(Antonio Silva is fascinated by Fabricio Werdum’s freakishly normal-sized chin.)
Photos and text by Matthew Kaplowitz
Strikeforce has graced the East Coast with their presence throughout this week, as the hype machine for their massive heavyweight grand prix is in full flux. Starting on Tuesday with a meet-and-greet for fans at the Roseland Ballroom in Midtown Manhattan with all eight of the tournament fighters, and continuing on Wednesday downtown with their press conference, Strikeforce is leaving their imprint on the tri-state area, informing natives of New York and New Jersey that the business of MMA has more than three letters.
This journalist/nerd was in the house for their press conference, which saw not only all members of the tournament, but the reserve fighters as well, packed into the swank Lighthouse 61 at Chelsea Piers, the skyline of New York dramatically posed behind them. Personally, I was excited to see that Strikeforce was feeding the reporters, and quite well at that, but even more exciting was the realization that this epic tournament was happening in my area. With MMA still illegal in New York, and very few big shows coming to neighboring states, having Saturday’s event a thirty-minute drive from The Big Apple was bound to help shed some light on how much of an impact MMA can have on the NY economy.
Many questions were directed at Fedor Emelianenko, especially from the Russian-speaking members of the press. Sadly for them, Fedor is a man of few words. “The Last Emperor” said he did not underestimate Fabricio Werdum when they met back in June 2010, and believes he did nothing wrong fighting the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stylist, and won’t fix his regimen since it’s not broken. “I haven’t changed anything in my camp and my training,” Emelianenko said. I train the same way I did in my camp before that.” When asked about how much longer he planned on fighting, Fedor said, “To tell the truth, yes I feel my age. It’s more and more that I start thinking about retirement, but I would like to fight as long as it is possible and definitely I will finish this contract.”
In a move that surprised me, Antonio Silva answered a question directed to him about fighting Fedor in English, saying, “This fight is very important for me…Fedor is the best in the world, a legend in MMA. I am very happy. All the other guys say Fedor, Fedor, Fedor! Fedor’s gonna’ win, Fedor’s gonna’ knockout Silva! All I want to do is eat pizza, watch movies and drink soda. I am training too hard and I want to prove this Sunday night” (Yes, he said Sunday but he meant Saturday).
Brett Rogers admitted that he was a bit star-struck being on stage with all of these fighters, “Everybody wants to get in to win…this is definitely a great opportunity to showcase myself as a Strikeforce heavyweight fighter here and all over the world. I’m cool with everything.”
Fabricio Werdum may have inadvertently started his stand-up comedy career yesterday. When Bruce Kivo of MMA Confidential inquired about how many times he has watched his win over Fedor, Werdum replied, “It’s no joke. Maybe one thousand times. I watch it all the time…I watch it via internet, at home. I watch it because it’s good for me. I am serious. Maybe more.” Werdum was also confident he would beat Alistair Overeem when they meet in the near future, and concluded his statement by leaning forward to peer at The Reem and say, “No joking, Overeem.”
“Let him hype himself up,” Overeem said with a smile on his face. “I’m really looking forward to this revenge match. He’s very confident from the Fedor fight, but so am I. I just came over from the K-1 championship, it’s going to be a great fight, and I am sure you will not be disappointed.” Werdum also added, “I’m looking forward to fighting Overeem again. He won three belts last year. I may not be the favorite, but I feel I should be one of the favorites to win it.’’
Ariel Helwani questioned Scott Coker about the future of the tournament, specifically location and timeline. “We have a couple target dates as you know, we are trying to lock a venue in japan, but right now we have nothing to announce,” Coker responded. “Japan is still an option…but right now, it’s not locked in yet.” Coker was also very confident that the tournament would end in 2011, and also explained how the reserves would be implemented in the tournament. “Right now, the only reserve match confirmed to go in if there was an injury is Shane Del Rosario vs. Lavar Johnson…it will go back to the committee if one of the guys has to drop out due to injury.” When it came to injuries, the Strikeforce president said that if a fighter in the main draw suffered a minor injury, they would be willing to delay a bout for a short time, but if a major injury occurred they would be forced to sit out the rest of the tournament.
An awkward moment came when Josh Gross asked the entire panel of eight fighters if anyone deserved to consider themselves the favorite. A good minute of silence went by as none of the fighters wanted to declare themselves the favorite. Thankfully, Josh Barnett grabbed the mic and made his stance clear.” Speculation is for you guys, not for us. We don’t speculate our ranking…our place will be shown by action. For us to say we are the favorite or not the favorite, it’s all bullshit…you’re the favorite when you’ve won and the loser when you lost.” Applause broke out through the audience, as Barnett added, “You guys pick a favorite, rank us, create the lines, put the money down, and let us fuck each other up. How about that?” Josh also remarked that he and Fedor would battle through a thumb wrestling contest, which brought a smirk to his face once his translator explained the joke to him.
Barnett also responded to the idea of being involved in this momentous tournament in classic Barnett fashion, saying, ” When I look at them, what a fine group of young men here. Very upstanding, finely dressed, quite attractive. When they wake up in the morning I should think they have to take a little extra time to admire that which was created for this world.” At that point, Andrei Arlovski did the unthinkable and turned his frown upside down, which brought some joy from Josh. “He snickered, yes! That’s a half smile, it’s like a full smile for someone else.”
Joking aside, Barnett drove his point home by saying that it’s up to the fans to decide how important it is and that if all goes according to plan, it will be an “earth-shaker,” especially to some fans that are only aware of one company involved in MMA. “The biggest thing from my perspective is how you, the media, perceive it and if you will take the onus to view it objectively or if there will be a bias…if its a constant three letter [comparison]…if it’s not the UFC then its not as good, then you’re really sort of shitting on all that were doing here. I want everyone to look at it from a subjective standpoint, for what it is…at the end of the day it doesn’t matter where it takes place…it’s about the fighters themselves…our accomplishments will shine no matter what cage, or ring, or back alley, whatever it takes to accomplish what it is to be a fighter.”
When asked about if this tournament would be enough to make Strikeforce a direct competitor to the UFC, Coker explained that he believes his heavyweights are the best in the world, and that the UFC does a great job promoting their league while Strikeforce does it with their own league and enjoys the competition. “Why can’t there be two leagues? That’s my position. I don’t have to hurt their business to grow my business and that’s my philosophy. I don’t wake up and worry about what’s going on on the other side of the fence. I have enough work here to worry about what’s on my side of the fence.”
One reporter asked if Fedor was watching tapes of Antonio Silva to prepare for their fight on Saturday, which he replied, “Yes I did watch some fights of Antonio Silva and his fight with Werdum.” When asked if he had any thoughts on the fights, in typical soft-spoken Fedor fashion, he said, “Well, I did make some conclusions for myself,” which led to the frustrated reporter to ask if he would share these conclusions with us. With a grin on his face, Fedor commented, “After the fight.”