Making Sense Of Strikeforce's Puzzling World Grand Prix Tournament
If Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker announced that Fedor Emelianenko would be fighting Antonio Silva, and that the winner would face the winner of a championship bout between Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum, I don't think you'd hear too many complaints from the peanut gallery.
Well, Scott Coker did make such an announcement, but that same plan will now be part of an eight-man Heavyweight Grand Prix.
Pretty awesome top bracket, obviously.
So what does the other bracket look like?
Well, let's take a more in-depth look.
The Other Bracket
On the other side of the bracket, Sergei Kharitonov will face Andrei Arlovski for the right to face the winner of a bout between Josh Barnett and Brett Rogers.
It's not that the other bracket is bad, but after looking at the top bracket, it's really hard to care about the bottom bracket.
Sergei Kharitonov owns a win over Alistair Overeem from 2007, but since that time he's fought a grand total of three MMA fights and all but the most hardcore of MMA fans had all but forgotten that he existed.
Andrei Arlovski has lost three straight bouts to other tournament entrants Emelianenko, Rogers and Silva.
Brett Rogers himself is still regrouping after a devastating loss to Emelianenko and a lopsided loss to Overeem.
Josh Barnett's greatest accomplishment over the past five years is a KO win over Affliction Entertainment as he dealt the coup de grace to the struggling promotion, when he tested positive for steroids just weeks before a planned bout with Emelianenko.
The Problem With The Tournament
If the matches existed by themselves, I can hardly see any reason for complaints.
But if you're going to call it a tournament, then shouldn't there be some sort pre-tournament seeding that makes a bit more sense than stacking the one side with all of the currently notable fighters, leaving a "B" bracket of the fallen, forgotten and disgraced?
Of course, we can understand why Strikeforce decided to do this: The top side of the bracket looks good even outside of the tournament format and guarantees that we get to see at least a few of the most-anticipated matchups.
On the other hand, the whole thing ends up looking a lot like Strikeforce is hedging its bets here, putting Fedor closer to a matchup with Overeem or Werdum rather than building toward a more suitable climax in the final.
It's really not what we've come to expect from tournaments.
Consider: The rivalry between living tennis greats Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer has been hailed by many as the greatest rivalry in sports. Yet you don't see the ATP or tournament organizers pairing the two of them up in the first round of Wimbledon.
A match between Federer and Nadal in a tournament, if it happens, deserves the largest stage, and that can only happen in a final.
Matchups featuring champion Alistair Overeem and his top contenders are fine, but if they're going to be in a tournament, they should be in the semifinals and finals and not in the opening round.
The other unfortunate part of this is that it didn't have to be this way.
A Better Tournament Bracket
If Strikeforce is going to gerrymander a tournament anyway, they may as well do it in the best possible way, which should have appealing matches all the way through, without putting the top guys against each other in the very first round.
Consider the following as first round matchups:
Alistair Overeem vs. Sergei Kharitonov 3
Overeem and Kharitonov have split their two previous meetings, and while Overeem would be the clear favorite this time around, I'm sure Overeem would appreciate the chance to avenge his 2007 loss.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Josh Barnett
This was the matchup that was supposed to happen at the ill-fated Affliction Trilogy event. While it has lost some of its appeal, I'm sure fans would still love to see this fight.
Fabricio Werdum vs. Andrei Arlovski 2
Today Werdum is ranked as high as No. 2 in the heavyweight rankings, while Arlovski has fallen off the map completely. Still, Arlovski once beat Werdum in 2007 at UFC 70.
Antonio Silva vs. Brett Rogers
This is the least appealing matchup of the bunch, but it's still a pretty good fight, all things considered.
If everything went well, there would still likely be a very good chance of having appealing matches in both the semi-finals and finals, and the reward would be more than worth the slightly greater risk.
Aside from these matches, there are a couple of other configurations that would also make sense more than the current tournament format.
Additionally, Strikeforce could reserve the right to re-seed the tournament after each round, rather than sticking to rigid brackets that result in less-appealing matchups.
The current brackets that Strikeforce has chosen aren't as terrible as people might imagine.
The winner of the lower bracket may still deserve a shot at the title after having taken out two other good opponents.
My only complaint is that if you're going to go out and call it a tournament, at least make the tournament the right way. Otherwise, just ditch the tournament format and make whatever matchups you want.
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