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Fighters in Strikeforce heavyweight tournament hope for shot at UFC belt

Rematch between Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum headlines weekend card

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Sam Morris

Fabricio Werdum celebrates his firs round submission of Fedor Emelianenko during their Strikeforce bout Saturday, June 26, 2010 at the HP Pavillion in San Jose, California.

Dana White UFC 131 Fireside Chat

UFC President Dana White prides himself on putting together the fights everyone wants to see.

Because of that reputation, it’s hard to imagine a bout pitting the eventual winner of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix and the UFC heavyweight champion not happening sometime next year. As the Grand Prix marches on with its second slate of opening round matches Saturday in Dallas, demand is growing from fans and fighters alike about a future showdown between the two champions.

“If I win this Grand Prix, I will count the titles,” Fabricio Werdum said. “I want to be the champ of this Grand Prix and defeat the champ of UFC.”

Werdum (14-4-1) fights Alistair Overeem (34-11) in the main event Saturday, while Josh Barnett (29-5) and Brett Rogers (11-2) also clash for the right to advance to the Grand Prix semifinals. The main card airs on Showtime at 10 via tape delay on the west coast and live at 7 on the channel's east coast feeds.

Even though it’s happening in the quarterfinals, Overeem vs. Werdum is arguably the most anticipated bout of the whole tournament. Both men have established themselves as the top two heavyweights in Strikeforce.

Werdum, an elite grappler, submitted Overeem, a top striker, when the two fought in 2006 in PRIDE. But Overeem now hasn’t lost a fight in four years and comes in as high as a 5-to-1 favorite against Werdum.

Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said the matchup was set for the first round so fans would be guaranteed to see the highly anticipated scrap. Neither fighter was upset about facing potentially their biggest threat right from the beginning.

“You’re going to have to face the strongest guy anyway,” Overeem said. “And I never complain about a fight.”

The winner of the fight will face Antonio Silva, who defeated Fedor Emelianenko in February, in the second round early this fall. The championship bout will likely come in early 2012, according to Coker.

UFC champion Cain Velasquez will follow it along the way as an interested observer. Velasquez is one of the many people clamoring for the tournament winner getting a shot at the UFC belt.

“Those guys are great, top level guys,” Velasquez said earlier this year. “I’m glad that the UFC can finally, later down the road match everybody together so we can have a true No. 1 champion. I want to fight the best guys and those are the best guys, too.”

But White said it wasn’t that easy. He’s trying to keep a peaceful relationship with Showtime, Strikeforce’s television partner, by not pillaging the promotion’s top fighters for the UFC.

Although White has already pulled one Strikeforce champion into the UFC, Nick Diaz, he said it was a unique situation and couldn’t promise the same would happen with the heavyweight division.

“I’m glad the fans are excited about it,” White said. “Part of being a fight fan is getting excited about fights. The fact that the fans, the media and guys get excited about fights, I love it. It’s just that I don’t know. We’re trying to figure this thing out.”

Both Overeem and Werdum will expect a chance in the UFC in they come out of the tournament on top. One of the two will emerge as the favorite to do so after Saturday’s scrap.

“Alistair is very good standing and I’m very good on the ground,” Werdum said. “So, it’s going to be a fight that has the best in standing and the best on the ground. Everybody knows I don’t have secrets. I’m very prepared and I will do my job.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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