The battle between the UFC and Strikeforce for dominance in the heavyweight division is on the horizon and the first shot will soon be fired, with the first round of quarterfinal fights in the Strikeforce world heavyweight grand prix taking place February 12th. The UFC is countering Strikeforce's power play with Brock Lesnar vs. Junior dos Santos featured on season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter reality series, which is currently filming and set to air in March.
Strikeforce has generated quite a bit of interest with their heavyweight tournament, and are coming off their second highest ratings for a Strikeforce event on Showtime, with Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg peaking at 853,000 viewers. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker and company have a lot going for them so early in the year, and with recent rumors of Strikeforce taking their heavyweight grand prix to Japan in April, it looks as though they want to keep the ball rolling as we move forward through 2011.
MMA-Japan gives us the skinny:
Strikeforce will make their Japanese debut April 10th, 2011 during the afternoon hours in order to be shown live in the United States.
The fight card will consist of a lightweight portion, and the heavyweight grand prix second round.
Strikeforce will be working with Real Entertainment and possibly M-1 to co-promote the planned event.
The grand prix second round consists of Alistair Overeem vs. Fabricio Werdum and Josh Barnett vs. Brett Rogers. It's wise of Strikeforce to utilize their Japanese connections to promote an event that features stars who are bigger in Japan than in the United States. It's also nice to hear that Strikeforce is looking out for their fans here, making sure that their fanbase is able to watch the event live, I'm sure Showtime wouldn't have it any other way, of course.
Working with Real Entertainment could mean that we see some changes in the production of the event, which is great in my opinion. Strikeforce's half hearted ramp does nothing for me, but if we get entrances we're used to seeing in Japanese based promotions, Strikeforce may gauge how their fans like it in comparison to their typical entrances. If it goes over well, maybe we'll see Strikeforce bring the over the top Japanese style back to the States with them.
I also find it interesting that Strikeforce is making a move in Japan while there are rumors of the UFC's interest in holding an event in Japan. It could be that Strikeforce wanted to move in, have the Japanese fans recognize Strikeforce as a friendly promotion, working alongside Japanese companies, and featuring names that are consistently fighting (or wrestling, if you're Josh Barnett) in Japan. The UFC will always be remembered for their buyout of Pride, and if Strikeforce came come across as "the good guys" then that will make the UFC's return to the land of the rising sun all the more complicated.
This is the third article in the series, "The Heavyweight War of 2011", past entries include: