In the first of two heavyweight quarterfinal Grand Prix match-ups on the Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum main card, former UFC champion and PRIDE staple Josh Barnett (29-5) will square off against Strikeforce veteran Brett Rogers (11-2) on Saturday night at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Barnett hasn't fought in the United States since the infamous positive steroid test in the lead-up to his highly-anticipated showdown with Fedor Emelianenko at Affliction: Trilogy in August of 2009. The positive drug test caused the entire event to be scrapped and assisted in sinking Affliction's mixed martial arts promotion business. Affliction returned to the UFC as a sponsor for many of the fighters gracing the roster immediately.
Barnett's eventual return to the Zuffa umbrella didn't follow the same timeline. The California State Athletic Commission denied his re-license due to the positive test, thus creating a problem when Barnett would need to apply once again to fight in the state. Most athletic commissions in the United States follow other commissions' decisions pertaining to such matters, but the Texas State Athletic Commission approved Barnett for his showdown with Rogers this weekend.
Fortunately for Barnett, he wasn't blacklisted from fighting outside of the United States during the in-between time, defeating K-1 kickboxer Mighty Mo at DREAM 13 in March of last year in Japan and stopping Geronimo dos Santos by strikes in July in Australia.
Unlike Barnett, Rogers is much less experienced. His success as a knockout artist with an unblemished record quickly thrust him into the spotlight of Strikeforce's lacking heavyweight division, squaring off with former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski only two months after his debut under the Strikeforce banner. Shockingly, he crushed Arlovski in only 0:22 seconds.
Five months later, Strikeforce promoted Rogers as the man who rose from a tire shop at a Minnesota Sam's Club to fame against the impenetrable, stoic Russian immortal Fedor Emelianenko. A Rocky storyline. Unfortunately in this story, the Russian won, dropping Rogers in the second round with a heroic strike after being swarmed by the heavier Rogers in the first round for a short period of time.
Six months later, Strikeforce fed Rogers to returning Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem, or as most fans are now calling him since his move to heavyweight -- "Ubereem". Overeem dispatched of Rogers emphatically inside the first round.
At 1-2 in his last three performances, Rogers will be looking to make another statement, reminiscent of his knockout win over Andrei Arlovski. Barnett's experience and grappling acumen are the major concerns for Rogers hindering that dream from coming true. In fact, they are areas of Rogers' game that haven't been meticulously combed over by analysts because we haven't seen a lot of what Rogers can offer on the ground. He does have some limited submission ability and the size to control opponents. Unfortunately, Barnett is a student of the grappling art, knowledgeable enough to live off technique to survive.
Barnett has proven over time that he has the chin to withstand the power of stronger heavyweights. He also possesses a real grit to his style of fighting, grinding his way to positions on the ground and working for submissions. He's a warrior despite what many fans may think of him due to his out-of-the-ring issues.
The only concerns for Barnett revolve around his long layoff and Rogers' power. Ring rust could play a role, and as apparent with older fighters in more recent heavyweight bouts -- age will eventually hurt Barnett's ability to perform at such a high level. Will that time come Saturday night? At 33 years of age, I believe Barnett has a couple of years in him before we see his skills diminish. If he can avoid Rogers' power early and consistently get the fight to the ground, Barnett should cruise to a decision or eventually catch Rogers in a lock. He should advance to the semifinal round of the Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix on Saturday night.