The prime time network television debut of Strikeforce MMA -- and the promotional debut of world-renowned heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko -- will take place Nov. 7 at the Sears Centre Arena in northwest suburban Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Last week, sources first told The Times' MMA site, nwi.com/mma, about Strikeforce's plan to put on a show there, but representatives from Strikeforce and the Sears Centre could not officially confirm the event until the Illinois Athletic Commission approved the license.
On Wednesday, a Strikeforce official confirmed with The Times the license has been approved by the Commission.
The main card will be aired live on CBS and will be Strikeforce's prime time debut on network TV. Strikeforce currently has a deal with the Showtime premium cable network, which is owned by CBS. CBS previously aired mixed martial arts in prime time with EliteXC, which folded in Oct. 2008. The promotion also has "Strikeforce on NBC" on network TV, which airs in many markets overnight between Saturday night and Sunday morning.
The CBS debut for Strikeforce will be a showcase for Emelianenko, who is considered by the vast majority of analysts, fans and mixed martial arts fighters to be the No. 1 heavyweight in the world. Many consider him the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, as well. Until now, Emelianenko (30-1) has fought only outside of the United States or on pay-per-view. His only loss came in Dec. 2000.
Fedor will meet fellow heavyweight Brett "The Grim" Rogers, who at 10-0 was the promotion's top challenger for champion Allistair Overeem's title before Fedor signed with the organization earlier this summer. The winner of the Fedor-Rogers bout no doubt will be first in line for a title fight with Overeem.
San Jose, Calif.-based Strikeforce, which started as a kickboxing promotion in the mid-'80s, went down the mixed martial arts road in 2006. It has held five events so far in 2009 and will put on its sixth card on Friday with its Strikeforce Challengers series in Bixby, Okla., which will be aired on Showtime.
While the vast majority of its events have taken place in California, Strikeforce has been slowly making efforts to expand to new markets. In June, it put on a critically acclaimed card at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, that saw Rogers knock out former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski in 22 seconds.
But the Nov. 7 show, being billed as "Strikeforce: Emelianenko vs. Rogers," will be the promotion's first real foray into a major media market.
The Chicago area has seen a steady rise in top-tier MMA events in the last year. In October 2008, the UFC came to Chicago for the first time for UFC 90. Sister promotion World Extreme Cagefighting made its Chicago debut in April. And the Bellator Fighting Championships had a Chicago event in May.
All eyes in the MMA community have been on Emelianenko in recent months, especially his negotiation with the UFC that reportedly broke down at the 11th hour before he signed a one-year, three-fight deal with Strikeforce.
The Sears Centre seats between 9,500-11,000 fans, depending on its configuration for a mixed martial arts event. It has played host to other MMA promotions in the past, including the debut of Adrenaline MMA in 2008 and the now-defunct International Fight League.
Also rumored to be fighting on the card is a middleweight title fight between Jason "Mayhem" Miller and Jake Shields, plus a light heavyweight title defense for Gegard Mousasi and a women's title defense for Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos.
Tickets for the event will go on sale Monday at 10 a.m. Central time through Ticketmaster, Strikeforce.com and the Sears Centre box office.