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Is The Overeem Controversy Just Hardball Contract Negotiations?

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The Dutch people are known for many things. The artistry of Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh, the legalization of prostitution and marijuana in Amsterdam, bringing Heineken to the world, tough as nails kickboxers and being extremely stubborn when it comes to negotiating. Therefore, the recent controversy surrounding AlistairOvereem and the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix should come as no surprise.

This much we know: The Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion was scheduled to face Anotnio “Bigfoot” Silva in the semi-finals of the heavyweight tournament. Now, he is not. Exactly why he is not is a matter of some conjecture.

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The story became public when as a guest on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour Overeem stated that he had not agreed to the proposed September 10th date for the fight and added “What’s going to happen next, I don’t know. I’ve had some threats of cutting me out of the tournament if I don’t participate. I don’t know if they’re going to do it. Personally, I don’t like to be threatened. If people start talking like that then…be my guest, but then I’m really not going to sing to their tune.”

It didn’t take long for action to be taken after Overeem spoke out. Word spread quickly that Overeem was no longer in the tournament and UFC President Dana White insisted that Showtime’s scheduling of the event and an injury to Overeem’s toe were to blame: “Sept. 10 was the date Showtime wants us to go, so it’s the date we’ve got to go, it’s unfortunate that Alistair is unavailable, but situations like this are why there are alternates in the tournament…Overeem is under contract, and when his pinky toe heals up, we’ll get him another fight.”

The confusion didn’t end there. After word broke that Overeem was out of the tournament, he did another interview with Ariel Helwani, insisting that his toe injury wasn’t the problem. He told Helwani “It’s not that bad, otherwise I would have cancelled [the Silva fight] because of that injury alone”. If it’s not the toe, could it be the disrespect he felt from Zuffa from being “threatened” as he put it?

Is The Overeem Controversy Just Hardball Contract Negotiations?

There is another explanation. It has been reported that Overeem’s next fight will be his last on his current Strikeforce contract. The current static between Overeem’s camp and the Zuffa brass could be explained by the two camps playing hardball in negotiations. Overeem has surely noticed how Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz parlayed a threat to turn to professional boxing into a big-money UFC title fight against Georges St. Pierre. Is it that far out of the question to assume Overeem is following that same path?

Overeem has been musing, at least publicly, about fighting one of the Klitschko brothers. He told Mauro Ranallo on The Fight Show: “If I fight Klitschko now, I mean this guy, he is not for nothing the champion of how many leagues, like five? The thing is, it’s an interesting thought, it’s an interesting idea”. Overeem is clearly looking at it from a business perspective as he adds “Let’s cut to the chase, there’s a lot of money to be made in boxing. It is the most popular combat sport out there. I mean, MMA is doing really well and it might overtake boxing but boxing is still the number one…if you look at the revenues made by boxing it is a big difference, a big difference.”

What Overeem has working in his favour is that after UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez fights Junior dos Santos in November, there are no clear title contenders. Brock Lesnar’s latest battle with diverticulitis has him on the shelf for the rest if the year and perhaps further. Shane Carwin is coming off two straight losses. Frank Mir is coming off two less than exciting fights and is making more noise about a rematch with Carwin than a title shot. Overeem may view this as his opportunity to jump the line of contenders in the UFC’s heavyweight division and go straight into a main event, big money title fight the way Diaz did.

What Overeem has working against him is that even though he has been Strikeforce heavyweight champion since 2007, he has defended that title all of once, with that defence coming against Brett Rogers, who himself was coming off a TKO loss to Fedor Emelianenko. His last fight against Fabricio Werdum is a strong contender for worst major fight of the year and it is safe to say his performance won him no new fans. He also doesn’t have the marquee value of Nick Diaz, who was a UFC star before he went to EliteXC and later Strikeforce. Those who don’t follow Strikeforce would know Overeem more from UFC’s replays of Chuck Liddell knocking him out than anything else.

The next few months ought to be interesting for Overeem. If his flirtation with boxing doesn’t come to fruition, which it won’t, he has pronounced himself ready for combat in October-November and has stated he may seek a K-1 fight for that time. Beyond that, his future in Strikeforce looks murky as he may now be put in a position to wait for the winner of the seemingly never-ending tournament. Or maybe, just maybe, he will show up on a UFC pay-per-view.

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