Top MMA News Breaks Down Strikeforce: Heavyweight Grand Prix
The Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix will be at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio on Saturday, September 10th. The much discussed heavyweight grand prix semi-finals are set as Josh ‘The Baby Faced Assassin’ Barnett faces off against Sergei Kharitonov and Antonio ‘Big Foot’ Silva goes toe-to-toe against highly touted prospect, Daniel Cormier. Also on the card, Middleweight champion, Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza, will put his title on the line against Luke Rockhold. Five main card bouts will air on Showtime in the U.S. and the Superchannel in Canada. The remaining undercard bouts will be aired on HDNet in the U.S.
Now for the breakdown:
Josh Barnett (30-5) -294 vs. Sergei Kharitonov (18-4) +200
The less surprising side of the Grand Prix bracket continues with Kharitonov and Barnett. Catch wrestling specialist, Josh Barnett, wants to prove his worth to Zuffa by taking down another top Strikeforce Heavyweight and reach the finals. He seems to have recovered well from his fallout with the UFC years back and looked dominant against Brett Rogers. Kharitonov is a much different fighter than Rogers. They both prefer the stand up but Kharitonov has a history in sambo and is very respectable on the ground. His greatest asset, however, is his knockout power, which he likely expects to use against Barnett. To do so, he must prepare his takedown defence. That will not be an easy task considering Barnett constantly makes it clear that he is not entering the cage with the intent of having a boxing match. He is there to grapple with his opponents and he is powerful enough to do as he pleases. This will likely be Barnett’s toughest test since he fought Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira five years ago. I will give Kharitonov far more than just a puncher’s chance in this bout. He has been called the “dark horse” of this tournament many times for a reason. There is no doubt that he will threaten Barnett at times while the fight is standing and could definitely finish the fight; however, it is just far too hard to see him stopping Barnett from overpowering him.
Prediction: Barnett via Kimura Round 3
Antonio Silva (16-2) -189 vs. Daniel Cormier (8-0) +135
This side of the bracket has not had the greatest of luck. It all began with Fedor Emilianenko getting completely overpowered by Big Foot Silva. After that, there was the very disappointing bout between Overeem and Werdum that was far from expectations. Shortly after that fight, Overeem was released from the organization and replaced by Cormier. There is a lot of intrigue in this matchup, but the interest of fans definitely took a hit without either Fedor or Overeem. This fight should be exciting nonetheless. The most interesting thing to follow will be if the fight can get to the ground, and if it does, which fighter got it there? Cormier has arguably the best wrestling credentials in the Heavyweight division. What’s most impressive about Cormier is his steady striking improvement, as he showed against Jeff Monson. He is at a major size disadvantage in this fight (giving up about 40 pounds come fight night), but he has the striking advantage against the massive Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. Big Foot Silva has some of the scariest ground and pound in MMA. Witnessing him pounding out Mike Kyle and Fedor makes a fighter realize their top priority is to not allow him to get them on their backs. Thanks to Cormier’s wrestling, he likely will not have to worry about that. Many people forget about Silva’s lacklustre performances against Fabricio Werdum and Andrei Arlovski to realize his punching power might be greatly overrated. It is tough to see Silva being able to get the fight to the ground and overpowering him. Odds are, the majority of the fight will be on the feet and Cormier holds a strong advantage.
Prediction: Cormier via Unanimous Decision
Middleweight Champion Ronaldo Souza (14-2) -417 vs. Luke Rockhold (7-1) +260
After defending his title for the first time against Robbie Lawler earlier this year, Ronaldo Souza is prepared for his least experienced opponent since he signed with Strikeforce. Jacare has world class Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He carries an extremely impressive grappling resume and is a guy nobody wants to go to the ground with. Nobody knows what to expect from Luke Rockhold, especially since he has been out of action for well over a year. He is undefeated in Strikeforce, compiling 6 wins since signing with the organization and holds notable wins over Paul Bradley and Jesse Taylor. He has never been out of the first round, but he is fighting one of the few fighters that can turn an ugly grind into a submission victory with ease. Rockhold has a lot of potential but this matchmaking completely favours ‘Jacare’. Souza has not really had his chin tested ever since he was knocked out by Gegard Mousasi. Rockhold must look to test Souza’s chin if he wants an opportunity to pull off the miraculous upset, though Souza is definitely the better overall fighter. Expect him to completely outmatch Rockhold as he takes the fight to the ground and works for submissions.
Prediction: Souza via Rear-Naked Choke Round 2
Muhammed Lawal (7-1) -147 vs. Roger Gracie (4-0) +105
King Mo has been out of action for a little over a year after losing his title to Rafael Cavalcante. He struggled to takedown ‘Feijao’ and eventually was knocked out in the second round. He is back against arguably the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner in the history of MMA. Lawal has outstanding wrestling and despite his struggles in his last fight, that should not take away from how strong his credentials really are. Despite his wrestling, he is going up against a Gracie. Roger is not your average Gracie either. He is considered as potentially the most talented Gracie of all time and might be the only that has gained respectable striking. He has long arms and uses jabs to keep his opponents honest. Lawal, now with AKA and training with the likes of Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, is very athletic in his striking. If he wants an opportunity to win this fight, he must keep it standing despite his wrestling. Gracie is not one to grapple with but I can’t see how this fight doesn’t go to the ground. Expect Lawal to look good standing up against Gracie but struggling to really get inside until the fight goes to the ground. That is when fans will witness why the Gracie’s are considered legendary.
Prediction: Gracie via Arm-Triangle Choke Round 2
Pat Healy (25-16) vs. Maximo Blanco (8-2-1)
A few weeks ago, Maximo Blanco was preparing for a fight against the greatly inconsistent Josh Thompson. Now, he is preparing to fight Pat Healy on short notice, which should be an easier fight on paper, but Healy is always a game opponent. Healy is coming off of consecutive victories and has looked much improved since his loss to Josh Thompson. Despite his veteran reputation in the Strikeforce lightweight division, Blanco is a strong prospect that has the wrestling abilities that could take him far in this sport. It also helps that he carries some power behind his punches. Much of this fight will be based on how Healy can grapple with Blanco and how will power play on the feet. This is Blanco’s first fight outside of Japan and he is on the main card of a major event so Zuffa will be watching him closely. A bright young prospect could develop into a contender in the UFC and I think his run in the U.S. begins this fight. He should prove to be far too talented for the experienced Healy.
Prediction: Blanco via TKO Round 2
Jordan Mein (22-7) vs. Evangelista Santos (18-14)
Recognized as one of the top prospects to come out of Canada, Jordan ‘Young Gun’ Mein is ready to make his debut in a major league against an opponent that will bring the fight to the 21year old. Evangelista ‘Cyborg’ Santos is always prepared to brawl whether you like it or not. He has knockout power but what is most impressive about his stand-up game is his disturbing leg kicks. He punished Nick Diaz on the feet before unexpectedly going for a takedown which led to his demise in a fight for the Strikeforce welterweight championship. He is a veteran of the sport and can really be a true test of any prospects ability on the feet. Mein will not allow himself to brawl with the veteran that always comes out swinging. Expect Mein to pick his spots and hope to frustrate the brawler in hopes of catching him with something significant. Santos generally has his toughest moments against fighters that pick their spots, such as Mousasi. Santos must be a bit more patient and utilize his leg kicks, but it is tough to see Mein not coming out with a smart enough game plan to come out on top against the toughest opponent he has had to date.
Prediction: Mein via Unanimous Decision
Alexis Davis (10-4) vs. Amanda Nunes (6-1)
Alexis Davis is coming off of an impressive victory over Julie Kedzie and is looking to make a statement against a very mean Amanda Nunes. Nunes will be the bigger fighter as she has traditionally fought at 145. Stylistically, Davis likely will have very minimal advantages considering the size difference. Davis must find a way to get the fight to the ground and work for submissions, though that is much easier said than done against the Brazilian. It is hard to see Nunes wanting this fight to be anywhere but on the feet and her top level muay thai, similar to the skill set she showcased in her 14 second destruction of Julia Budd. Davis should be slightly more resilient and well prepared but Nunes should be able to finish this fight in impressive fashion.
Prediction: Nunes via TKO Round 1