Photos: Esther Lin/STRIKEFORCE
NEW YORK – The greatest collection of Mixed Martial Arts heavyweight fighters in the world participated in the final press conference Wednesday to discuss the upcoming STRIKEFORCE World Grand Prix — Heavyweight Tournament that begins live on SHOWTIME® (10 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the West Coast) this Saturday, Feb. 12, from IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J.
One day after STRIKEFORCE and M-1 presented a hugely successful Fan Experience at the Roseland Ballroom here, they concluded a triumphant two-day stint in New York by assembling 14 of the most talented and exciting fighters in the world at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers.
In Saturday’s main event, Fedor Emelianenko (31-2, 1 NC) returns to action against Antonio “Big Foot” Silva (15-2) in a STRIKEFORCE and M-1 GLOBAL co-promoted event. The opening quarterfinal on the telecast will match former world champion Andrei Arlovski (15-8) against Russian star Sergei Kharitonov (16-4), the last fighter to defeat STRIKEFORCE and DREAM Heavyweight World Champion Alistair “The Demolition Man” Overeem.
The other two quarterfinal matchups in a three-stage, single-elimination tournament will take place at a site and date to be announced. Overeem (34-11, 1 NC) will face the only man to tap out Fedor, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist Fabricio Werdum (14-4-1), and hard-hitting Brett “The Grim” Rogers (11-2) will be opposed by Josh Barnett (29-5).
Also in attendance Wednesday were the six fighters who will compete on Saturday’s all-heavyweight undercard on SHOWTIME. The matchups: Shane Del Rosario (10-0) vs. Lavar “Big’’ Johnson (15-3); Chad “The Grave Digger’’ Griggs (9-1) vs. Gian (pronounced “John”) Villante (7-1) and Valentijn Overeem (28-25) vs. Ray “Sugarfoot’’ Sefo (2-0).
Tickets are on sale at IZOD Center box office, online at Ticketmaster.com and Strikeforce.com, and by phone at (800) 745-3000. The first of five non-televised undercard fights start at 7:30 p.m. ET.
What the fighters had to say Thursday:
“I am very happy to be fighting again and looking forward to a good fight. Losing a fight didn’t change anything for me. I have worked very hard.’’
ANTONIO BIG FOOT SILVA
“I am very, very excited and happy. I’ve wanted this fight a long time. Fedor is a great fighter and a great person. But if you want to rise to the top you have to be the best, and Fedor is definitely still one of the very best.
“The odds are all in Fedor’s favor but the odds do not reflect reality. The truth is, this fight could go either way. I am very confident and I’m here to win.’’
“These three last guys who kicked my (butt) have motivated me. I’m determined. This tournament is a great opportunity.”
“I don’t think I’m getting Arlovski at a good time because of his losses. (His opponents) were some of the best fighters in the world. It’s probably worse for me because he is hungry to win.
“Andrei took great shots from Silva. His fan-friendly style leaves him open. Anyone can get caught. His chin is not suspect.”
“This is going to be the biggest tournament in the world. Fedor is a favorite and a legend but we’ll see who the last man standing is.”
“The best heavyweights in the world are in STRIKEFORCE and it’s great they are doing a tournament to settle who the No. 1 heavyweight in the world is.
“I’m looking forward to fighting Overeem again. He won three belts last year. I may not be the favorite, but I feel I should be one of the favorites to win it.’’
“This tournament is hugely important for MMA at large and especially for the heavyweight division because this is the greatest collection of heavyweight talent ever assembled for one tournament. This is not just a paper thing. The winner will be the No. 1 heavyweight in the world.
“I’m very excited and glad to be part of it and hope to use it as a stepping-stone to re-establish my career and to re-establish myself as the No. 1 fighter.
‘I haven’t lost in years and don’t plan to now.’’
“I’m definitely looking forward to getting back on track and am very happy to be in this tournament. It will show where I am as a fighter.
“This tournament will prove that STRIKEFORCE heavyweights can get in and bang with anybody in the world and that the STRIKEFORCE organization has the best heavyweights in the world. There’s always a question as to who is best, but there will be no question once this is over. There are no easy fights, there are no gimme wins. Whoever wins this tournament will have had to fight to win it, and I like that.
“I am very focused and determined. My sites now are on only one thing and that is my first fight with Josh Barnett. I’ve watched him a long time. I know how good he is. I’m really looking forward to fighting him.’’
SHANE DEL ROSARIO
“Getting on this show is a reward for five years of hard work. This is a huge opportunity and a huge step up.
“We are both at similar stages in our careers and both are ready to accept the challenge. This is going to be a very good, hard-fought, exciting fight for sure.’’
LAVAR “BIG” JOHNSON
“I appreciate that STRIKEFORCE has put me on this card and that I’m fighting on SHOWTIME again. I think Shane is a great fighter. This fight is very important, obviously. The winner maintains his status in the division. Conditioning could be a very big part of it. Shane’s quick and recovers very well.
“It’s an honor to be on this card. I’m a huge fan of all the fighters in the tournament and I cannot wait to see how it unfolds. It should be very exciting.’’
“The win over Bobby Lashley was a good win and got me recognition because of his name. This should be a good fight, too. My only thoughts going in are to win and put on a good shot.
“I know the guy I’m fighting is a good fighter who is hungry and well-conditioned and making his first appearance on the big stage.
“I know he’s tough and likes to start strong, so let’s see how he does once he gets a little pressure put on him.’’
“This is all pretty awesome for a guy who has been fighting on mostly much smaller shows in New Jerseys. Fighting for STRIKEFORCE on SHOWTIME is definitely a major step up for me but I’m looking forward to the challenge. It should be fun.
“I have a lot of friends who’ll be rooting for me on Saturday. I know if they aren’t at the arena, they’ll be watching on SHOWTIME.’’
“I’ve had just a couple fights in America, but it’s been a while. It’s a good feeling to see how the sport has grown in the states. More people will know me and Ray Sefo on Sunday morning. The outcome of the fight will determine which one of us they’ll know more.”
“I don’t have a favorite way to end a fight. But I don’t love going the distance.”
“I’m looking forward to fighting back for STRIKEFORCE again. The plan is to go out and do what I know how to do, and win by knockout.
“I’m not looking past Saturday, but I want to fight MMA more this year.’’