After a long year, the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix is finally done. And it's the tournament's Cinderella Story Daniel Cormier who stands tall at the end, claiming a unanimous decision victory over Josh Barnett. The card on the whole was a good example of what Strikeforce does best - a pair of fun fights with fast finishes, a 25 minute classic Lightweight fight, and a breakout performance that announces the arrival of a legitimate superstar. There's no doubt Strikeforce has lost some of its shine in the last year, but this show proved that it still can deliver the goods.
On to the winners and losers to see who made the most of the night, and who stumbled.
Daniel Cormier: What else is there to say? Clearly, a lot of people, myself included, underrated Cormier. Even after his KO of Antonio Silva, he seemed a bit over his head here. How wrong we were. Cormier turned in an absolutely incredible performance, outworking Barnett on his feet and on the mat with a non-stop pace for the full 25 minutes. Barnett is one of the all time great Heavyweights, and Cormier just took him apart. He showed he's not only ready for the big leagues, he's ready for the highest level of the big leagues. Get him inside the Octagon ASAP.
Josh Thomson: After losing all of 2011 due to injuries, Thomson was the definite underdog heading into this rubber match. It almost seemed pointless to actually complete the trilogy, simply because Melendez looked to have moved clearly past his rival. But Thomson pulled off an incredible showing, winning 2 of 5 rounds definitively and coming so close to taking the upset win. It didn't happen, but still, this was his best performance since the last time they fought. In the relatively thin Strikeforce ranks, this probably earned him another title shot and a 4th fight with Melendez.
Rafael Feijao: Great performance from Feijao here who just poured the pressure on Kyle and took him out. Feijao used a knee to take the title from King Mo in 2010, and used the same one again here at the beginning of his fight-ending rally. After getting bombed by Dan Henderson, he's now won back to back fights via nice stoppage. At a time when you know the UFC is watching, those kind of fast-paced fights with exciting finishes are very important. I'm not sure Feijao has what it takes to contend in the UFC division, but he deserves a shot. Though he seems stuck in Strikeforce for now.
Tyron Woodley: No, he didn't fight on the card, but it was officially announced that he will face Nate Marquardt for the vacant Strikeforce Welterweight title on July 14. Woodley is undefeated, but his last fight drew great derision from fans who find Woodley tremendously boring. He's an example of the idea that you need to do more than just win if you want to move up the ladder. Drawing Marquardt is a great plus for him - there will be a lot more attention on that fight just because of Nate, and if Woodley can win impressively, it can help him erase that bad taste.
Losers after the jump.
Josh Barnett: Given his contentious history with Zuffa and Dana White, Barnett needed the win here badly. While Cormier was likely to move quickly into the higher UFC ranks regardless of the outcome in the Grand Prix, Barnett was in a position where he had to prove to Zuffa that they needed to bring him back. And he didn't prove that at all, getting totally dismantled over the course of a grueling 25 minutes. Barnett had a few bright moments, but not nearly enough. The question now - was his tournament performance enough to earn him a spot back in the UFC? I fear the answer may be no.
Gilbert Melendez: Yes he won, and yes, I put Thomson in the winners category, but as Frank Shamrock said in the fight, the pressure was all on Melendez here. Strikeforce is really trying to push the idea that Melendez is the #1 Lightweight in the world, and while that makes sense from a promotional standpoint, it also creates a huge level of expectation on Melendez's shoulders. He's at the point now where just winning isn't enough - he has to win big. That didn't happen last time against Masvidal, and it didn't happen here. So despite his seven fight win streak, Melendez ends up looking like a bit of a let down.
JZ Cavalcante: This was a close fight, and some may argue with the decision, but at the end of the day, JZ came out on the losing end. Again. At one time, JZ was considered by many to be the #1 Lightweight fighter on the planet, period. But a combination of injuries and the decline of Japanese MMA slowed his progress down. Since 2007, JZ has only won 2 out of 8 fights. Both of those were close split decisions, and it's not like he's only facing top level talent. I'll always be a fan of JZ for what he accomplished in Hero's, but it's hard to figure where he fits in to the MMA scene at this point.