Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
All of the sudden, Alistair Overeem isn't a lock to walk right back into the UFC and into a heavyweight title shot. His future may well depend on Daniel Cormier. It would be a wild bit of karma if Overeem, recently penalized for accepting injections containing the PED testosterone -- unknowingly, he claims -- saw his spot in the pecking order usurped by a former Olympian who swore by and as far as we can tell, has lived by, the rules of fair play.
But that's in the future. First, Cormier must win his final Strikeforce fight. On Wednesday night, that matchup was supercharged from a proposed bout with free agent Tim Sylvia to recent UFC No. 1 contender Frank Mir.
The upgrade comes as a welcome bit of news for a Strikeforce promotion that has struggled to generate matchups capable of capturing public interest. But just as important was the significance of bringing Mir over to the UFC's sister promotion and what it potentially means for both Cormier and fighting.
Cormier is the big winner in the newest development. After smashing around Josh Barnett for five rounds in May's Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Final, there was plenty of speculation about who would face him in his "plus one" matchup before he moved over to the UFC. For a time, it seemed that Zuffa had settled on Sylvia, a two-time UFC champ who left in 2008, spent the ensuing years as an MMA mercenary, and lobbied relentlessly for a return over the last several months.
As unsigned free agents go, Sylvia actually wouldn't have been a bad choice. There simply isn't a large talent pool when it comes to available heavyweights with some name recognition and fight skill. But the decision to instead go with Mir is a brilliant plot twist.
Cormier has looked fantastic in his last two outings, yet for non-UFC fighters, there is unfairly or not, always the question of opponent quality. Antonio Silva and Barnett are credible opponents, but Mir has been a UFC mainstay for over a decade. In the eyes of mainstream fans, that kind of longevity brings credibility that can't be denied.
After all, it was just two months ago when Mir was in the cage with UFC champion Junior dos Santos in an event that was among the most most bought pay-per-views of the year. While he didn't win, his presence in the fight signaled to the masses that he's still a fairly elite fighter. So, too, do his recent highlight-reel moments, like his nasty kimura submission win over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and his three-round beatdown of Roy Nelson.
Mir holds value as a measuring stick for Cormier. The thought goes, if dos Santos can finish him in less than two rounds, what if Cormier finishes him even faster? Certainly that's no guarantee, but if that happens, when Cormier moves over to the UFC afterward, he walks into the UFC with a Grand Prix title and a result bound to lead to some comparisons with dos Santos. In building a potential title match between them, both of those have real promotional value.
The other important aspect of this deal is the fact that Mir becomes the first UFC star to cross over into the Strikeforce world. Due to the fact that Strikeforce's heavyweight division is closing up shop, win or lose, he'll be right back in the UFC afterward. This isn't a long-term commitment for him; it's simply a fight with the highest-ranked opponent he can get. But maybe it can be the beginning of something bigger. We've all heard about the ongoing issues between Zuffa and Showtime, but it's possible that those troubles are on the wane. UFC president Dana White recently has been very complimentary of Showtime's promotion of Strikeforce, and in return, Showtime sports boss Stephen Espinoza acknowledged that the relationship between the sides is as strong as its ever been. He also said that he had hopes that one day in the future, a Strikeforce champion could fight a UFC champion for the right to be considered the best in the world.
Well, this isn't exactly that, but it's probably more than even he expected so recently after his statement. Cormier is indeed Strikeforce's best, and Mir is at least among the best the UFC has to offer.
To play contrarian, you can make a case that this decision is only benefitting the UFC. That to get Cormier a big fight with a known commodity before he comes to the promotion will only up his value. But make no mistake: it is a calculated risk for the UFC. We can't dismiss the possibility that Mir might win. If that is the case, all the time spent building up the Strikeforce Grand Prix will have mostly gone for naught, as Cormier will walk into the UFC with his perfect record stained. Another potentially troublesome outcome is if Cormier wins his fight and his teammate Cain Velasquez beats dos Santos in their championship rematch. The two haven't completely dismissed the idea of fighting each other, but Cormier has at least voiced the possibility of moving down to light-heavyweight instead of facing his friend and teammate.
So this isn't a slam dunk for the UFC, but it's still a grand slam of a decision. With a Cormier win, the possibility of a Strikeforce champ vs. UFC champ heavyweight superfight looms in the distance. Beyond that, there is a valuable message for the Strikeforce fighters from Zuffa management that maybe we can't bring you to the UFC, but we can bring the UFC to you.
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