It was a potential semi-final matchup between Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem that excited everyone when Scott Coker announced the Strikeforce World Heavyweight Grand Prix in January of this year. Fabricio Werdum had stolen the Russian's mythical win streak, sucking out a large portion of the drama an Emelianenko-Overeem clash would have provided, but the Russian was still considered one of the top heavyweights in the world and still carried a legacy with him.
When Antonio Silva hammerfisted Fedor out of the tournament, the focus shifted to Overeem, who had already won K-1's annual Grand Prix tournament in December. Having rebuilt himself as a heavyweight over the past four years, an Overeem win would announce his arrival as an elite heavyweight mixed martial arts fighter. Overeem won a lackluster decision over Fabricio Werdum, whose strategy consisted of flopping at any sign of engagement, to advance to the semis. Due to some combination of injury, contractual issues, and miscommunication, Zuffa, owners of Strikeforce since March, pulled Overeem from the tournament before ultimately landing him in the UFC.
With the two men of principal interest gone, the Strikeforce Grand Prix became an afterthought. Tonight's event even moreso given a wild two weeks of UFC news -- Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos fighting for the UFC heavyweight title on national TV, Overeem debuting for the promotion in December against former champ Brock Lesnar, and the wild adventure of Nick Diaz's status for UFC 137.
Yet, the final matchup we've reached is as compelling and interesting as any other fight permutation in the tournament outside of the coveted Emelianenko-Overeem affair. Josh Barnett, the prohibitive favorite on his side of the bracket, will fight Daniel Cormier, team captain of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team and a man just shy of entering his third year in the sport. Barnett's journey is a tale of redemption, of re-affirming his place as an elite heavyweight under the shadow of failed drug tests.
Cormier's is one of ascension. At 32 years old and in the most shallow division in the sport, he cannot afford to build his career slowly as, say, a young fighter like Rory MacDonald is afforded. He was thrown into the deep end in this, his ninth, fight. It only gets toughter with Barnett, a man with 36 fights and over a decade of experience in the sport.
- One of the most impressive things about Josh Barnett is the strength and control he possesses in his hips. It's one of the attributes that made Fedor Emelianenko such an effective grappler, and it's a skill not widely seen at the heavyweight level. Barnett put that part of his game to great use tonight when he threw Sergei Kharitonov to the floor and immediately transitioned into the mount, a mount he maintained for most of the round until Kharitonov gave up his back.
- The arm triangle finish was also impressive given Barnett's quickness in recognizing the situation. Kharitonov, back in mount, tried to roll away from Barnett, giving up his arm in the process. Barnett seized it right away, trapping and pinning the arm up against the neck. The tap came shortly thereafter.
- I missed the first 90 seconds of Daniel Cormier's victory over Antonio Silva. What I saw, however, was a man who befuddled Silva with speed, both in movement and in hands. Every shot visibly bothered the giant, and the fight-ending, hook-uppercut combination was a thing of beauty. His skill set -- legit Olympic-level wrestling, size, speed, boxing -- makes him a very tough opponent for anyone in the heavyweight division.
- I scored tonight's middleweight title bout between Ronaldo Souza and Luke Rockhold 48-47 for "Jacare," giving him the first, second, and fourth rounds. I felt like rounds one, three, and five (the latter two for Rockhold) were decisive, while rounds two and four could be argued for either side. FightMetric saw the fight the same way, scoring a very close fourth round to Rockhold, and awarding him the bout 48-47.
- I would not be surprised if this was the last time Roger Gracie fought MMA. Gracie had a relatively easy time in his previous four bouts, but he looked content to maintain distance from Muhammed Lawal, making zero attempt to put the fight on the floor. When the two finally entered clinch range, they clashed heads before "King Mo" landed a right hand near the temple that shut Gracie off.
- Pat Healy weathered an early storm from Maximo Blanco then wore him down before finishing Blanco with a sneaky rear naked choke from sort sort of crucifix position. Healy looked a full weight class bigger than Blanco.
- Undercard results: Mike Kyle defeated Marcos Rogerio de Lima by decision...Rafael Cavalcante knocked out Yoel Romero at 4:51 of round 2...Jordan Mein finished Evangelista Santos with elbows at 3:18 of round 3...Alexis Davis stopped Amanda Nunes with punches at 4:53 of round 2...Dominique Steele won a unanimous decision over Chris Mierzwiak in the opener.