The International Sport Karate Association (ISKA) sanctioned state of New Jersey will host the inaugural of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Tournament on Saturday night as “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko (31-2) faces off with “Bigfoot” Antonio Silva (14-2) and the former king of the UFC heavyweight division “The Pitbull” Andrei Arlovski (14-8) takes on dangerous kickboxer Sergei Kharitonov (16-4). In addition to the Heavyweight Grand Prix, the main card features a host of journeyman fighters taking part in the tournament’s reserve bouts – which will determine the alternates in the event that any of the eight original contestants are unable to compete for one reason or another – including Shane del Rosario (8-0), “Big” Lavar Johnson (13-3), Gian Villante (7-1), and Chad Griggs (8-1). Also of interest to the hardcore PRIDE fans of the MMA world, the older brother of superstar heavyweight “The Demolition Man” Alistair Overeem (30-12), “The Python” Valentijn Overeem (26-21) returns to the ring after a two year lay-off to battle five-time World Muay Thai Champion and eight-time K-1 Grand Prix finalist “Sugarfoot” Ray Sefo (2-0). Despite it holding little to no implications for the Strikeforce heavyweight division, as both men are largely considered to be beyond their respective prime, the match is an excellent bout to open the card for casual fans, as it will be a high paced stand-up affair.
At First Glance: The first thing that comes to mind in this fight is the vast disparity in the two men’s records. While the two heavyweights are stand-up fighters and Sefo comes into the cage backed by 77 kickboxing matches and five professional boxing bouts, he still lacks the mixed martial arts experience of Overeem. The fact that “The Python” holds a large number of submission victories also bodes ill for the New Zealander. The bout holds a fair amount of intrigue for hardcore MMA fans who spent years buying bootleg K-1 and PRIDE tapes as they likely are the only fans to have particularly informed knowledge of either “Sugarfoot” or “The Python”. However, the bout is more about riding a brother’s coattails and chasing one’s fading glory than it is about making waves in Strikeforce’s heavyweight division.
In Depth: The story of this bout is one that has been told to almost every MMA fan in the infancy of their fanhood. Like two pictures in the evolution of MMA, there is the extremely skilled and even more one-dimensional Thai boxing champion Ray Sefo, the very image of the beginnings of MMA. On the other is Valentijn Overeem of the storied Golden Glory kickboxing gym who specializes in striking but has the rudimentary wrestling to shut down submission fighters and the submission skills to gain an edge over fellow strikers, and is the spitting image of the “Mo” Maurice Smith (13-13) spawned era of MMA strikers at the turn of this century. In the end that is the major factor in determining the course of this fight. While Sefo has aged and fails to make the same impact in K-1 as he used to, he is still the far superior striker in this pairing. However, even with his training at Xtreme Couture, Sefo lacks even the basic wrestling to prevent Overeem from controlling him on the ground. This was evident in his bout against the less-than-impressive “The Shaman” Kevin Jordan (10-9) who was able to keep Sefo off his feet for the majority of their 2009 bout, which was Sefo’s last MMA fight.
Wild Card: The most important aspect of Overeem’s game to call into question is his dedication. Valentijn has been notorious in the past for training half-heartedly and giving less than what most would consider reasonable attention to his upcoming opponents. In 2005, Valentijn lost three straight matches in the first round including a submission loss to “Hurricane” Gilbert Yvel (33-16-1), whose lack of a ground game is practically legendary. These losses all came primarily due to a less than dedicated training camp and the resulting ineffectiveness in the cage it led to. If Overeem has decided that Sefo isn’t worth his undivided attention, Ray will likely rob the Dutchman of his consciousness.
The Verdict: While it is difficult to put much faith in the streaky and notoriously unreliable Valentijn Overeem, he is a far more complete mixed martial artist than his opponent. Ray Sefo has every chance to end this fight in exciting fashion as long as it stays on the feet, but he simply won’t be able to stop the brute force takedowns that Overeem brings to the table when he takes a fight seriously. Look for there to be a brief and violent exchange on the feet before Overeem locks his arms around Sefo’s waist and slams him to the ground before pounding his way to a choke submission. Overeem via Submission (Rear Naked Choke), Round 1.