"Just when I think you couldn't possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this…and totally redeem yourself!"- Dumb and Dumber
Strikeforce, in my mind, has made a lot of mistakes over the past few years. Letting M1 Global bully them around, the "Mayhem" Miller brawl, Brett Rogers fighting for a title coming off of a loss, Fedor not fighting for the title etc. but their proposed Heavyweight tournament is something that has me very excited. They have undoubtedly assembled the 8 best Non-UFC Heavyweight fighters in the world for a single elimination tournament set to play out starting February 12. In addition to the cast of fighters the matchmaking for the first round is well done. As many of these fighters have recently faced each other, they’ve broken things down in a way that starts with fresh matchups, and interesting rematches. Let’s take a look at each fighter and the announced matchups as well as some potential matchups we could see later on in the tournament.
Fedor Emelianenko –The former uncrowned Heavyweight Champion of Strikeforce took a recent blow to his aura of dominance courtesy of Fabricio Werdums submission skills. While many expected an immediate rematch, Emelianenko has been busy renegotiating (re-re-renegotiating?) his contract. Before suffering the first legitimate loss and stoppage of his career many (including myself) had questioned Fedor’s consensus #1 ranking due to inactivity and quality of opponents. This tournament is certainly the way to convincingly reclaim the status he held for so long.
Antonio Silva –Having just survived a close call courtesy of a right hand from the smaller Mike Kyle, Silva is 2-1 in Strikeforce with a win over tournament contender Andrei Arlovski and a decision loss to Fabricio Werdum. With a total record of 15-2 "Bigfoot" is a threat in all areas with a solid ground game, great striking and power.
Andrei Arlovski –A former terror in the Heavyweight division, former UFC Heavyweight Champion Arlovski actually left the UFC on a 3 fight winning streak following losing two in a row to Tim Sylvia in their Title Trilogy. Despite KOing UFC fighters Roy Nelson and Ben Rothwell after his departure, Arlovski is on a 3 fight losing streak to tournament contenders Emelianenko, Brett Rogers and Antonio Silva and hasn’t fought since May of 2010. This tournament is a chance at redemption and fans would love to see the Arlovski of old return.
Sergei Kharitonov –Holding the distinction of being the last fighter to defeat Alistair Overeem (and by first round KO), Sergei Kharitonov is 4-1 in his last 5 fights and is coming off of a first round knockout win at K-1’s Dynamite! New Years show. This was his return to MMA as he had put his career on hold to test himself in kickboxing which saw Kharitonov has go 1-2 in K-1 kickboxing bouts. While not a top favorite to win the tournament, Kharitonov's knockout power makes him a threat in any matchup.
Alistair Overeem –The Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion, K-1 World GP Champion and Dream Interim Heavyweight Champion is 10-1-1 since moving to heavyweight and is riding a 10 fight unbeaten streak (with a NC to Mirko Cro Cop) with 9 first round finishes. Staying very active the MMA fighter has also won the K-1 World GP title, considered to be the ultimate title in kickboxing. He holds wins over Kharitonov and Brett Rogers as well as losses to Werdum and Kharitonov. Given his current dominance over the last 3 years in MMA and Kickboxing, Overeem will be a heavy favorite to win the tournament.
Fabricio Werdum –The former UFC castoff turned Legend Killer looks to continue on the success he saw in ’09 and 2010 after beating Antonio Silva and shocking the world with his first round submission of Emelianenko. He also holds win over Overeem and has losses to Arlovski and Kharitonov. (As you can start to see, the entire tournament holds a "Rock Paper Scissors" feel in terms of who has beaten who in the past which coupled with the recent streaks and development of each fighter makes for some exciting potential rematches)
Josh Barnett –The Black Sheep of MMA’s heavyweight division, "The Babyfaced Assassin" became infamous for his 2009 steroid ban which canceled a much anticipated bout between Barnett and Emelianenko which at the time was considered a fight between the number 1 and 2 heavyweights in the world. He is currently riding a 6 fight winning streak and is a solid threat to any fighter in this tournament. Another distinction is that Barnett has no past fights with any of the tournament fighters unlike the other 7.
Brett Rogers –The Cinderella story of Strikeforce, Rogers’ upset of Andrei Arlovski set up the much hyped meeting with Emelianenko which saw Rogersdo very well in the first round, only to be knocked unconscious by a devastating right hand from Emelianenko. Following the loss, Rogersstrangely found himself with a title shot against the returning Overeem who dominated Rogers, stopping him in the first round. Rogershas since gotten a win outside of Strikeforce, hopefully giving him some much needed confidence heading into the tournament.
In my opinion, the following is how I rank the tournament fighters based on how I see current skillsets matching up and who has the best chance to win the tournament.
1. Alistair Overeem
2. Josh Barnett
3. Fedor Emelianenko
4. Fabricio Werdum
5. Sergei Kharitonov
6. Antonio Silva
7. Andrea Arlovski
8. Brett Rogers
Fedor Emelianenko vs Antonio Silva
In one of the more intriguing match ups of the first round, Emelianenko will look to get back his mojo against "Bigfoot". Due to Silva nearly being knocked unconscious in his last fight to a light heavyweight fighting on short notice, this looks to be a favorable match up set up for Fedor. Although Silva posses size, good striking and a good ground game, I expect Fedor's knock out power and skill fighting off of his back to match up well and earn him a knockout in the second or third round.
Andrei Arlovski vs Sergei Kharitonov
Can you say first round knock out? This fight has fireworks written all over it. Both men posses great boxing, hand speed and knockout power. This fight will come down to the chin. Although both have been finished by KO/TKO, Arlovski has suffered the more devastating knockouts recently and specifically by punches to the chin. Kharitonov has been finished with Knees and leg kicks in the past but only once due to punches to the head and that was in a K-1 kickboxing match. Arlovski though is known to through knees and is also well rounded enough to look to take the fight to the ground and threaten with submissions. This could be a quick fight or a tough battle but I'll go with Kharitonov by KO in the first.
Alistair Overeem vs Fabricio Werdum
If you’re going to have an opening round rematch this is a great one to start with. Both fighters have developed immensely since Werdum submitted Overeem in Pride. With Overeem now fully settled into his heavyweight build and even further developed his striking, I see this fight as a perfect chance for redemption for Overeem. Werdum’s striking has not developed as much as it needs too and Overeem’s takedown defense should keep him out of any submissions. Overeem by KO in the first.
Josh Barnett vs Brett Rogers
A tough fight for Rogers, a tune up fight for Barnett. This is the most lopsided match up I think one could make in the first round without revisiting the Emelianko fight. Barnett has good enough striking backed up by a serious wrestling and submission game that should take him (depending on the match ups of course) to the finals of this tournament. Barnett by submission in the first round.
Second Round Matchups
Winner of Emelianenko vs Silva against winner of Overeem vs Werdum
Winner of Barnett vs Rogers against winner of Arlovski vs Kharitonov
It definitely seems that stylistically Barnett has the easiest road to the finals. Overeem and Fedor while favorites to win their first round match ups will face a tough semifinal match against each other.
Check back with CTMMANews.com as we’ll continue the breakdowns throughout the tournament.