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Strikeforce Heavyweight Tourney Is Gutsy, but Is It Smart?

Whatever problems Strikeforce may be forced to confront in 2011, a lack of ambition certainly won't be one of them. Not in the heavyweight division, anyway. Not after Tuesday's big news.

As MMA Fighting's own Mike Chiappetta reported earlier Tuesday, Strikeforce is planning an eight-man, single-elimination heavyweight tournament set to begin in early 2011. If the current plan holds, it should feature everyone from Fedor Emelianenko and Fabricio Werdum to recent acquisition Josh Barnett and champion Alistair Overeem.

Coming from an organization that has struggled at times to get any two notable heavyweights into the same cage at the same time, it's hard not to wonder if Strikeforce can even pull off something as complicated and prolonged as a high-profile heavyweight tournament. Even if we assume that CEO Scott Coker and his crew can make it happen, does that necessarily make it a good idea?

First, let's start with the pros, and there are many. While Strikeforce has added a lot of big names to its heavyweight division of late, it hasn't been able to squeeze much action out of them. The tournament promptly fixes that problem, putting Fedor, Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, Barnett, Andrei Arlovski, Brett Rogers, Sergei Kharitonov, Werdum, and Overeem back to work in early 2011.

Not only does that help Strikeforce avoid becoming the organization where heavyweights go for a vacation, it also finally puts the marquee fighters on a collision course with the match-ups fans most want to see.

Let's face it, while Strikeforce put together some notable fights in 2010, none of them were anybody's first choice. Fights like Overeem vs. Rogers and Fedor vs. Werdum were more consolation bouts than anything else, but the tournament would, at least in theory, rectify that.

Strikeforce might set the first-round pairings (and, who knows, perhaps a Pride-style gerrymandering with the resulting winners) but eventually the best will fight the best. That's how tournaments work, and that's why we love them. They are, when done correctly, meritocracy in action.

That's good stuff, right? Big-name fighters facing each other until one man stands atop the heap of broken bodies as the lone survivor. What's not to like about that?

For starters, take a look at the first-round match-up between Overeem and Werdum. It's an interesting fight, and one that, if Strikeforce had made as a stand-alone, main event title fight, we would have applauded them for.

But this is the first round of the tournament? The champion versus the top contender? As much as I hate to be the guy who complains about seeing number one take on number two, isn't that a little anti-climactic? It's like eating your dessert first, or opening a novel and going straight to the last page. Where do you go from there?

There's also the question of what's at stake here. If Werdum beats Overeem in the opening round, does he then become the Strikeforce heavyweight champion, carrying the belt with him through the tournament until he either loses it to someone else or wins the whole thing?

Or say Werdum beats Overeem and then can't continue on to the next round in a timely fashion due to injury? Will Strikeforce strip him of the title and put it back into circulation, or will they hold up the whole tournament to wait for Werdum?

These are questions that need answers, and answers that need some thought put into them. It's one thing to say you're going to corral this many big names, this many egos, and this many moving parts into a nice, orderly tournament, but it's another thing to actually pull it off.

Between the high probability of injury (or, in the case of Barnett, licensing issues) and the negotiation-happy wild card that is M-1 Global, there are about a half-dozen ways this tournament could blow up in Strikeforce's face.

Then again, isn't that the way it is with every bold human endeavor? Imagine if we had let our fear of explosions or crazy space people deter us from walking on the moon. Where would we be then? Well, probably still here on earth just like we are now, only we'd always be wondering what it was like up there.

My point is, yes, there are incredible risks inherent in this thing. And yes, some of the initial matchmaking is a little baffling. And okay, fine, we need Scott Coker to hurry up and tell us exactly what this tournament is intended to determine, and how, and what the back-up plan is if it doesn't work just right.

That's all true. But at the same time, aren't you glad that Strikeforce is finally trying something? Isn't it about time to go all-in and hope for a little luck?

Because the alternative is sitting back and trying to make these fights happen one at a time, hoping that eventually the two best heavyweights at any given moment will simply decide to punch each other in the face for money all of their own volition. But you know something? Strikeforce already tried that. It didn't work so well. Now it's time to try something else, and like it or not, this tournament is that something else.

It might go down as the most successful gamble in MMA history or one of its worst failures, but at least it's an effort. At least it's a sign of life, an attempt to make the most of what they've got while they've still got it.

After a year of underachieving from an overgrown roster, I'll take it. Whether the tournament soars to the heavens, or explodes into a million flaming pieces, at least it ought to be interesting.

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