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Analyzing and Handicapping the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Tournament

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Strikeforce just can't seem to do anything right. After announcing their plans for a heavyweight grand prix tournament, spoiled fans and UFC-loyal pundits have taken their turn whacking the 265-pound pinata. But why?

Scott Coker and his corporate masters over at Showtime deserved a lot of the flack that was sent their way in 2010. They brought Dan Henderson in - and he wasn't cheap - with the not-so-veiled task of snubbing out middleweight champion Jake Shields, who had a contract about to run dry and had the not-so-veiled plan to jump to the UFC. After having his skull make an intimate introduction with the canvas, Shields outworked and outgrappled Henderson in rounds two through four, then headed south on Interstate 5 where he took exit 257 toward Bakersfield on his way to the ultimate desert mirage, Las Vegas.

Then there's the whole mess with their heavyweights. The MMA world suffered a collective set of blue balls when the UFC and Fedor's management team, M-1 Global, were unable to reach an agreement in the summer of 2009 following the collapse of Affliction's financially reckless promotional efforts. When Strikeforce swindled the Russian away, fans latched on to the silver-lining that Emelianenko would eventually fight rising star Alistair Overeem.

The Strikeforce/Showtime/M-1 Global triumverate thought otherwise. In an attempt to introduce him to a prime time American audience, Fedor was fed Brett Rogers, a man whose trials as a tire mechanic up until the Emelianenko fight never escaped the lips of the carnival barkers who built him up, nor the snarky scribbles of frustrated forum-goers online. Emelianenko launched Rogers' decapitated head into a crowd of unsuspecting women in the third row.

Handicapping the tournament after the jump.

With the pleasantries out of the way, one would think Emelianekno would go on to fight Overeem for the title. Nope. Instead, Overeem would defend his title against Brett Rogers. The same Brett Rogers just discussed in the last paragraph. Emelianenko was pitted against Fabricio Werdum. A one trick pony, Werdum complements his legitimate world-class jiu-jitsu with a passable striking arsenal. Most fans remembered Emelianenko bouncing Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's head on the mat like a basketball and figured we'd see a similar result half a decade later.

And for about 20 seconds, that's what it looked like would happen. Emelianenko launched his usual attack of brilliant, looping punches, and knocked Werdum to the mat. Or at least we thought so - later replays suggest that Werdum simply lost his balance and fell down. And then, well, Emelianenko stumbled into a triangle choke. Just over a minute into the fight and the vaunted Fedor mystique pulled an Amelia Earhart.

This heavyweight tournament is an attempt to take all the bad fragments of Strikeforce's 2010, put them in a shoebox, and stuff them away in the back of some closet only to be discovered fifteen years later where we can all look back and laugh. Sure, there's a good chance this tournament suffers the same mangled fate that derailed Showtime's Super Six round robin. But the Super Six was a fantastic idea too, if overwhelmed by its ambitiousness.

The tournament bracket looks a little funny at first glance. Most of that is the fact that Scott Coker commissioned one of his interns to design the image in Paint (or the equivalent Mac program). The match making is logical when you step outside the bounds of accepted Tournament Theory, however. By forgoing the risky endeavor of building up to an epic final, Strikeforce and Showtime have maximized their chances of pitting Emelianenko with Overeem. That's the fight fans still want to see. And if this is the condition that we have to deal with in order to get M-1 Global on board with the fight, then so be it.

I've done some very careful arithmetic and come up with the following lines:

Fedor Emelianenko +250 - Still the most talented fighter in this tournament. He's in the "Group of Death," but I have him penciled in as a significant favorite over everyone in the tournament not named "Overeem." Emelianenko does have a few intangibles that could come into play against him here: his paper-thin facial tissue, brittle, old-man hands, and a management company that never passes on the chance to utilize negotiating leverage.

Alistair Overeem +250 - Winning the K-1 World Grand Prix and following that with the Strikeforce's MMA version would be one of the most impressive accomplishments in combat sports. Like Fedor, I have Overeem as an ample favorite over the other six tournament entrants, including his opening round opponent, Fabricio Werdum, who defeated Overeem before his horsemeat days.

Josh Barnett +550 - Strikeforce is doing all sorts of favors for Barnett. If gracing him with the easiest path to the finals wasn't enough, it sounds like Scott Coker is all but admitting that they will be tailoring their shows to fit around Barnett's licensing issues. Good deal for him. Bad deal for him? I have a hard time seeing him beating either of the tournament favorites.

Fabricio Werdum +1200 - Who's the only fighter with wins over each of the other fighters in his bracket? It's Fabricio Werdum. Why else would I ask that question in his blurb? I still think he's a big dog to both Overeem and Fedor coming into this tournament though. Werdum can make it an interesting fight if he finds a way to land on top of Overeem, but wading through a bombardment from all eight points of Overeem's limbs does not sound like a fruitful effort.

Andrei Arlovski +1200 - Put the Fedor and Rogers fights aside. It's Arlovski's drubbing at the hands of Antonio Silva that has me bearish on the Belarusian's chances. Arlovski's been given a fortunate draw if he's done being a head case, but it's more likely we see the tentative fighter that's doing everything to prevent his opponent from landing one on his chin.

Antonio Silva +2000 - Antonio Silva is a monster. But he's a monster that can be broken if you lean enough pressure on him. The Werdum loss should still be fresh in your head, and a glance at Wikipedia will remind you of his loss to Eric Pele in Bodog. But maybe you've forgotten his disastrous win over Ricco Rodriguez (the fat version) in EliteXC? And that's not to mention the near-disaster he went through last month against late replacement and light heavyweight Mike Kyle. It doesn't help that he has the toughest draw in the tournament.

Sergei Kharitonov +2000 - Kharitonov has fought four times since Pride collapsed in 2007. He beat the 235-pound version of Alistair Overeem, waited a year to submit Jimmy "the Body" Ambriz, was submitted by Jeff Monson (guess the submission) seven months later, and then disappeared for 19 months before returning to knockout Tatsuya Mizuno at Dynamite!! He's been given a winnable fight if Arlovski is in head case mode, but his sporadic career doesn't bode well for dealing with the rest of his likely opposition.

Brett Rogers/the field +2000 - The Seattle Seahawks have a better shot of running the table and winning the Super Bowl this year. The Cinderella run was fun, but knocking out Andrei Arlovski does not a contender make.

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