In one of the less intriguing match-ups on the main card at Saturday night's Strikeforce Heavy Artillery event, second-degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and eight-time World Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion Roger Gracie (2-0, 0-0 SF) will make his U.S. debut as he battles former UFC champion and PRIDE veteran Kevin Randleman (17-14, 0-1 SF) in a light heavyweight contest. Gracie hasn't fought in mixed martial arts since his victory over Yuki Kondo at Sengoku II back in May of 2008 while Randleman is coming off numerous losses -- his most recent coming against Stanislav Nedkov at Sengoku XI in November.
Roger has remained relatively inactive in the sport of mixed martial arts as he's only fought twice, both victories. He has, however, remained active in grappling competition, snagging both the Super-Heavyweight and Absolute division championship titles at the 2009 Mundials. Considered to be one of the very best grapplers in the world, he has the added advantage of being unbelievably gifted in the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu within the higher weight classes, something that we rarely see in mixed martial arts.
Randleman has remained somewhat active over the years, although injuries have stifled his abilities over the past five years. He's currently 3-9 in his last twelve fights with losses to significant figures in the sport such as Fedor Emelianenko, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Mirko "CroCop" Filipovic, Kazushi Sakuraba, and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. While it's clear these are names of highly-skilled fighters during the days in which he fought them, and in some cases, still to this day, Randleman has clearly been unable to keep up with the progression of the sport.
Once one of the most feared wrestlers in the sport, Randleman''s strength and physical gifts enabled him to crush opponents early in his career. Eventually, he succumbed to the evolution of the sport. Submission fighters and better punchers completely overwhelmed Randleman, and his physical intimidation tactics did not scare his opposition. At 38 years of age, it may be time for "The Monster" to hang up the wrestling boots.
But who am I to tell someone to retire? Randleman will aim to try to turn around his misfortunes, but he'll have to do it against an absolute nightmare of a grappler in Roger Gracie. Not only is Gracie flat out the best in the weight class, but his 6'4" frame allows him to wrap up opponents fairly quickly and transition to submission holds. Randleman is a much slower version of himself these days, and that'll work to Roger's advantage as well.
Randleman's striking has never been good, and the fact that his age has slowed him down considerably only makes it worse to watch. Obviously, Gracie isn't looking to stand, but I doubt Randleman has anything to offer on the feet if he happens to stuff Gracie's takedown attempts and unleash a couple of flurries before Gracie attempts a second and third takedown.
Making things even worse are the reports that Randleman became sick and was possibly infected with staph once again. While he was finally cleared to fight, it's probable that he lost a significant amount of training time due to the illness.
Gracie will probably never become a well-rounded mixed martial artist who will compete for a major promotion's heavyweight title. He seems to be heavily committed to carrying on the legacy of the Gracie name in the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world while rarely making appearances in the MMA world. He may have the chops to submit some very solid opponents in the worldwide heavyweight division, but we may never actually see that happen. He will, however, submit Kevin Randleman in quick fashion.