Strikeforce builds momentum for Ohio debut

By Dann Stupp

The world’s second-largest mixed-martial-arts promotion soon will make its Ohio debut and interest in the organization arguably never has been better.

Strikeforce will host a Showtime-televised event on March 5 at Columbus’ Nationwide Arena. Light-heavyweight champ Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante (10-2) takes on Dan Henderson (26-8) in the headliner, and many Ohio fighters, including UFC veteran Jorge Gurgel, are being booked for the undercard. The show should benefit from this past Saturday’s “Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva” event at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J. The Feb. 12 event kicked off a highly anticipated and season-long grand prix — a star-studded affair featuring eight of the world’s top heavyweights.

The weekend event featured the first two opening-round matchups (the other pair takes place April 9), which saw onetime pound-for-pound kingpin Fedor Emelianenko (31-3) upset by Antonio Silva (16-2) via a second-round doctor’s stoppage (due to a badly swollen right eye).

“It’s a tournament,” Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said. “And as I’ve said, anything can happen.”

Unfortunately, that included the elimination of the tournament’s most recognizable star. But it’s not all bad news. Despite the Jersey show featuring three tourney-reserve fights, and though Emelianenko hinted at a possible retirement after the loss, Coker said the Russian could re-enter the tourney as an injury replacement if the need arises. Emelianenko, who went an unheard-of 27-0 from 2000-2010, gave Strikeforce a fighter its rival, the UFC, failed to sign on multiple occasions. But with back-to-back losses, his stock has plummeted.

Still, anything involving Emelianenko is big news in the MMA world, and Columbus’ upcoming show should benefit from the buzz.

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