One of the great traditions in the short history of Mixed Martial Arts is the “Grand Prix”. It is the sports’ equivalent to the NCAA tournament, anything can happen, anyone can win, and it’s guaranteed to be entertaining for the fans. Thus, when Strikeforce announced their Heavyweight Grand Prix and the participants involved it was a win-win for all involved, the fans, the organization, and Showtime. But something happened along the way that caused the momentum to fade.
The names are well known: Overeem, Fedor, Barnett, Arlovski, Werdum, and Strikeforce has the power of a major player in the sports world with Showtime. The Grand Prix was set and threatened to make the organization a big time rival to the industry leader, the UFC. But then one of the 3 things that slowed the anticipation of the event happened: The parent company of the UFC purchased Strikeforce. Although we I feel that seeing the two companies merge and all the match-up possibilities are exciting, there is no denying that it took some of the wind from the sails of the GP. One-half of the first round had occurred and it had lived up to the hype but when we heard the news, one of the first questions was whether the GP would continue. Now everytime we heard the name Strikeforce it would quickly be followed by UFC, Zuffa, Dana White, etc. and not the GP. Yes the long-term prospects of the purchase are positive, but the fallout from the merger were felt immediately.
The second reason for the momentum shift is the time between events. We have seen Grand Prix’s in the past go from fruition to completion in a matter of 3 months, we are now going on over 4 months just to complete the first round. I think we were all expecting to see the first round completed within 2 months of each other so the long wait has dampened the mood. This now feels more like a regular fight schedule than a tournament. The days of MMA fighters having more than one match in one month, let alone one night, are over. If you don’t take advantage of fights close together then interest will be lost.
The final reason is simple: Fedor lost. The legend, the dominant force, the “face” of Strikeforce lost in the first round. Not only did he lose, he lost embarrassingly. As quickly as fans were opining for a match with Overeem in round 2 it was over. The loss to “Bigfoot” Silva confirmed what many had been afraid to admit, Fedor is old and has lost a step. There is no way the force we had seen in Pride was losing to Silva. There is no way that dominant force would lose to anyone today. Watching as he got dominated in every aspect of the fight was akin to watching Favre in Minnesota or Jordan with the Wizards. It is the reminder that we all get long in the tooth and our former strengths become weaknesses. In my opinion, the Fedor loss is the #1 reason for the lack of excitement heading into this weekend.
Though the original excitement for the Grand Prix may have been lost, I for one am extremely excited. Overeem is one of my favorite fighters and having him go into a fight against someone who has put a loss on his record should be interesting. Coming off his K-1 win it will be interesting to see him back stateside in the Strikeforce cage. I also feel that the Rogers-Barnett match will be interesting to see. At one time Josh Barnett was considered a top 5 heavyweight, but scandals and time have dampened that sentiment. Brett Rogers is on the rise and a fighter that some consider could be a serious contender in the near future. So while it may not have the MMA world on its collective heels, the Grand Prix rolls on and I for one am excited.
Image courtesy of Strikeforce and Zuffa, LLC.