The 'Original Eight' that made up the Strikeforce Grand Prix didn't survive to the present day.
I heard a quote once about entertainment that went something like this: "If you give them a great start and a great finish, they'll forgive a lot of what happened in the middle."
That seems apropos with this Saturday's Strikeforce Grand Prix heavyweight final with Josh Barnett vs. Daniel Cormier -- not exactly the match many would have expected when this kicked off 15 months ago, considering Cormier wasn't initially in the tournament to begin with.
Last week, I saw the picture above of the initial Grand Prix lineup and was amazed at how different things are today. Zuffa now owns Strikeforce. We never did get Fedor vs. Alistair Overeem. Five of the original eight fighters are no longer in Zuffa, while two others are now in the UFC.
15 months later, the Grand Prix comes to a close without a focus on what impact the winner will have in Strikeforce but rather about what impact they will make in the UFC. Saturday, both men will be charged with giving everyone a great finish and helping fans forget what has been a mainly hellacious road to get there.
We'll detail the whole tournament after the jump...
The tourney opened up in East Rutherford, NJ, with Emelianenko vs. Antonio Silva and Andrei Arlovski vs. Sergei Kharitonov. The tourney brackets were designed to get Emelianenko vs. Overeem in the semifinals instead of tempting fate and having them meet in the finals. What's that saying about best laid plans?
The dream fight evaporated at the hands of Silva, who destroyed Emelianenko in a second round TKO win that shocked everyone. It was his second straight defeat and the tourney's most well-known fighter was suddenly out. Silva got a little bit of respect for the win, but the focus was mainly on the Russian's loss.
To no one's surprise, Kharitonov knocked out Arlovski in the first round, the latter's fourth straight loss and last Strikeforce appearance. The event did great numbers for Showtime, averaging nearly 750,000 viewers with a 1.1 million peak for the Fedor fight.
Based on the success, CEO Scott Coker said he was going to delay the next two quarterfinal fights two months to June in order to capitalize on the buzz. That buzz would die off pretty quickly.
Zuffa announces the purchase of Strikeforce. The organization would continue to run "business as usual" and the Grand Prix would keep on keepin' on.
A lot was made of how then-Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Overeem was entering the tourney but not defending his title along the way. He certainly didn't have much of a championship performance in slogging through a unanimous decision win over Fabricio Werdum, a rather bland main event in Dallas, Texas. Josh Barnett did his part in defeating an overmatched Brett Rogers by second round submission.
For three of the four fighters, it would be their final fight in Strikeforce. Werdum would eventually move to the UFC as a free agent, Rogers was fired two weeks later for a slew of legal and personal issues and Overeem was released in July after an attempt to renegotiate his deal -- amidst claiming he was recovering from an injury -- went down a bad path.
Viewership dipped, but not by a large margin at 624,000 viewers.
After Overeem's release, tournament alternate Cormier was given his slot and a date with Silva, while Barnett drew Kharitonov. Both fights were set for September in Cincinatti, OH. Cormier earned the nod with a one-sided decision win over Jeff Monson, running his undefeated record to 8-0.
In an upset, Cormier violently knocked out Silva in the first round, while Barnett handily defeated Kharitonov by first round submission to advance to a wrestler-friendly finals. However, Cormier broke his hand smashing Silva's face and along with the up-and-down relationship Zuffa shares with Showtime, there would be an eight month gap from the semifinals to the finals.
Unfortunately, the show drew just 274,000 viewers which was nearly the worst in the Strikeforce/Showtime partnership. Along with a paltry 2000 in attendance, the Grand Prix was losing steam without names that casual MMA fans knew.
At last word, Kharitonov hadn't officially been released but he is preparing for a United Glory MMA bout after competing in a kickboxing fight for the same promotion, so take that for what you will.
That brings us to Saturday night in San Jose, CA. Given the once-again unstable Zuffa/Showtime relationship, the original plan to have the Grand Prix winner fight once more in Strikeforce could be moot. Win or lose, the undefeated Cormier will get his shot in the UFC and likely Barnett will as well, given the amount of shows and his repaired relationship with Dana White.
With a beginning no one expected and a middle many have forgot, here's hoping the finish will at least be memorable.