Strikeforce spotlights heavyweights

Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has long claimed his heavyweight division is the best in all of mixed martial arts.

Between contract disputes and injuries, however, the organization has had difficulty putting its top talent in the cage against one another. If all goes as planned, that will change in 2011.

Strikeforce confirmed last week it will stage a heavyweight tournament throughout the year and the bracket will include Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem, two of the top fighters in the world.

Final logistics are being ironed out, and Coker said Monday details will be announced this week. All eight competitors have been locked into contracts, he said.

“This is a moment in time where all the elements came together and the roster is unbelievable,” Coker said.

Overeem is the Strikeforce champion, but has defended the belt only once since winning it in 2007 while competing in other organizations and missing some time due to injury.

A bout between Overeem and Emelianenko is probably the biggest Strikeforce could stage, but a deal has never been struck. This tournament could change that; if both win in the first round, they would meet in the semifinals.

“Very rarely do you get the final matchup you’re thinking about going in,” Coker said. “People lose or there are injuries. We wanted to guarantee we had the best fights along the way.”

It won’t be easy. Overeem will have to beat Fabricio Werdum in the first round. Werdum is coming off a stunning win over Emelianenko in June and also owns a victory over Overeem in 2006.

Coker said Overeem requested Werdum as his first opponent because he wants to avenge the loss.

It is still being worked out whether the belt will be on the line in each round as the tournament progresses. Technically, that would mean the title fights would be five rounds while the other competitors are fighting only three rounds.

Coker said that will not be the case and Strikeforce is trying to get athletic commissions in potential tournament sites to allow all bouts to be five rounds in the interest of fairness.

Emelianenko also has a difficult first-round test in Antonio Silva.

Another potential snag in the planned tournament is the status of recently signed veteran Josh Barnett, who has been unable to compete in the United States after a second positive steroid test in California in 2009.

Barnett, 33, is still trying to procure a license, but Coker is optimistic he will be allowed to compete. Coker said he feels Barnett should be allowed to “resume making a living” and that the fighter submitted a clean test to the California State Athletic Commission six weeks ago.

The first two quarterfinals will be part of a Feb. 12 card in New Jersey. Emelianenko will meet Silva, while Andrei Arlovski will take on Sergei Kharitonov.

Coker said the other two quarterfinal bouts (Barnett vs. Brett Rogers and Overeem vs. Werdum) should occur in late March or early April, with semifinals targeted for the summer and the championship in October, provided injuries don’t create delays.

■ BROWN BOUNCING BACK — Former World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight champion Mike Brown was unsuccessful in his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut, but he won’t have to wait long for another chance.

After losing a split decision to Diego Nunes, Brown will step in for injured Chan Sung Jung to face Rani Yahya at the Fight For the Troops 2 event at Fort Hood, Texas, on Jan. 22.

The card, to be broadcast by Spike, features a main event lightweight bout between Melvin Guillard and Las Vegas-trained Evan Dunham.

■ STILL NO COACHES — The UFC has yet to identify the coaches for the upcoming season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” An announcement should come this week.

The reality show is set to begin filming in Las Vegas the last week of January.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509.

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