Strikeforce must have breathed a collective sigh of relief when Alistair Overeem comfortably dispensed of the challenge of Brett Rogers in St Louis. Fedor Emelianenko is by far their most marketable asset but they are desperately short of decent opponents for the highly regarded Russian.
When you have been at the top for as long as Emelianenko has there is a very elite pool of fighters from whom you should be picking your opponents. Almost anyone with recent losses on their record is out. Fedor’s recent fight with Rogers was acceptable because Rogers was unbeaten but a rematch would not have been a palatable prospect.
Emelianenko’s next scheduled opponent, Fabricio Werdum, is not of a sufficient caliber to be facing arguably the number one pound for pound fighter on the planet. Werdum has three losses in his last eight fights, two of them against comparatively low quality fighters. He should be at least three wins away from being in contention to face Emelianenko but the lack of depth in Strikeforce’s existing heavyweight division means that they are forced to throw Emelianenko in with anyone and everyone.
Emelianenko himself is in no position to complain, if he genuinely wanted to face the best heavyweight fighters in the world he could have signed with the UFC. The reality is that both parties are trying to make the best of a bad situation and Overeem’s emphatic victory over Rogers will go a long way towards compensating for the disappointing recent defection of Jake Shields.
Strikeforce have invested time and money in a number of fighters who have recently fallen from grace. Dan Henderson’s loss to Shields made the latters departure even more difficult to take while Gegard Mousasi’s reputation as the best light heavyweight outside of the UFC suffered potentially permanent damage when he lost his Strikeforce title to Muhammed Lawal.
These disappointing results at Strikeforce’s penultimate event left the organization in disarray. When you have a limited number of fighters at your disposal you need your most exciting prospects to keep winning in order to set up genuinely marketable match ups.
Mousasi and Henderson might have let Strikeforce down in this respect but at least Alistair Overeem has not. One of very few K-1 level strikers to have made an impression in mixed martial arts Overeem did not enjoy the most impressive of starts to his MMA career. He lost three out of his first seven fights but then won the next 12, all via stoppage.
He came up against up and coming UFC fighter Chuck Liddell in the opening round of the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix and was handed his fourth MMA loss with a first round stoppage. After the defeat to Liddell Overeem’s MMA career lost a little bit of momentum. He won three fights against low level opposition before losing to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. He then defeated two high profile opponents, Vitor Belfort and Igor Vochanchyn, employing a guillotine choke on both occasions. Overeem went on to win three out of his next four fights before being submitted by Fabricio Werdum.
Overeem bounced back defeating Vitor Belfort for the second time but then entered the most disappointing period of his MMA career. He lost three consecutive fights, to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Ricardo Arona and Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua. He beat the unknown Michael Knapp but was then knocked out by Sergei Kharitonov meaning that, when he signed with Strikeforce he had lost five out of his last seven fights.
There was little in Overeem’s recent record to suggest he was an MMA champion in the making but he defeated Paul Buentello on his Strikeforce debut to win the Heavyweight Championship and he has remained unbeaten ever since.
He has won eight consecutive fights, most of them in Japan, with one no contest when he was disqualified for landing repeated groin strikes against Mirko Crocop. Like Overeem Crocop is a K-1 veteran but whereas Crocop retired from his K-1 career to concentrate entirely on MMA Overeem is still a highly respected K-1 fighter. He fought four times for K-1 in 2009, facing top quality opposition on every occasion.
Having a poor previous record should not detract from a fighter’s current standing. Manny Pacquiao is a prime example of a fighter who recovered from a few early losses to flourish late in his career and Overeem falls into a similar category.
Unlike Crocop who is still primarily a knock out artist, Overeem has, despite his excellent stand up pedigree, developed into something of a submission specialist. He has 18 submission wins, seven of them by way of a guillotine.
Eight consecutive wins make Overeem a worthy opponent for Emelianenko. Overeem is not a UFC discard unlike many of the men the Russian has recently faced such as Arlovski, Sylvia and Lindland as well as his upcoming opponent Werdum.
Fights of this magnitude may be far and few between for Emelianenko now that he has opted to continue his career away from the Octagon and as a highly ranked heavyweight fighter who is not contracted to the UFC Overeem is something of a rarity.
A title unification bout between Emelianenko and Overeem is a mouth watering proposition which could headline any MMA card in the world. It is probably not a point of view which Dana White would subscribe to but I think it can only benefit the burgeoning sport of MMA if there is more than one organization capable of putting on fights of this magnitude