If I had to pick one word to describe the action of the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix thus far, that one seems about right.
A little more than four months after the much ballyhooed, much maligned GP began, its second installment finally goes down on Saturday in Dallas when – Lord willing and the creek don’t rise – we’ll actually see the completion of the first round. For those of you scoring at home, that means we’ll be about halfway done. Yeah, we’re really going to have to hustle if we want to get the rest of this thing in before the end of the Mayan calendar.
The good news is, at least on paper this weekend’s card looks pretty great, at least by Strikeforce standards. By virtue of the company’s weirdo bracket, tourney favorites Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum – obviously Strikeforce’s two best heavyweights after the fall of Fedor Emelianenko – meet in a rematch of their Pride clash back in 2006. Josh Barnett also makes his long awaited return to mainstream American MMA when he takes on Brett Rogers to close out the round of eight.
Things will be obviously be much different between Overeem and Werdum this Saturday than when “Vai Cavalo” claimed a second-round submission win in the opening round of Pride’s ’06 open weight tournament. For one thing, Overeem is now the SF heavyweight champion and has taken on the muscle mass of an entire second person. Werdum has also blown up, rising as far as No. 2 on some analysts’ Top 10 lists after tapping Emelianenko last April.
In other words, both guys have a lot to lose here. Overeem is still trying to prove he’s worthy of Top 5 status, with critics contending he’s fought mostly cans in MMA over the last few years. Werdum needs to establish that his career-defining win over Emelianenko wasn’t a fluke, or simply the first sign “The Last Emperor” had hit the skids. Barring an unlikely scenario where both emerge from this bout looking better than before, only one guy can solidify his reputation.
For Barnett, salvaging his reputation is a ship that largely sailed years ago. Multiple positive steroid tests and an ongoing administrative battle in California continue to dog him and may have been the deciding factor in Strikeforce choosing to stage this event under the auspices of the notoriously accommodating Texas Athletic Commission. Still, Barnett got the green light to compete at this show and if he can make a run deep into the tournament, it could do wonders for how hardcore MMA fans view him.
First he’ll have to get by Rogers and – much like Overeem and Werdum – prove he’s not just living on hype and the accomplishments of the past. It’s been a long time since Barnett defeated anyone of any substance in MMA, so this fight shapes up as something of a litmus test for his future. When Zuffa, LLC. bought Strikeforce a few months ago it suddenly injected some life into his flagging MMA career. Still, it’s easy to assume his longtime foes in the front office might just be looking for a reason to throw him out on his ear again, so beating “The Grimm” seems pretty important to his long term prospects.
Given that the sort of middling semifinal between Antonio Silva and Sergei Kharitonov is already set on the opposite side of the bracket, Saturday night’s two winners have to be considered the odds-on favorites to take the whole ball of wax. The four semifinalists will square off at an event to be announced later.
Much later, if recent history is any indication.