There may be snow falling now, but 2011 is getting ready to heat up as Strikeforce is set to begin their heavyweight grand prix, and the UFC begins to film season thirteen of The Ultimate Fighter. In the first post in this series, I went in-depth on the battle between Strikeforce and the UFC to see who will hold the number one heavyweight in the world come the end of this year, now, we'll look at how each promotion is positioning themselves outside of the cage.
Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has never been an outspoken, brash promoter such as UFC president Dana White, but he's been curiously loud (and repetitive) as of late. Most recently, Coker claimed the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix would be the greatest heavyweight tournament in the history of the sport on MMAWeekly Radio:
"I’m not the type of guy to sit here and boasting about it, but when you look at it on paper, I think this is honestly the greatest heavyweight tournament in the history of mixed martial arts. I think there’s a good argument about that. That’s really my position on it."
Indeed, Coker isn't the type to boast, but he is in this case. He's also claiming that the winner of this tournament will be the number one heavyweight on the planet, check out this quote from the press release announcing the grand prix:
"We are thrilled to have come to a long-term agreement with Fedor and M-1 GLOBAL," said STRIKEFORCE CEO Scott Coker. "To have the greatest MMA fighter of all-time put his legacy on the line in a single-elimination tournament will truly captivate MMA fans worldwide. STRIKEFORCE is home to the best heavyweight division in the world; the athlete who runs the gauntlet in a tournament such as this would have to be considered the best heavyweight fighter in the world."
Repetition will be key in getting the fans and media to buy this propaganda, but some thrilling performances in the cage by the eight participants in this tournament will reinforce these words. The way the bracket is arranged, the finalist from the left side will have made a very strong case for being one of, if not the best heavyweight in the world. The final fight will seal the deal, at least, this is what Strikeforce is hoping for. Strikeforce has a history of failing to control the narrative of events and happenings dealing with the company and it's fighters, it's obvious that they're looking to change that in 2011, laying the groundwork for what could be a major coup for Strikeforce in their battle with the UFC.
But, can Strikeforce stand up to the Zuffa marketing machine? Qualified or not, champions and contenders inside the UFC rise through rankings, are pushed as the greatest in their divisions, and many are considered some of the best pound for pound. Typically, there's no argument against the bump UFC fighters get, but were we really supposed to believe that Dan Hardy was the second best welterweight on the planet before fighting Georges St. Pierre? Dana White and the Zuffa team are masters of manipulating the media, and using all the tools at their disposal to mold any situation to how they want it to be seen. The masses are buying whatever the UFC is selling, and this puts Strikeforce at a major disadvantage.
The UFC securing Brock Lesnar vs. Junior dos Santos on The Ultimate Fighter is a major counter blow to Strikeforce's ambitious plan to create the top fighter in the heavyweight division. Not only will both coaches be under constant media attention, current UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez gets to stay in the picture as well, rather than being placed on the back burner by fans and media alike. Will Zuffa be able to convince the world that Brock Lesnar, Junior dos Santos, and Cain Velasquez are the top three heavyweights in the sport today? They will certainly attempt to, to ensure that no matter who wins the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, their name stays out of the mix. If Fedor Emelianenko or Alistair Overeem win the tournament though, will the UFC marketing beast be able to stand up to the case that was made for either of those men to be the number one heavyweight? I'm not so sure that's a battle that favors Zuffa.
Keep your eyes peeled for the next edition of the "Heavyweight War of 2011" series, over the next few weeks, we'll be going in-depth on each of the participants in the first pair of Strikeforce HW GP fights. Don't miss it!