It's been an exciting two weeks in mixed martial arts. There's a heavyweight title fight coming up on Fox. Brock Lesnar is returning to the cage - and he's facing Strikeforce's reigning champion Alistair Overeem. The UFC will return to Japan for the first time under Dana White's careful hand. And, you may have heard, Nick Diaz missed a press conference or two. I wonder if that will be a big deal?
Lost in all these mega announcements and back room dramas is a pretty darn good fight card tomorrow night in Cincinnati, Ohio. Strikeforce continues their Heavyweight Grand Prix, and while it doesn't have the same cache it did nine months ago, it's still a significant event.
Winning the tournament may not be a path to fame and glory by itself. After all, the odds on favorite, Overeem, dropped out of the competition to fight in the UFC right away. But for the winner, the results still matter. Four men will battle, not just for a shiny new Strikeforce belt, but for what could be an immediate entry into the upper echelon of the UFC's heavyweight division (unless the overall winner is Josh Barnett, then things get really interesting).
Beyond the tournament, several pretty intriguing bouts lurk. Muhammed 'King Mo' Lawal returns to the cage for the first time since knee surgery over a year ago. Lawal is still an intriguing prospect, a world class wrestler who is working diligently to improve his striking game. He'll have to be sharp - his opponent Roger Gracie is one of the slickest submission specialists in the world. Lawal may also battle the crowd. He hasn't been shy in sharing what he thinks of MMA's boisterous fans. I wonder if they will share their feelings with him in turn?
The card is loaded with other top Strikeforce stars and high level prospects. Maximo Blanco makes his debut against grizzled veteran Pat Healy, 'Cyborg' Santos returns, and Strikeforce's middleweight title is on the line when Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza defends his belt against Luke Rockhold.
With all this talent being assembled, why isn't this card getting any love from MMA fans?
It's really unfortunate that these great fighters aren't getting their due. Announcement after announcement has robbed these athletes of their fleeting glory. I think we all understand at this point that Zuffa and Showtime will part ways when Strikeforce's contract expires. The UFC has already cherry picked fighters they want, including Overeem and Diaz, Strikeforce's two biggest remaining stars. Lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez was openly calling for a bout with B.J. Penn.
Strikeforce is dying. But the fighters don't deserve to be caught in the funeral pyre.