eight of the promotion’s top heavyweights would be participating in a three-round, single-elimination tournament to determine the top fighter in what CEO Scott Coker believes is the sport’s best heavyweight division.
The tournament, which will feature the likes of Fedor Emelianenko, Josh Barnett, and Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem, is set to begin in February and has some very big hype surrounding it. And with the fighters who will be competing, that should come as now surprise.
But getting an elite list of heavyweights to sign up for a tournament was not necessarily the easiest of tasks for Coker. Fighters such as Emelianenko were in contract negotiations until just recently, and their heavyweight champion had not exactly made title defenses his top priority.However, when eight of their best said they would be willing to compete in the Grand Prix, Coker says it was a great feeling.
“To me, it was really exciting to see that all these guys were happy to be in the tournament and they’re looking forward to it,” Coker said on the latest HeavyMMA Podcast. “Let’s hope these guys all get it on in 2011 and I think the Strikeforce heavyweight division is the best heavyweight division in mixed martial arts today.”
Yet even with fighters agreeing to compete throughout this year, questions still linger if everyone will be committed to fight, or if they will even be allowed to under state sanction (see Barnett, Josh).
Coker, however, seems confident that all will go as planned and that everyone involved will be committed, including Overeem. But that confidence did not come until after he had a nice chat with the slugger in Japan recently.
“I think Alistair is focused,” Coker said. “We had a long talk in Japan. We had a nice chat there and we have a good relationship with him. I told him how important this was, and he said, ‘Sign me up. I want to fight in the tournament.’”
But Overeem was hardly the only fighter that posed problems in terms of the ability to be involved with the tournament. The aforementioned Emelianenko, who was once considered the greatest fighter in the world, and Strikeforce were having troubles with contract negotiations, and doubts surfaced as to whether or not he would be with the promotion this year.
Though he also had doubts at times, said that Emelianenko was needed to make the tournament special and was thrilled when they finally came to terms with the legendary fighter.
“I never heard those rumors,” Coker joked. “Where did you hear that? It was challenging and I think I aged 50 years.”
“In order for this to be a legitimate tournament, I think we need Fedor in the tournament, not just have superfights with him. So we negotiated a multi-fight, multi-year contract with him and we asked him if he could be in the tournament. He said yes, he’d be happy to. In fact, he’d prefer that.”
With Emelianenko’s contract locked down and Overeem expressing his desire to compete in the tournament, Strikeforce had successfully reserved two of the promotion’s biggest issues. But another still remained.
Barnett, a former UFC champion, failed a drug test back in 2009 that caused the cancellation of his bout with Emelianenko at “Affliction: Trilogy,” along with causing the promotion to close its doors. He has yet to receive his license back from the California State Athletic Commission, but that is not going to stop him from competing with Strikeforce.
“Here’s the situation,” Coker said. “Obviously he has an isolated incident in California. He is free to fight in other states, and we’ve identified three or four states. Actually, almost half a dozen now that would welcome Josh to come and fight pending a clean test.”
“Just so you guys now, about six weeks ago, before the hearing, Josh went to the California State Athletic Commission offices in Sacramento, took the test, it was clean. So we feel good that everywhere he goes he’s going to be clean, we’re going to be monitoring it, and let the guy fight.”
Now that three of Strikeforce’s top heavyweights seem to have resolved their issues, they join five others this year in a tournament beginning on February 12. And with such talent committed to a Grand Prix, fans won’t be able to hold back their excitement, as the hype builds throughout 2011, making the heavyweight tournament a potential gold mine for the California-based promotion.