Strikeforce still gunning for April event in Japan
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Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has given himself one more week to secure a venue in Japan for a planned April event.
Coker announced two weeks ago that the San Jose-based promotion was aiming to hold its April 9 show in the country that has hosted the most attended MMA events in the sport’s history. However, the promotion’s venue of choice - the 35,000-seat Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo – is unavailable on April 9 and its surrounding dates.
Should the event be held stateside, Coker said he is considering Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, states whose athletic commissions have apparently agreed to license Josh Barnett. Slated to face Brett Rogers on April 9 in a quarterfinal bout for Strikeforce’s World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament, Barnett was denied licensure in California in 2009 after allegedly coming up positive for steroids in a required pre-fight test. Barnett has yet to resolve his issues with the California State Athletic Commission, though Coker said the former UFC champion plans to do so in the future.
Coker said the event date could also be pushed back a week or two to cement other necessary details.
If Strikeforce is able to lock in a venue overseas, it will be the promotion’s first trip to Japan. The UFC held two events in Japan prior to Zuffa LLC’s purchase of the promotion in January 2001. Coker has obvious reasons to push for a Japan event. The event’s headliner matches Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem against Fabricio Werdum in a three-round, non-title bout, also part of the tournament’s quarterfinal round. Overeem, who became the first major MMA titleholder to win a K-1 kickboxing world title last December in Japan, would prove a huge draw there, while Werdum has garnered some cache following his surprise upset win over former No. 1 ranked heavyweight and Japan favorite Fedor Emelianenko last June.
“In its heyday, it was the mecca of the fight business,” Coker told the LA Times on Wednesday. “It’s not there today, but there’s something unique and special about the Japanese fans.”
A Strikeforce event in Japan could also help the promotion’s strategic partner Dream, which is said to be under considerable financial duress as the sport’s market continues to slump there. Coker downplayed this reasoning, though.
“We’ll do what we can, but at the end of the day we have to do what makes sense for us and this tournament,” said Coker, who already has established relationships with multiple organizations in Japan. “The business still has to be right and all the pieces have to be in place, but I feel we really have a good shot still.”
Zuffa has also announced its intentions to bring the UFC back to Japan in 2011, but has made no firm commitment as of yet.
Meanwhile, Strikeforce’s first two quarterfinal tournament matches will be held Saturday at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J. The five-fight main card will also air live on Showtime beginning at 10 p.m. EST.
-- Loretta Hunt, reporting from New York