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