At first glance, the seeding for the Strikeforce Grand Prix, an eight-man heavyweight tournament that begins on Saturday at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J., seems like a blind draw.
Fedor Emelianenko, the man many still regard as the finest heavyweight in the world, and Alistair Overeem, the Strikeforce heavyweight champion, are on the same side of the bracket.
The idea of having the two stars meet in the finals was dashed by the seemingly odd opening-round pairings. Emelianenko will take on Antonio Silva in Saturday's main event and Overeem will meet Fabricio Werdum in another opening-round match, on April 9 at a site not yet determined. Werdum is second, Emelianenko third, Overeem sixth and Silva 10th in the MMAWeekly.com heavyweight rankings.
Emelianenko, who hasn't fought since his nearly 10-year winning streak was snapped by Werdum on June 26, shrugged at the odd matchups.
"I haven't thought about it at all and all I have thought about is training for [Silva]," Emelianenko said. "I didn't take part in the structure of the brackets, so I don't know why it is like it is. You have to fight the [best] guys anyway to win."
The Grand Prix is a great idea for no other reason than it creates the possibility for Emelianenko to fight three times in the same year for the first time since 2005. He's only fought eight times in the last five years and once in the last 14 months.
Overeem holds the Strikeforce heavyweight belt, but it's the legendary Russian who gives the division significance. Without Emelianenko, the tournament is far less interesting. Andrei Arlovski vs. Sergei Kharitonov won't exactly fill seats. Saturday's event will likely sell out, due to Emelianenko.
An Overeem-Emelianenko final would have drawn massive interest. As would an Emelianenko-Werdum rematch, with Emelianenko chasing revenge.
Coker, though, opted to guarantee the fans the significant matches upfront. By pitting the Overeem-Werdum winner against the Emelianenko-Silva winner in the semifinals, he's gone just about as far as he can to get the match he wants without having made it in the first round.
Now, all of that presumes that Emelianenko, a better than 3-to-1 favorite, gets past Silva. While Silva (17-4) is a quality fighter, it would be another upset of monumental proportions if he defeated Emelianenko.
"The odds are all in Fedor's favor, but the odds do not reflect reality," Silva said. "The truth is, this fight could go either way. I am very confident and I'm here to win."
Emelianenko didn't lose for a decade and it's hard to imagine him losing back-to-back fights. It's never a complete shock when a 260-pound man wearing four-ounce gloves knocks out another, but Emelianenko has such a significant speed advantage and such a better all-around game that it's difficult to envision him losing.
As a result, projecting him into the second round guarantees Strikeforce one of its dream fights, given he will fight the Overeem-Werdum winner.
"I wanted to make sure we did what we could to give the fans the fights they wanted to see," Coker said.
That, though, could leave its finale as something of an anticlimactic event. On what is clearly the "B" side of the bracket, Arlovski, the one-time UFC heavyweight champion who hasn't won a fight in more than two years, will meet Kharitonov. Kharitonov has only fought once in the last 21 months and that came on New Year's Eve, when he beat light heavyweight Tatsuya Mizuno.
In the other fight in that bracket, Josh Barnett meets Brett Rogers. Barnett, another former UFC heavyweight champion, is clearly a talent, but he's twice failed postfight drug screenings and still isn't licensed in California, where he failed a test before a planned 2009 bout with Emelianenko. That failure led to the demise of Affliction as a fight promoter.
Coker is considering putting the April 9 show in Japan, where there is no testing for anabolic steroids. But if he does not, he'll have to find a state which would allow Barnett to fight despite his failure to clear his business with the California State Athletic Commission.
Texas comes immediately to mind, since it accepted boxer Antonio Margarito as an opponent for Manny Pacquiao last year after California denied Margarito a license. Coker said he has had interest from up to 10 states if he opts not to bring the April show to Japan.
If Barnett comes out of the "B" side, the legitimacy of the finale can not be questioned. Coker, though, gambled by seeding the field in a way that guaranteed better early-round matches.
Overeem's belt won't be at stake because all Grand Prix bouts are three rounds and not the five-rounders required for a championship. If someone other than Overeem wins, that will diminish the significance of the title until Overeem defends it against the winner.
Still, while the tournament is not without its oddities, it figures to produce several good fights and gives American fans an opportunity to see Emelianenko on national television as many as three times in a short span.
The soft-spoken Emelianenko got it right when he said, "When you have the best fighters in the world fighting each other, it's a good thing."