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Trading One Mistake For Another: Attempting to make sense of the Strikeforce championship dilemma

Alistair OvereemSaturday night’s “Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers” event will correct one mistake while making another.

On one hand, Jakes Shields and Jason “Mayhem” Miller will square off for the long-undefended and recently vacated middleweight belt. On the other, light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi will face Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou in a non-title bout.

I’m sure the decision to take Mousasi’s title off the table is in accordance with some bizarre Strikeforce internal logic; the same logic that allowed Cung Le to hold onto the middleweight crown for 18 months without once defending it; the same logic that continues to allow Alistair Overeem to rule the heavyweight division without stepping inside the cage. It’s been precisely 24 months since the Dutch kickboxer won the inaugural heavyweight strap, a period during which he’s been allowed to fight numerous times for other promotions: six MMA fights, three kickboxing fights and one bar fight, the latter resulting in a hand injury that forced two Strikeforce title bouts to be scrapped.

I don’t want to pile on Overeem too heavily. Injuries happen and his recent MMA outings in DREAM and Ultimate Glory mere merely busy work, a way to stay sharp and cash a couple of paychecks while awaiting the 2009 K-1 World Grand Prix Final in December. I can’t blame him for trying to make a buck, particularly in these lean economic times.

Sure, he needs to return to Strikeforce and defend his title, something he recently promised to do in early 2010 with the intention of facing Fedor. But all along it should’ve been the promotion that made this happen by delivering an ultimatum – defend the belt or relinquish it. After all, fighters are employees. They either do their job or you fire them.

Of course, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has been reluctant to do that, as we saw with Cung Le. And it’s come with a serious pricetag. Not only are fans deprived of seeing big fights but the weight divisions involved are left on shaky ground. Where does a fighter stand in the rankings when the person against whom he is judged doesn’t fight?

So what’s a title worth that is created, captured and never defended? About as much as the blue ribbon in a chili cook-off. Team sports have playoffs that give the championship weight and significance. Individual sports like tennis and golf have multiple rounds leading to the title. Non-tournament-style fight cards have none of that. There’s an adage Randy Couture is fond of that applies to specifically to fighting – you’re not the champion until you defend the championship. That’s what gives the belt its heft, its importance. Overeem has yet to do that. Likewise Gegard Mousasi.

Which brings me back to wondering why Mousasi vs. Sokoudjou isn’t a title fight. Coker is just asking for a world of trouble. If Mousasi wins, it means little except to derail Sokoudjou’s title aspirations. If Sokoudjou wins not only will there be a need for a rematch in which the title is on the line, it will create an unnecessary controversy in which Sokoudjou will already be seen by many to be the light heavyweight champion until that rematch takes place. And what if the rematch is delayed by months, or even years, given Strikeforce’s track record? You think the judges’ decision in the Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua stirred up a hornets nest, imagine if Strikeforce suddenly finds itself with two perceived light heavyweight champions?

Yes, I know Scott Coker announced last week that he wants all of his champions to defend their titles twice a year – which means Overeem already owes us four title fights – but I’ll believe it when I see it.

After all, Coker could’ve stripped Overeem of his title to allow Fedor to vie for it his first time in the cage but he chose not to. I seem to recall Coker saying he wants to build up the anticipation as Fedor marches toward the championship, perhaps not considering that anticipation is already really high and there’s always the remote possibility that Fedor could stumble before he reaches a title bout. He could lose, he could become injured, he could decide to go off to Hollywood. Who knows, maybe The A-Team sequel will need a villain.

And while I’m on the subject, if the Saturday’s Strikeforce card is an M-1 Global co-promotion why isn’t the main event for Fedor’s WAMMA heavyweight belt?

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