When Strikeforce originally announced their Heavyweight Grand Prix earlier this year, the plan was to wrap it up before the end of 2011. Not surprisingly, however, after Josh Barnett’s licensing issues forced the postponement of the second Grand Prix card, Strikeforce is now questioning whether they squeeze the rest of the tournament in before the end of the year. Scott Coker informed reporters on a conference call earlier today that the finals may not happen until early 2012.

“That was the original plan, but if it carries over into 2012 and we can finish it in a calendar year, that’s sufficient,” he said. “We were originally going to have (the semifinals) in August, but we felt like it’s too close to the June fight,” he said. “So it’ll be sometime in the early fall. And then the finals will be the beginning of next year. We had a conversation with the fight team and Showtime, and they were fine with it. [Doing the finals as a pay-per-view is] the dialogue – there’s definitely a good possibility. But it’s not been decided yet.”

But with Zuffa owning Strikeforce now, does it really matter anymore? Strikeforce isn’t competing against the UFC in the same sense that they were before. There’s no longer any ground to make up, so what does it really matter if they shot themselves in the foot and killed all the momentum behind the GP? What could have been Strikeforce’s “defining moment,” as Coker once called it, is now an opportunity for Zuffa to create a strong number one contender for a big UFC vs. Strikeforce heavyweight title fight next year. No one in any official position is talking about it, but with the recent announcement of GSP vs. Nick Diaz, you know everyone is thinking it. In fact, Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum both acknowledged today how exciting it would be for the GP champ to face Cain Velasquez (or whoever holds the UFC title) once the tournament wraps up.

“If I would win the tournament, I personally – and I believe many fans with me – would love to see the [winner] of the tournament against the UFC champion, Cain Velasquez,” Overeem told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) today during a conference call in support of “Strikeforce: Overeem vs Werdum.”

“I think it’s going to be very good to participate in this huge event that is UFC,” an English-speaking Werdum said. “I want to be the champ of this grand prix, and after that, (I want to) defeat the champ of the UFC.”

In the end, no, the GP won’t go quite according to plan, but that’s okay. Whoever wins this tournament is going to have an argument for the top ranking in the heavyweight division, which will only leave fans salivating for a true heavyweight champion vs. champion super fight in 2012. If I’m Strikeforce/Zuffa, I call that a win.

Image via Esther Lin for Strikeforce/Showtime