While the name of the game is mixed martial arts, when the name of your promotion is Strikeforce you anticipate some action in the form of, well striking. Although strikes, (punches, kicks, knees etc.), were not null and void last night in Strikeforce's Heavyweight Grand Prix, they didn't come in abundance either; especially not to the satisfaction of the Dallas, Texas crowd, which I'll address in a minute.
Nonetheless, the second round of quarterfinal match-ups have finally taken place, albeit four months later, and as expected Alistair Overeem and Josh Barnett (pictured @ left) handled their business. However, it is the way they handled it that is being scrutinized, though I'm not exactly sure why? When you have two match-ups that feature a striker vs. grappler, the outcomes are to be expected.
In the main event, Overeem (35-11, 14 KO's 19 subs), the reigning Strikeforce heavyweight champion, tried to do his part and finish his opponent Fabricio Werdum (14-5-1, 4 KO's 8 subs), but it wasn't enough to please the crowd. While he came away with a unanimous decision, I guess the expectations of a champion with such a high pedigree of kickboxing were just too much to overcome. Werdum, realizing he could not stand toe to toe with the champ, continuously tried in vain to lure the champion into a clinch and ground game. However, Overeem, already with a loss to Werdum five years earlier via submission, would have none of it.
The crowd was not pleased at all with Werdum's constant flopping and attempts to lure Overeem to the ground, but what did they expect? Werdum was just playing to his strength, especially realizing early on he could not stand and trade with the bigger and stronger champion. Up next for Overeem, it doesn't get any easier as he faces a "big" task in 'Bigfoot' Antonio Silva. Though he should be favored, Overeem needs to be a lot sharper in his overall attack if he is going to "beat the man who beat the man" as Silva did when he took out the favorite in the tournament Fedor Emelianenko.
In the co-main event, it was pretty much a case of not how, but when. In my preview, I stated if Barnett (30-5, 7 KO's 18 subs) could avoid the mammoth punches coming from Brett Rogers (11-3, 9 KO's 1 sub), he would inevitably get him down into his world and win via submission in the second round. I hate to say I told you so, but I did. After controlling Rogers for much of the first round once he got him to the ground, he did more of the same and eventually finished him with a tight arm-triangle choke in the second. Rogers did what he could, but his fate was sealed if he couldn't land that big punch, which he didn't.
Once again, the Dallas crowd booed unmercifully while Barnett played to his strength, instead of appreciating a master of submission wrestling at work. The semi-final round is no cakewalk for Barnett as he takes on Russian KO artist Sergei Kharitonov. Kharitonov, who holds both a win and loss against champ Overeem, has a wealth of experience and is my dark horse pick to win this tournament. However, my favorite is Barnett, who I expect to defeat the Russian and whoever he faces in the final. In other words, the winner of this semifinal bracket is my pick to win the whole thing.
Two final comments regarding the tourney and the crowd; first, I hope Strikeforce learns from Bellator and doesn't wait another four months for the next round. If they had rode the momentum of the first round in February and got to this show earlier, I feel it would have been much better for the fighters who had too much time to sit and wait, thus creating some lackluster performances.
Finally, until casual American fans realize these are no longer the days of no holds barred fighting and that it is now a technical sport called mixed martial arts, we will continue to have reactions such as what was experienced last night. Fans here in the states need to understand that unlike boxing, this fight game encompasses a lot of different facets besides punching. Therefore, instead of booing whenever a clinch occurs or a fight goes to the ground, I suggest fans educate themselves, so they can truly appreciate the artistry of a fighter's whole game, instead of feeling cheated somehow.
I think every fan should try at least once to get on the mat one day and roll around, whether it is wrestling, jiu-jitsu, judo etc., so you can truly feel and appreciate what it takes to "fight" on the ground. These fighters are some of the most skilled and best conditioned athletes in the world. For them to step into a cage and be booed is a total disrespect and disgrace in my eyes and should never happen. That is unless you are Kalib Starnes and refuse to engage for three rounds as he did against Nate Quarry at UFC 83; then boo to your hearts content.