Rewind to the evening of February 12, 2011, and you'd find Strikeforce on top of the MMA world. In just hours they'd unveil their masterpiece -- an ambitious, star-studded eight-man tourney featuring the most distinguished collection of heavyweight talent money could buy: Emelianenko, Overeem, Barnett, Werdum, Silva, Arlovski and Kharitonov. (And Brett Rogers, but we don't need to bring that up).
In theory, it was genius. If history has proven anything, it's that fight fans love two things -- tournaments and heavyweights. Put them together, and the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix was guaranteed to be commercial gold.
But things didn't quite work out that way, and only now, 16 months later, is the tourney finale within our sights. Never mind that it pits the field's least marketable superstar against an injury replacement. The simple fact that we got here is enough. So here's a brief (and utterly bizarre) rundown of how it all went wrong, but still ended up (kind of) alright.
January 2011: Quarterfinal pairings are revealed. Emelianenko vs. Silva. Kharitonov vs. Arlovski. Overeem vs. Werdum. Barnett vs. Rogers. MMA nerds everywhere rejoice.
February 12, 2011: Valentijn Overeem, Chad Griggs and Shane del Rosario blast their way to first-round tourney-reserve victories. Sergei Kharitonov nearly beheads Andrei Arlovski. Then the (expletive) hits the fan. Bigfoot Silva stuns the prohibitive favorite, turning Fedor Emelianenko's face into a bloody mish-mash of Russian regret, and just like that, Strikeforce officials lose their most bankable star. Much hand-wringing ensues.
Early March, 2011: The second leg of the Grand Prix is delayed from April 9 to June 18 in order to give officials "the proper amount of time to promote in one of the country's biggest markets," says CEO Scott Coker.
March 12, 2011: Out of nowhere, Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC, stuns the MMA world and purchases Strikeforce. UFC President Dana White ominously declares Strikeforce will "continue to run, business as usual." No one believes him.
May 2011: A tourney-reserve bout between undefeated uber-prospect Del Rosario and Daniel Cormier is scrapped when a drunk driver rear-ends Del Rosario's car in Newport Beach, leaving the fighter out of commission. 40-year-old Jeff Monson hastily takes his place.
June 18, 2011: Griggs and Cormier win their respective tourney-reserve bouts to stay in contention. Josh Barnett embarrasses Brett Rogers (who promptly gets cut and doesn't taste victory again until a 2014 fight against Cabbage Correira). Alistair Overeem outpoints Fabricio Werdum in a downright bizarre fight that actually sees Werdum clasp his hands together and plead for Overeem to follow him to the ground. More hand-wringing ensues.
July 2011: Overeem, the then-Strikeforce heavyweight champion, is inexplicably removed from the tournament and released from the promotion due to a "toe injury" that would prevent him from competing. Cormier is tapped to fill the vacant spot despite having a significantly less impressive résumé than Griggs.
September 6, 2011: Overeem signs with the UFC and is immediately thrown into a blockbuster mega-fight against Brock Lesnar. Giggles can be heard from inside the Zuffa offices.
September 10, 2011: Cormier pulls off the second shocking upset of the tournament, demolishing Silva in less than four minutes but possibly breaking his right hand in the process. Barnett effortlessly submits Kharitonov in the first round. A Cormier-Barnett final is tentatively set.
September 13, 2011: Cormier confirms his right hand is indeed broken from punching his opponent's face. Strikeforce officials push the tourney final to "early 2012."
December 15, 2011: Dana White unleashes his knockout blow, announcing the dissolution of the Strikeforce heavyweight division, effective immediately. Barnett and Cormier are left to man a fast-sinking ship. Silva, Werdum, Griggs, Del Rosario and Lavar Johnson are secretly thrilled.
January 2012: Cormier reveals he may have re-broken his hand. A timetable for the finals remains hazy. Scott Coker is seen sobbing into a gallon of Cherry Garcia Ben & Jerry's.
March 3, 2012: Six months after the semifinals, and more than a year after the tournament began, Strikeforce slates the heavyweight grand prix finale for May 19. Fight fans everywhere are reminded that, oh yeah, Strikeforce has a heavyweight grand prix going on.
May 18, 2012: And now we're here. To quote the Grateful Dead, what a long, strange trip it's been.
But guys, you know what's even crazier? I'm actually really excited for Barnett vs. Cormier. So somehow, in a weird way, maybe this all worked out. (It really didn't. But who's keeping track?)
5 MUST-READ STORIES
Mark Hunt injured. A late knee injury forced a devastated Mark Hunt out of his UFC 146 bout against Stefan Struve. Fresh off a victory two weeks ago, upstart bruiser Lavar Johnson jumped at the opportunity to fill the vacant spot.
UFC on FUEL 3 salaries. Donald Cerrone ($60,000) and Amir Sadollah ($48,000) led the charge on the reported payroll from Tuesday's UFC on FUEL 3 fight card.
B.J. Penn not interested in Koscheck. Former UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn shut down rumors of a return bout against Josh Koscheck, instead electing to remain retired.
Bellator 69 weigh-ins. It took a few attempts, but all fighters made weight at Thursday's official Bellator 69 weigh-ins, including middleweight headliners Maiquel Falcao and Andreas Spang.
Daniel Cormier was a relative unknown when he entered the Strikeforce Grand Prix as an injury replacement for Alistair Overeem. But then he went and did this, and hell, now he might be the next heavyweight star.
For anyone who thinks Josh Thomson has no way to beat Gilbert Melendez tomorrow night, it's worth checking out the first leg of the pair's trilogy from back in 2008. (But really, the biggest takeaway from this fight has to be how awesome Bas Rutten is.)
Honestly, Josh Barnett's dominance has been the only reliable part of this tournament.
Gilbert Melendez may have overlooked Josh Thomson the first time they fought. But the second time -- it was all business.
LEAN AND MEAN
Eating heavy and feeling light. Ready to show what a real championship fight looks like. twitpic.com/9m45b6— Josh Barnett (@JoshLBarnett) May 17, 2012
thank u so much for your support u can understand how gutted i am.but i did not want to give a easy fight to struve,if u want to win— mark richard hunt (@markhunt1974) May 17, 2012
from me u going to have to come a take that sh t— mark richard hunt (@markhunt1974) May 17, 2012
thanks alot army i must go cry to my wife about thistalk soon— mark richard hunt (@markhunt1974) May 17, 2012
AND THAT'S THE END OF THAT
THE BOSS IS BACK
All good!!! Thanks everyone— Dana White (@danawhite) May 17, 2012
Announced yesterday (Thursday, May 17, 2012):
- UFC 146: Mark Hunt (8-7) out, Lavar Johnson (17-5) in against Stefan Struve (23-5)
FANPOST OF THE DAY
Today's Fanpost of the Day is a surprising theory from hobbie, though the title may give you an aneurism: Nick Diaz is a Genius
Hobbie's finally lost it. I know that's what most of you are thinking after reading that title. Either that, or I'm a dozen puffs in to one of Nick Diaz's pre-fight "supplement" cigarettes.
No, my mind is clear thank you very much. Well, I did sort of black out a tiny bit between my bowl of breakfast paint chips and my post-shower hit of crystal meth this morning, but that happens most mornings so...whatever. Oh, I also had half and half in my coffee because I was feeling crazy.
But back on topic: I hope your brain has a napkin or old gym sock handy to wipe up, because I'm about to blow your mothaf***in' mind!
Here goes - Nick Diaz is MMA's shrewdest businessman.
"Nick Diaz" and "businessman" in the same sentence!? Am I nuts? Aren't I aware that the only time the word "businessman" ever came out of Nick's mouth was when he said "Mind your own business, man!" to the commission doctor asking about the contents of his urine sample.
Before I can explain the genius of Nick Diaz, let me dispel you of a simple notion that is held sacred in the MMA world: acting like a complete tool is bad for your career. This theory goes that if a fighter doesn't keep obligations, fails drug tests, engages in criminal behaviour, courts as much controversy as possible and generally acts as selfishly as possible, this results in damage to his career.
History - and MMA history especially - shows what hogwash this really is.
Found something perfect for the Morning Report? Just hit me on Twitter @shaunalshatti and we'll include it in Monday's post.