With the start of the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament only a few days away, each involved fighter has their eyes set on winning the tournament championship. The harsh reality of a tournament is that, barring injury, seven men will leave with a loss. So now is the time to determine what should be considered a "successful" tournament for each man. We'll start with a look at the first four men who will compete Saturday night and will do the other four before the planned Japanese event.
Andrei Arlovski - At the start of 2009 it would only be considered success if Arlovski won the whole damn thing. Three straight losses have forced us to lower our expectations. Andrei has been given the easiest possible path to the finals, not to say that any path to the finals is truly "easy" but he is avoiding the thunderous hands of Rogers that have already finished him once and Josh Barnett's well rounded skills in the first round as well as being on the "easier" side of the bracket.
A loss to Sergei Kharitonov in the first round would spell the end of any realistic chances of Arlovski returning to the top end of the division. Arlovski desperately needs a first round win and honestly, if he wants to be a contender again he needs to get to the finals. There's one more thing that Andrei needs, and that is to stay conscious. Six knockouts in a career is a lot. From a vulnerability standpoint (not to mention his long-term health) he can not afford to get slept again. So let's define success for Arlovski as a trip to the finals and not getting knocked out. He may only be 32 but it's an old looking 32 and he needs to prove that he has the reflexes to hide his chin and beat the mid-range Strikeforce heavies.
Antonio Silva - Silva is paired up with Fedor Emelianenko and that presents him with a nice situation where he can be viewed as having a successful tournament with a single victory. Should Silva beat Fedor it is a big enough win as to be able to suffer a second round loss to either Fabricio Werdum or Alistair Overeem. Of course, Silva will enter the cage as a +300 to +350 underdog and most are expecting him to lose. The first round of his last fight, a brutal second round TKO of Mike Kyle, showed some vulnerabilities as Kyle dropped him with a shot early in the fight.
A loss to Fedor would secure Silva as a second-tier heavyweight in Strikeforce, having already been beaten by Werdum. A win and he is able to hang out as a potential future title challenger, even with a second round loss.
Fedor Emelianenko - Even though the loss to Werdum really was more of a tactical error than anything else, it destroyed the feeling that Fedor is unstoppable. He'd been in danger in the past, it was part of his mystique. But he had never not been able to find his way out of that trouble. There is only path from the mortal Emelianenko Fedor back to the mythical FEDOR and that is running the table in the tournament.
He may be a heavy favorite against Silva, but Bigfoot is still a legitimate threat and the second round will only get tougher. In fact, no one needs the tournament win more. Overeem will still have the Strikeforce title when it's all over, Werdum will be able to ride the victory in the first fight for the rest of his career, but Fedor needs three wins in a row to be seen as the true elite fighter that he had been for so long.
Sergei Kharitonov - Sergei is a virtual unknown in the States. His time in PRIDE has him well-known by the hardcores but 2007 was a long time ago. His stock can't really "drop" in the eyes of most that will be tuning in Saturday night, but it can shoot up considerably with a win over a former UFC champion. Should Kharitonov beat Andrei he will gain considerably and hopefully Showtime/Strikeforce have the good sense to build up the fact that he is the last man to beat Overeem (a KO in 2007). A trip to the finals would be spectacular, but using his solid power striking to stop Arlovski would be enough to consider his participation in the tournament a success.