Sergei Kharitonov, like many of the names featured on the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix bracket, is a fighter whose major triumphs in the sport were a memory of the past. A knockout victory over Alistair Overeem at a K-1 HERO's event in September of 2007, a narrow split decision victory over Fabricio Werdum at PRIDE 30, and a bevy of brutal knockouts over lesser opponents has defined Kharitonov's career up to this point. But last night's knockout victory over Andrei Arlovski may be exactly what he needs to resurrect his career and prove that he still has what it takes to compete at the highest level.
Many fans believed Kharitonov was the perfect dark horse in this tournament. A sizable heavyweight veteran with proven boxing skills and the power to end a fight at any moment. The jury has been out to lunch for a very long time however. After a year off from competition following his win over Alistair Overeem, there was some question whether Kharitonov could ever be an elite heavyweight fighter. A victory over Jimmy Ambriz didn't raise his stock, but the quick submission loss to former UFC fighter Jeff Monson at DREAM.8 was the straw that broke the camel's back for some fans.
Kharitonov's appearances under the K-1 banner didn't help his case either. Daniel Ghita kicked Kharitonov's leg so frequently that it looked as if the Russian boxer had developed gangrene in the K-1 World Grand Prix Final in 2009. Singh Jaideep, in the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix Final, hit Kharitonov so hard that fans jokingly stated that he did the "stanky leg".
Those defeats are now behind him. Fueled by the momentum of the brutal knockout of Tatsuya Mizuno at Dynamite!! 2010 on New Year's Eve, Kharitonov confidently put up the dukes and struck with former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski on Saturday night, and in one blow to the chin -- Arlovski's career possibly ended.
The question now becomes whether Strikeforce and Scott Coker can capitalize on Kharitonov's success. Hardcore fans may recognize him from his days in PRIDE, but is there a possibility that Strikeforce can capitalize on Kharitonov's victory despite the short timeline to promote him? Furthermore, Kharitonov falls under into the class of "mysterious Russians", a term that many analysts have used to describe the obstacle of making Fedor a drawing power in the United States. His success was a huge part of the small drawing power he had, but Kharitonov doesn't have that type of track record.
I suppose a better question is how much stock did Arlovski have left before last night's loss. Did fans tune in to watch Arlovski try to create a comeback story, only to be drawn in by the fists of Kharitonov? Unlikely, but it will be up to Strikeforce to try to sell Kharitonov as a legitimate threat in this tournament. Barnett is the obvious favorite on his side of the bracket. The unpredictability of the heavyweight division, however, makes Kharitonov's inclusion in the next round very interesting.