In the main event of the evening on Saturday night at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio, former UFC champion Josh Barnett (30-5) will attempt to put himself in a position to win the Strikeforce World Grand Prix as he battles heavy-handed Russian striker Sergei Kharitonov (18-4). Barnett submitted Brett Rogers back in June in the quarterfinal round to advance. It was his seventh straight win since dropping an unanimous decision to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at PRIDE Shockwave 2006 on New Year's Eve of the same year.
His lengthy streak hasn't come without low points however. He tested positive for anabolic steroids ten days before a showdown with Fedor Emelianenko under the Affliction banner in 2009. The California State Athletic Commission denied his license renewal application, and the event was scrapped. The promotion folded up shop shortly thereafter.
Barnett's unique pro wrestling persona and animalistic thoughts when it comes to stepping into the cage still draw a crowd however. While he's far from a known commodity among casual fans, he's an opponent who can walk the walk and talk the talk with the best of them. It's one of the main reasons he's favored to win the tournament.
Kharitonov can also walk the walk, although talking the talk requires a fluent understanding of the Russian language. His ominous demeanor and heavy hands fit into what many of us believe a Russian fighter should look like. Big, powerful, and mean. A real life characterization of Ivan Drago. He proved that belief in February when he destroyed former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski in two minutes and forty-nine seconds of the opening round.
Barnett will hope to avoid that fate on Saturday night. As you would expect, Barnett's key to victory is to bring Kharitonov down to the ground where he's uncomfortable. Kharitonov doesn't have a history of being an easy-to-submit opponent, but standing with him on the feet is suicide for a striker of Barnett's caliber. Kharitonov clearly has the edge in that department.
On the ground however, Barnett reigns supreme. In thirty career wins, Barnett has submitted eighteen of his opponents, including three out of his last four. He's an intelligent grappler who understands how to control opponents from the top to set up submissions. He's also very good at finding ways to bring fights to the ground, and his chin can withstand heavy punishment. If I were Barnett though, I wouldn't risk it.
Kharitonov has a good chance at playing spoiler in this match-up. If he can avoid Barnett's takedown attempts early, there is a chance he lands a brutal combination or a knee in the clinch that destroys Barnett's will to continue. But Barnett is no ordinary fighter. He truly lives to fight and feeds off adversity. Barnett finds a way to bring Kharitonov down, then submits him inside the fifteen minute limit.