Tonight at Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery in St. Louis, Brett Rogers will challenge Alistair Overeem for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Championship. Rogers has been fighting professionally for four years, amassing 10 victories, all by knockout. What is most interesting, though, is how Rogers proved he was finally ready to compete for the title: by losing his last fight. Over the past six month there have been a slew of high profile fights that have done more to advance the standing of their losers than their victors. Dan Hardy, Demian Maia, and Brett Rogers have all suffered recent defeats. In each of their fights, there were no questions or controversies surrounding the outcomes: they each lost decisively. But each of them came out on top.
Dan “The Outlaw” Hardy faced Georges St. Pierre at UFC 111. Many were unconvinced that Hardy deserved a shot at the title, but the UFC hype machine spun its wheels, selling Hardy as a contender. Hardy was absolutely dominated in that match, but GSP could not end the fight. His two best opportunities to do so, a deep armbar at the end of the first round and an absolutely vicious looking kimura in the fourth, were both survived by Hardy on sheer mental toughness alone. The agonizing pain on Hardy’s face was plain to see, but he refused to submit. Hardy’s challenge was clear: if St. Pierre wanted to end the fight, he was going to have to break that arm. Maybe an official would end the fight, but Hardy wasn’t going to. “The Outlaw” gained a lot of respect at UFC 111, and a reputation as a proud fighter with the indelible spirit of a warrior. St. Pierre on the other hand, was criticized for going to yet another decision.
Similarly, Demian Maia faced Anderson “The Spider” Silva at UFC 112 with an infinitesimal chance of succeeding. Maia was the UFC’s third choice for Silva’s opponent in Abu Dhabi, and received his title shot only after Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen became sidelined with injuries. The match that ensued was so bizarre and controversial it can only be referred to as “Spidergate 112”. Silva, lit up Maia in the opening rounds with creative kicks and punches, but then seemed to lose interest in continuing. The Spider demonstrated his expert striking ability but also his top-notch showboating, taunting, complaining, and evasion skills, earning the ire of the fans. In the fifth round, Maia, a one-dimensional BJJ ace, was the one chasing a passive Silva down, throwing everything he had at the champ. Silva made it clear he was the superior fighter, but was entirely disinterested in competing. By the end of the fight the crowd was cheering for a frustrated but still trying Maia, and Silva’s sanity was being called in to question.
Brett Rogers has clearly gained the most from his last loss, suffered at the hands of Heavyweight legend Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko. Rogers was knocked clean out by the Russian in the second round, but not before fighting a convincing first round that saw him land some seriously terrifying power punches, breaking Fedor’s nose within minutes. Surviving the first round against Fedor is a feat that had only been accomplished by 8 opponents in the Russian’s 33 previous fights. Rogers did more than just survive; he looked dangerous. Fedor Emelianenko has already become an MMA demigod. For Brett Rogers to look that good against him proved that not only is Rogers ready for a title shot against Alistair Overeem, but that he’s probably going to win it. Sometimes a loss can be a victory. If Brett Rogers becomes the new Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion tonight in St. Louis, he owes it all to his one loss to “The Last Emperor”.