Fedor Emelianenko is focused on winning the Strikeforce Grand Prix (Photo by Esther Lin, Strikeforce).
Heavyweight Tournament Kicks Off in New Jersey on February 12th
When the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix gets started on February 12th at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, two of the biggest and baddest will square off when Russia’s Fedor Emelianenko (31-2, 1 NC) faces Brazil’s Antonio Silva (15-2). The two top heavyweights checked in with the media this past week on an official Strikeforce conference call to discuss the upcoming match-up.
“I’m very proud to be part of the eight who have been chosen to be part of the tournament,” Emelianenko said through a translator. “I’m very proud to be representing my country in the tournament, and I’m training to win the tournament. I’m going to train hard, and what happens after that is up to God. I’m proud to be with the great fighters in the tournament, and I’m proud to be part of it. I look forward to performing.”
Emelianenko comes into this Grand Prix in a situation he is truly unaccustomed, and that is coming off a loss. He suffered the first true defeat of his professional career to Fabricio Werdum last June when the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt forced him to submit from an arm triangle. The only other blemish for the Russian powerhouse came in 2000 when he was struck by an illegal elbow from Tsuyoshi Kohsaka while fighting under the RINGS banner. Since the match was under a tournament format, a no contest or disqualification could not be ruled. With Emelianenko unable to continue, he was forced to take the loss.
“It just so happened that I had made an error in the previous fight,” Emelianenko said of the defeat to Werdum. “And so in training, I’ve worked to make sure I don’t make that same mistake again. For me, nothing has changed inside of me. I just train hard and harder for the next fight.”
Regardless of the loss, Silva says that he is still viewing Emelianenko as the top heavyweight in the game.
“First of all, I’m still thinking he’s the best in the world,” he confirmed through a translator. “He’s at the top of the food chain, and I want to do my best to beat him. For me, this is the final, and I’ll give my whole blood to make this happen. And like I said before, it’s my dream. I’m going to go forward, and I’m going to beat the legend. And I’m going to be a legend.”
Silva also told the media that he is very pleased that Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker and matchmaker Rich Chou pitted him against Emelianenko in the opening round of the tournament.
“I’m very happy with everything that has happened, certainly happy to fight Fedor, who I still consider to be the number one heavyweight in the world,” he remarked. “I’m going to make myself ready for this bout. I really believe Fedor is a legend, but to be a legend, you must beat the legend. And I’m going to prove to everybody that I’m ready to be the next best heavyweight.”
Emelianenko is clearly a veteran to the tournament style of fighting, most notably in the Pride Fighting Championships. However, the Judo Black Belt and Sambo Grand Master insisted that would only play a small role as he entered the Strikeforce Grand Prix.
“This tournament has assembled enough quality fighters in some of the strongest, most interesting heavyweight fighters in the world that this tournament is not in any way less than the tournaments that I competed in Pride,” he stated. “I believe it’s just as good, if not better. The years I spent in Pride cannot automatically say or dictate how I will perform in this tournament. Certainly, experience is something that is valuable. But nevertheless, I have to train very hard, and I am training very hard for this fight. And we’ll just see what happens.”
Strikeforce also announced three more heavyweights who will compete on the New Jersey card, which are Shane Del Rosario (10-0) against Lavar Johnson (15-3), Chad Griggs (9-1) taking on Gian Villante (7-1), and Valentijn Overeem (28-25) battling Ray Sefo (2-0).
“This event will showcase the depth of talent in the Strikeforce heavyweight roster,” Coker commented. “Shane and Lavar are two products of the Strikeforce Challengers series that has been instrumental in developing new talent. We are proud to welcome them to our championship series for the first time on February 12 and excited to show the world that Strikeforce is home to the best heavyweights on the planet.”
Tickets for the show at the IZOD Center are available now, and fans can purchase them through TicketMaster.