The elephant in the room stayed quiet for about 15 minutes during a Strikeforce media event Tuesday. Then it began to trumpet.
Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem will defend his title against Brett Rogers at Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery on May 15 in St. Louis. But Overeem, who has not fought in the U.S. since winning the title in 2007, has faced widespread accusations of steroid use.
Over the last five years, the Dutch fighter experienced dramatic muscle gain and a perceived change to his skeletal structure. He also remained busy, fighting 13 times (six times in K-1) in Japan – where there is no testing – over the last two years. Public perception became clear: Overeem was avoiding the U.S. for a reason.
“They can test me,” he said. “I will have to pee just like Brett will have to pee. That pee will be tested and it will be either positive or negative. I know it will be a negative. Then people will shut up.”
However, even a negative test may not silence all his critics.
“He can say whatever, but I am sure a 1000 people will back me in the other direction,” Rogers said. “I love the gym, I love to work out. I know I’m not going to blow up in that short amount of time. I’m a hard worker. I don’t consider myself big and pretty but I am big and strong. It’s questionable to me. Hopefully the athletic committee will take care of it.”
Tuesday’s conference occurred hours after Strikeforce announced that Fedor Emelianenko will fight Fabricio Werdum on June 26. Emelianenko was an near-omnipresent part of the conversation. He beat Rogers on last November and Overeem has been a vocal challenger. Regardless of what happens May 15, the “Last Emperor” will cast a shadow over the champion.
“He has done amazing things in the past,” Overeem said. “And he deserves what (attention) he is getting.”
Here are the condensed thoughts of the fighters:
The Strikeforce heavyweight champion is on a seven-fight win streak and has not lost since 2007. Overeem (32-11-1) has finished five of his last six opponents in the first round and was beating Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic before their 2008 bout was declared no-contest due to groin strikes. Since 2009, the “Demolition Man” had three MMA bouts and five K-1 fights. He went 3-2 in K-1 during that span, reaching the World Grand Prix semifinals.
On Rogers – “He performed really well against Fedor. I would say he gave (Emelianenko) the fight of his life; certainly the hardest in the last couple years. This fight will be really interesting.”
On strategy – “The cage is a little difference, but not that much. I never talk strategy before the fight.”
On Emelianenko – “I know Fedor is a fighter and doesn’t care who he fights. I know it I his management. It takes two to tango. I will tell people whats up and that Fedor’s management didn’t accept the fight. Its been a year and a half now. I have been challenging him in interviews and after fights. The obstacle is his management. I think in the end, if I fought all the other heavyweights and he is the only one left, he will have to accept the fight or retire. I think they want to keep Fedor’s status as undefeated and they see me as a threat to that.
On defending the title – “If it was up to me, it would have been last year. I had my hand injury which took a long time to recover. As far as how many times I fight this year: May 15 and maybe one or two more times this year.”
On commitment to MMA – “I am an MMA fighter. That is my passion. How did I end up in K-1? Another fighter challenged me. I told myself when I beat this guy (Badr Hari) I will challenge the champion, which was Remy Bojansky. After that the fans elected me to compete in the grand prix. It was a good offer and I had to accept it. You go where the money goes. (But) K-1 is secondary this year.”
On critics – “I’m pretty good at blocking things out. As there has been a lot of criticism, there has been a lot of positive reactions also. I don’t care what they think or what they see. They are not my boss. They are entitled to their own opinions and thoughts.”
“The Grim” has received some criticism for receiving a championship shot after a loss. Rogers (10-1) gave Fedor Emelianenko all he could handle last November before suffering his first loss. A devastating puncher, Rogers has never gone past the second round, finishing eight opponents in the first, including three in the first 40 seconds.
On the title shot – “The way I see it, it has to be a win-win situation for me. Alistair has been out of the mix in America for a long time. I’m not just speaking for myself. I am speaking for all the other heavyweights gunning for this dude. I can preach it, but I have to prove it to the world. I’m getting that title. People are holding the Fedor loss against me. People say I don’t deserve this. I put this in the hands of the man upstairs and go out and have fun with it.”
On Overeem’s absence from Strikeforce – “Alistair has been in the east doing his thing. People in the west have been trying to move forward. He has definitely been slowing me down on the things I want to do.”
On Emelianenko – “I know for a fact if I have a second shot at him it will be a lot different. I am not looking past Alistair, but I am definitely wanting to catch that rematch. If I would have stayed relaxed and loose and had fun with it, it would have been different.”
On strategy – “I don’t really want to talk about strategy. I’m a fighter just like everybody else. I know he is real comfortable in the ring, but we will see how it plays when he comes back to the cage. He comes at you all kangaroo-ish. All you have to do is calm that person down. Kangaroo doesn’t like to be on his back.”
On his first loss – “It affected me deeply. It breaks you a little bit. I was on a winning streak. I was hoping to blow through without a loss. It kind of (expletive) with me a little bit. But you learn more from a loss than a win.”
On motivation – “Anything positive or negative will make me that much stronger. This is a title fight I’ve been wanting for a long time.”