Strikeforce Grand Prix: Epic or Epic Fail?

2010's Submission of the Year

Even if there is an injury replacement situation, one of the ousted fighters from the “Big Four” could be called upon as a fill-in, as could unbeaten prospect Shane del Rosario, a powerful kickboxer who should get by Lavar Johnson in his reserve match Saturday night.

If everything runs relatively smoothly, the World Heavyweight Grand Prix could be an epic event and a great success for Strikeforce.

But what did Robert Burns write about the best laid plans of mice and men?

There are, of course, numerous potential pitfalls to trying to execute such an ambitious project.

While a single injury wouldn’t be unmanageable, the need to repeatedly return fallen fighters into the field or rely heavily on an underwhelming selection of potential alternates would take all the steam out of Strikeforce’s grand plan.

Though injuries happen and contingencies are in place, having a fighter bow out because of injury will cast doubt on the validity of the fighter who wins the tournament.

Joachim Hansen may have beaten Shinya Aoki to capture the DREAM Lightweight Grand Prix in 2008, but he did so only after replacing an injured Eddie Alvarez, the man who bounced him from the tournament in the quarterfinal round. To this day, the win feels hollow because of Hansen’s less-than-daunting path to the finals through Kultar Gill.

That doesn’t even take into consideration the drop in competition that occurs if fighters like Valetijn Overeem or Ray Sefo are relied upon to round out the field at one point or another. Nothing personal against either man, but neither should be anywhere near this tournament.

Perhaps a more real danger than injuries is the contract and licensing issues that could cast a black cloud over this entire endeavor.

Strikeforce and Josh Barnett can say all they want about having no issues getting licensed in various states; if that was the case, it would already be done and the location of “The Baby-Faced Assassin’s” first round meeting with Brett Rogers would already be announced. Should the bout take place in Japan as rumored, all bets are off.

Not only is holding a quarter of the event halfway around the world bad for domestic business, but unless strict drug testing policies are in place, the questions that continually circle around Barnett (and Alistair Overeem) will overshadow everything good about this event.

Additionally, who’s to say that Overeem and Emelianenko are going to fight on without delay if they make it through their opening round match-ups?

For more than three years, Overeem kept the Strikeforce heavyweight title on a shelf somewhere while competing as both a kickboxer and mixed martial artist in Japan, while Emelianenko’s representatives have held out for a better contract following each of “The Last Emperor’s” fights with Strikeforce.

Is Strikeforce really in a place to take either Vadim Finkelstein or “Ubereem” at their word that their participation in the Heavyweight Grand Prix is assured until the end? Imagine the potential demands should one be needed to return to the field after losing at some point.

While I said early on that I see the potential wisdom in stacking one side of the tournament with the four fighters who currently rank as the top heavyweights in the organization, there is no question that it is a risky proposition as well.

Though the current alignment theoretically ensures that one of Emelianenko, Overeem, Werdum or Silva advances to the finals, it also means that Arlovski, Barnett, Rogers or Kharitonov could very well represent the other side. Of that group, only Barnett is of interest, having only fallen out of the heavyweight elite due to inactivity.

While Rogers remains a work-in-progress with some potential, he’s dropped his last two under the Strikeforce banner and only managed a unanimous decision over Ruben Villareal at a Warrior-1 event in Halifax, Nova Scotia late last year. Not exactly the type of result that inspires a Cinderella story amongst this bunch.

I sincerely hope that everything goes off without a hitch for Strikeforce and the Heavyweight Grand Prix; it has the potential to be a tremendous event and a compelling story throughout the rest of the year.

It could also be the Titanic, so keep an eye out for icebergs.

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