Strikeforce will bring the semi-finals of its
Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament to Cincinnati, Ohio, on 10 September. Unfortunately, what should have been a celebration of some of the best big men in the sport has been cast in doubt and controversy.
Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva eliminated the biggest name in the division, Fedor Emelianenko, in the previous round in February. Fabricio Werdum, who also holds a win over Fedor, took a KO loss against Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem.
In one of the most shocking developments surrounding the Strikeforce Grand Prix, Overeem was eliminated from the tournament, not in the cage, but in the Zuffa offices. The company announced that it had released Overeem, it's heavyweight champion, due to a contract dispute. Now the “Final Four” of the glamour division of combat sports resembles less of a “who’s who” and more of the “who the &^%$ is he?”
Barnett vs. Kharitonov
Josh “The War Master” Barnett is coming off a seven-fight win streak and has finished all but one by either submission or TKO. Sergei Kharitonov has drawn favorable comparisons to his countryman, Fedor, with all but one of his eighteen wins coming by submission or knockout. Despite the absence of bigger names, this fight could be an entertaining heavyweight slugfest. If the fight goes to the ground, both men have excellent submission skills.
Barnett is the heavy MMA odds favorite listed at -260, with Kharitonov posted at +220.
PICK: Barnett by submission (Round 3)
Cormier vs. Silva
This tournament could represent a big break for Daniel Cormier as he takes his 8-0 record into the cage against Brazilian veteran Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. Cormier combines powerful striking ability with top-notch wrestling technique, which could lead him to a future title shot. Coming off his win against Fedor, Silva’s stock is also at an all-time high.
If Cormier can use his lower center of gravity (5’10”) to take down Silva (6’4”) and cancel out the big man’s reach advantage, he can control the fight on the mat and use his ground-and-pound attack to pull off a victory.
PICK: Cormier by TKO (Round 2)
Souza vs. Rockhold (Strikeforce Middleweight Championship)
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza is riding a four-fight win streak, including his title win against Tim Kennedy last year, into Cincinnati against young contender Luke Rockhold. Although six of Rockhold’s seven wins have come by submission, he has yet to face a jiu-jitsu player of Souza’s caliber. Souza’s ability to finish fighters at the level of Robbie Lawler, Matt Lindland and Jason “Mayhem” Miller shows that he should be capable of doing the same to Rockhold.
PICK: Souza by submission (Round 2)
Gracie vs. Lawal
Roger Gracie takes on former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal. Gracie is 4-0 with four submission wins, all but one accomplished in the first round. Although his victories came against past-their-prime fighters such as Ron Waterman and Kevin Randleman, the newest member of the legendary Gracie family to enter the sport should not be underestimated.
Lawal has not fought since he lost the title to Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante in Houston last year. In that fight, Lawal showed that the Brazilian outmatched him. In this fight, against an opponent that eats, breathes and sleeps jiu-jitsu, the results should be no different.
Based on the MMA betting lines, this is the most difficult fight to pick, with Lawal listed anywhere between -121 and -145.
Gracie by submission (Round 1)