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Strikeforce misses the point: Perception is everything

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My colleague Anthony Pace wrote yesterday that he feels the announced format for the upcoming Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix doesn't affect the intrigue of the tournament.

For the most part, he's right. It's still a fine tournament, no doubt, with many talented fighters, but, like many things Strikeforce does, it simply could be better.

I agree with Pace that you don't want each fight to be a five-round fight. This is a television entity and we've seen what events with multiple five-round snoozefests have done. The UFC went through it with three of them at UFC 33 and Strikeforce went through it with its "Strikeforce: Nashville" event last year.

However, I don't agree with Pace on the following point:

... It would have been patently unfair to have Overeem-or whomever defeated him-train for/participate in fights that could go 25 minutes.

Pace went on to talk about how Mauricio Rua's 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix title wasn't cheapened by PRIDE's middleweight title not being on the line. That's partly a valid point, but that's taking an American point-of-view on it. Obviously, PRIDE didn't value its championships all that much. PRIDE's champions rarely defended their titles and fought in more nontitle fights than title fights. That's why that wasn't a big deal to anybody at the time.

America, though, is completely different. American MMA is a belt-driven sport. The belt proves you're the best in the world. By not having the championship defended in this tournament, Strikeforce cheapens the value of its heavyweight title and, if Alistair Overeem loses, runs the risk of having its heavyweight champion perceived as second rate because he's not even the best in his own company.

That's what this is all about: Perception. Say both Overeem and Fedor Emelianenko win their first round fights and meet in the semifinals and CBS comes calling, isn't being able to bill their fight as a world heavyweight championship fight much better? That's what draws viewers in America. Titles. That's why the UFC's pay-per-views with title fights draw much, much better than their nontitle counterparts.

To me, this is a tournament in name only. What it really is is a highly-organized series of fights. That's why the belt should be on the line. It makes those fights better and by the time the tournament is over, the fans know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Strikeforce's heavyweight champion is the best heavyweight in the world. It makes the fighter look better and makes the promotion look more major league.

This grand prix is Strikeforce's chance to make a big impact. Strikeforce has the chance to raise its relatively low profile. By not having the championship on the line just doesn't make any sense. If these athletes were being asked to fight twice in one night, I could completely understand not wanting to give a competitive advantage to the fighters in the nontitle semifinal bout. But that's not the case here. There's only one fight per show for each fighter. Being asked to train for a five-round fight shouldn't be too much to ask. You're the champion and moreover, you're a professional athlete. 

Strikeforce needs all the help it can get. Having the heavyweight title on the cards adds a promotional edge (remember, it's all about perception) and then, at the end, Strikeforce can say its heavyweight champion is the top heavyweight in the world.

It's been proven time and time again that MMA is all about perception. Right now, with the heavyweight title not being on the line, Strikeforce is losing the battle with perception.

These fights are still going to be good, no doubt, and this is a very exciting development for Strikeforce, but the execution is disappointing.