Taking stock of winners, losers from Saturday's Strikeforce card

Publish date:

We interrupt this regularly scheduled Stock Watch for an update on recently deposed champion Alistair Overeem.

The flurry of punches that ended a stunning clash between Fedor Emelianenko and Dan Henderson sent Strikeforce out on an electric note Saturday in suburban Chicago.

But the silence around news of Overeem's sudden firing cast a shadow of mystery over post-event proceedings. Officials said nothing to explain his exit.

What's Overeem up to? More than a week after he was removed from the semifinals of the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament, he is nursing a fractured rib diagnosed the day prior to Saturday's event and is still putting the pieces together on his release from the promotion, his assistant Fabrice Deters on Sunday told SI.com.

The news broke the day he sought out a doctor in Amstelveen, Holland, to prove his injury's legitimacy to the promotion's parent company, Zuffa LLC. His pink slip had arrived one week prior, Deters said, and prompted Overeem's camp to put him on the card of an October fight card held in Moscow that's promoted in part by his trainer Martin de Jong.

A video documenting Overeem's rib troubles -- part of the fighter's ongoing web series "The Reem" -- was expedited for posting on Friday amid speculation that he'd been fired for playing hardball with Zuffa in negotiations for a new contract. (Overeem had one fight remaining on his Strikeforce deal prior to the release; he is now free and clear.)

Although multiple sources close to the promotion have hinted at such a scenario as the cause of the snafu -- that the fighter or his management used a made-up toe injury as a bargaining chip for a sweeter deal -- Deters said money had nothing to do with his withdrawal from the competition, in which he was an early favorite and passed to the semis with a decision over Fabricio Werdum in Dallas.

Instead, Deters suggested the June 18 fight was where Overeem's tournament fate was sealed. He said the heavyweight had a broken toe prior to the fight and suffered from pain in his ribs -- despite passing a pre-fight medical checkup and receiving only a 10-day suspension afterward. Still, the heavyweight began training again after a brief holiday and prepared for a trip to Bulgaria to prepare for the semifinals, which he believed would be in October.

When Sept. 10 was chosen as the date for the semifinals, though, Overeem was forced to make a choice: fight at less than 100 percent, or give up the tournament.

"Alistair is a guy that doesn't fight for a paycheck," Deters said. "He told me, 'I'm not going to fight in September because I can't fight. Losing a fight is more damaging than getting a chunk of money.'"

For now, getting healthy is Overeem's top priority, and he's laying low.

"He doesn't have any new information, that's why he doesn't like to talk," Deters said.

And now, back to our regular programming:

Dan Henderson: After the disaster that was his Strikeforce debut against Jake Shields, the 40-years-young Henderson has shuffled off his mortal coil with three consecutive stoppage wins over the likes of Renato Sobral, Rafael Cavalcante and on Saturday, Emelianenko, who served as the final obligation of his contract.

Catching the tail end of the Russian's comet is a particularly good bargaining chip as Henderson moves into free-agent territory, and the light heavyweight belt he took from Cavalcante isn't too bad, either. The question now is how he'll use it. Will he stick with Strikeforce and push for a better deal? Is there one to be had after Zuffa's acquisition of the promotion? Will he leverage his success into another UFC contract? He did alienate the promotion two years ago by asking for a steep raise in his next deal, which pushed him into the waiting arms of Strikeforce.

There's no "Option B" this time around. Whatever he wants, there will be diplomacy involved in getting it.

There are, of course, a few interesting opponents left for Henderson in Strikeforce: Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, if he can get past Roger Gracie in September; Gegard Mousasi, who's a fight or two away from attempting to take back the title after a disastrous draw against Keith Jardine in April. Then there's always the option of returning to middleweight, however unappealing that is for "Hendo."

Problem is, do any of those fights justify the kind of numbers Henderson has made recently -- he and Emelianenko gobbled up the lion's share of cash for Saturday's talent budget -- or the kind he may want after his recent triumph? Under Zuffa's watch, that cash is commanded by pay-per-view headliners, which makes it a better move to put him back in the octagon. If he's into that, of course.

One thing's for sure: Henderson's is riding quite a high. Fifteen months ago, his expiration date could be seen on the horizon. Now, he looks like he's just getting started.

Miesha Tate: Going into her title fight with champ Marloes Coenen, Tate spoke of putting on a fight that would convince Strikeforce's new brass that women's MMA is worth keeping around. And while she managed to submit Coenen in the fourth round to take the women's welterweight title, it was in a style that's not likely to sway the skeptics.

It wasn't just that the two spent most of the bout grappling. That, in and of itself, wasn't a bad thing. Rather, it was that they mostly canceled each other out on the mat: Tate's offense was scant despite her ground control in rounds one and three; Coenen couldn't put Tate away in the third despite being in position for a chokeout for much of the round.

This is what happens when two world-class fighters meet, of course. To her credit, Tate's persistence led to an arm triangle that finished the fight. But whether right or wrong, women are under the microscope when it comes to their future in Strikeforce. If they're not delivering fireworks -- as they've done a million times in the past -- fans aren't talking. And if fans aren't talking, Zuffa isn't listening any more than they already are.

Tarec Saffiedine: He didn't get much of a test against the lethargic Scott Smith, but Saffiedine still won the day with a vastly superior striking attack. While it's somewhat puzzling that he's now set to fight Tyron Woodley for the welterweight title when the two fought a rather uninspiring bout in January, the lack of depth in Strikeforce's 170-pound division gives the promotion few other options. I can't imagine Saffiedine's wrestling chops have improved enough to avenge a loss to Woodley in the first meeting, but maybe he can prove everyone wrong.

Marloes Coenen: Talented in striking and submissions, the now-former champ continues to struggle with strong wrestlers. It seemed all too easy for Tate to take the fight to the ground and control the fight, much as it did when Coenen met Liz Carmouche in March and was nearly pounded out on the mat. Although the champ landed some great punches, she was all too frequently reactive rather than proactive in her offense, and Tate spent most of the fight in the driver's seat.

Tim Kennedy: The career military man is back in the middleweight title picture with a decision over Robbie Lawler. True, the line for that ride is pretty short, and Kennedy's performance -- a few nice kicks, ground control and some recreational bleeding -- wasn't anything to write home about. But it got the job done, and he's first up if current champ Ronaldo Souza gets past Luke Rockhold in September. He desperately wants to avenge a loss to the standout grappler, and he'll be more apt to let his hands go against a guy with a fraction of Lawler's concussive power.

Tyron Woodley: With a decision win over Paul Daley, the biggest name he's yet faced, Woodley is now 7-0 in Strikeforce, a true homegrown talent. He hasn't exactly grabbed the division by the throat -- his standup is improving but not quite there, and his wrestling-centered attack tests your patience. But until he meets someone who forces him to stand, he'll keep winning. A fight with Saffiedine appears to be next, and it's a matchup that's his to lose.

Fedor Emelianenko: With a third consecutive loss in a bout against Henderson, there's no longer any illusion that Emelianekno's best days are behind him. It's unfortunate that the fight's stoppage left questions as to whether "The Last Emperor" could have recovered from a peekaboo punch that flattened him late in the first round, but I understand that the momentary loss of his motor skills, coupled with his position in the cage, prompted referee Herb Dean to intercede on his behalf.

I'm betting that Emelianenko calls it quits when he goes back home and takes stock. His family and relationship to God are more important to him now than fighting, and that's not an attitude conducive to regaining his championship form. For Emelianenko to right the ship, he'd need to double down on his investment in the sport, traveling to different fight camps and separating himself from the things he loves most. And even then, there's no certainty as to whether he'd be able to turn the tide; time may have just caught up to him. But he's clearly not willing to move outside his comfort zone, and if that's the case, why keep going?

Robbie Lawler: The heavy-handed veteran deserves credit for a vastly improved counter-wrestling game against Kennedy, but he deserves an equal rebuke for not pulling the trigger when Kennedy was tired and vulnerable in the third round. It's clear that a recent pilgrimage to Arizona for training with UFC standouts Ryan Bader, C.B. Dollaway and Aaron Simpson has done Lawler a world of good in avoiding paralysis against takedown artists -- Kennedy could scarcely hold him down when the fight hit the mat. But it was all for naught as he stood there, waiting for that perfect shot, as time ticket away. Opportunities flew by. And because he'd lost points on the mat in the first two frames, he gave away a golden opportunity when the fight reached the scorecards.

Scott Smith: In five years of fighting on big shows, Smith was a guy who made spectacular come-from-behind wins look like a matter of course. Against Saffiedine on Saturday, he was nothing more than a heavy bag.

Now 0-2 in his career as a middleweight and 2-4 since the rise of Strikeforce, Smith looked like a shell of the fighter he once was. Maybe it's all those years of taking two to give one, but he needs to take a hard look in the mirror and decide if it's worth it to go on.