HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. – Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem was released from his contract shortly after a business dispute which led to him being replaced in the heavyweight Grand Prix tournament.
The report was first made on Friday night by Ron Kruk on HDNet’s “Inside MMA,” and states that the release actually occurred on July 22.
Neither Dana White, nor Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker have confirmed the reports, but others close to the situation did confirm the release to Yahoo! Sports.
Problems between the two sides started when Overeem’s management, Golden Glory, and Overeem himself would not agree for him to fight on Sept. 10 against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in the semifinals of the tournament. Overeem had said that he did not have time for a complete training camp and asked that the fight be delayed a few weeks. Showtime, which broadcasts all Strikeforce events, did not have an open date for October with its extensive commitments to boxing.
But others have said Overeem’s management was considering that date if certain unnamed demands were met, which led to Zuffa officials being upset when Overeem went public with the story and blamed his pulling out on the injury.
Overeem (35-11, 1 no contest) had one fight remaining on his contract, which had he taken the fight and beaten Silva, would have given him tremendous leverage in negotiating a new deal. Golden Glory was believed to be attempting to negotiate a new deal that would have included moving to UFC and getting pay-per-view cuts, which was a political landmine for Zuffa. The parent company has long stated that it didn't want to move any new Strikeforce fighters to UFC due to the deal with Showtime, and also due to that deal, wanted to keep the rosters exclusive to each brand.
Overeem has been heavyweight champion in Strikeforce since November 16, 2007, when he defeated Paul Buentello, in San Jose, Calif., to become the company’s first champion. But in the nearly four years with the title, he only defended it once, and only fought twice for the promotion. During that period, he had made himself one of the top heavyweight stars in both MMA and kickboxing with matches in Japan, and hadn’t lose in his last 12 fights.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pounder from the Netherlands also won the heavyweight championship for the struggling Dream promotion in Japan on New Year’s Eve, and a few weeks earlier, captured the K-1 World Grand Prix in Tokyo, the highest-profile heavyweight kickboxing event in the world.
When the Grand Prix tournament started, he and Fedor Emelianenko were considered the two favorites, and were expected to meet in the semifinals until Silva upset Emelianenko in the first round. Because of his size, and his success against a string of unranked fighters in Japan, some thought Overeem was the top heavyweight in the game. But his performance against Fabricio Werdum, even though he won, took a lot of the luster away.
While Overeem was first told the semifinals would likely be in October right after he won a decision over Werdum on June 18 in Dallas, he was later told the semifinals would be held on Sept. 10. At that point he asked for a delay, claiming he fought Werdum with a broken toe and that he needed time to rest before having a full training camp.
Zuffa inherited the Strikeforce contracts in the purchase of the company in March. Unlike UFC, which insists on exclusive contracts, Strikeforce signed deals that allowed fighters to take fights elsewhere. Still, Zuffa insisted on honoring all existing contracts.
In the past week, Overeem’s name surfaced with the promotion United Glory, which is rumored for an October show in Moscow, Russia, involving another fighter in the Grand Prix, Sergei Kharitonov. Kharitonov is scheduled to face Josh Barnett at the Sept. 10 show at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, which now also includes Silva facing an alternate, two-time U.S. Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier.
Overeem’s release is said to have been related to an impasse between Zuffa and Golden Glory. Golden Glory was believed to be looking for terms to a new deal that would’ve been different from what Zuffa affords its fighters to this point, including the ability to seek fights outside the promotion. With Strikeforce being purchased by Zuffa, fighters have fewer alternatives to get the type of money, and more, the negotiating power and leverage, that the biggest stars and management have gotten in the past.
Overeem is not the only fighter in this type of situation. Emelianenko, whose Strikeforce contract expires with his fight against Dan Henderson on Saturday night, is also facing fewer options and even with a win, one would question whether Zuffa would be willing to pay the $1.5 million per fight as well as a co-promotional deal that M-1 Global negotiated in the current Strikeforce deal.
Problems with Zuffa and Golden Glory do not end with just Overeem. Kharitonov and current Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion Marloes Coenen also come from the Golden Glory stable.
While Barnett would be favored against Kharitonov, an upset could lead to more potential problems should Kharitonov decide to take the Moscow fight a few weeks later. It could potentially risk him not being ready for the finals, which at this point doesn’t have a date.
Kruk reported that Overeem not only had a broken toe, but also had a broken rib and an elbow injury, causing him to pull out of the fight. Some are skeptical of the severity of the injuries, noting that the nature of the negotiations, and not any injuries, caused the deal to fall apart.