When the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix was first announced in what now seems like an eternity ago, one of the questions fans asked was, "Will the winner of this tournament be the #1 heavyweight in the world?" Three events, six fights, one very public contract dispute, and many months later, such a question seems laughable, instead replaced by, "Does this tournament even matter?" With the semi-finals done, and a Josh Barnett vs. Daniel Cormier final set, when I look back at the tournament so far, I am left asking a new question.
Did the Grand Prix kill the entire Strikeforce Heavyweight division?
Since the Zuffa purchase of Strikeforce earlier this year, there has been a lot of excitement over the idea of the two companies' divisions coming together, particularly in the Heavyweight ranks. But now, those exciting dream matches have lost much of their luster, and the Grand Prix is largely to blame.
Antonio Silva, Fabricio Werdum, Andrei Arlovski, Fedor Emelianenko - these were exciting names not long ago that now have suffered potentially career-defining losses. And it's not simply that they lost - it is the nature of a tournament that everyone but the winner will walk away with a loss. Instead, it's how they lost. Of the 6 tournament losers so far, 5 were completely demolished. The only one to put up a fight was Fabricio Werdum, whose flop-heavy performance against Alistair Overeem may permanently harm him.
The Grand Prix has been sadly short on great fights - wars where both men come out looking strong - or big, career-making wins like Ricardo Arona defeating Wanderlei Silva in the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix. So far, none of the losers have made the kind of big moves that will allow them to walk away stronger. What was once considered the finest field of Heavyweights assembled in years now looks like a collection of faded legends and overhyped prospects. Pulling Alistair Overeem out before he befell the same fate is looking like an ingenious move from all parties.
Of course, one man could change all that, and it's a man that wasn't even in this tournament when it started. Daniel Cormier has the potential to emerge from this the big winner. But to do so he'll have to defeat Josh Barnett in the toughest fight of his young career. I'm not convinced he has the all around game to pull it off, but then again, I also didn't think he could defeat Silva. If Cormier loses and Barnett takes the crown, your champion is an older fighter and a long time enemy of Zuffa, winning with 3 victories over names that won't impress your average UFC fan. But if Cormier wins, you have a new talent that could join men like Shane Carwin, Junior dos Santos, and Cain Velasquez in the upper ranks of the division.
That Cormier win is the best case scenario at this point. But even if it does happen, is that one win really worth having sacrificed the entire rest of Strikeforce's best division? Or can the Zuffa hype machine convince fans that the men they've so recently seen knocked out and submitted are still the best of the best?