Friday, June 17, 2011

Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Preview

We had to wait four months for the second tier of quarterfinal round match-ups in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament, but if the fights live up to hype, it will be worth the wait. However, the key word in all of this is ‘if’, because there are numerous questions regarding the four fighters being featured on Saturday night. Nonetheless, the anticipation surrounding these two fights is as big as when the tournament first started in February.

The co-main event features not only a contrast of styles, but of fighters as well. On one end you have a highly experienced former UFC champion in Josh ‘The Baby-Faced Assassin’ Barnett (29-5, 7 KO’s 17 subs), while his opponent Brett ‘The Grim’ Rogers (11-2, 9 KO’s 1 sub) is still an inexperienced green knockout artist. On paper, this should be a no contest, but that’s why fights are played out in the cage and not on paper; in the cage, anything can happen.

The key here is for Barnett to avoid Rogers’s big punches while he goes for a clinch and an eventual takedown. On the ground Barnett has a decisive advantage as can be witnessed by his 17 submission wins along with a vicious ground and pound attack. If Rogers can avoid being taken down and keep the fight standing, then he has more than a puncher’s chance. That is assuming his conditioning is up to par, which he claims it is.

That is one of two big questions surrounding Rogers, the other being, how much has he worked on his ground game? As for Barnett, the big question that always follows him now is regarding performance-enhancing drugs. A two-time loser in that department, only time will tell if he’s “cleaned” up his act. The other question for Barnett is regarding his age? He’s only 33, but he’s been fighting since 1997, so he’s an old 33 and hasn’t fought since July. How much will that impact him? I say not enough to lose, so I’m picking Barnett via submission in the second round.

In the main event, it is only the second fight in Strikeforce for Alistair ‘Demolition Man’ Overeem (34-11, 14 KO’s 19 subs), since he won the Strikeforce heavyweight title back in November, 2007. That is not to say he hasn’t been busy though. Since then he’s had nine fights going (8-0) with one no-contest. The only fight for Strikeforce in there was his only defense to date against Rogers where he obliterated the challenger in three plus minutes last year. He’s clearly at the top of his game right now, also winning the K-1 Heavyweight Title back on New Year’s Eve.

His opponent Fabricio ‘Vai Cavalo’ Werdum (14-4-1, 4 KO’s, 8 subs) comes in to this bout with a lot of mystique and confidence behind him. It was almost a year ago to the day that Werdum stole that very mystique, which surrounded the great Fedor Emelianenko, when he tapped the ‘Last Emperor’ in just over a minute. Besides the confidence from that win, he also holds the distinction of a win over Overeem, five years ago when they fought in the Pride Fighting Championships over in Japan.

However, in the five years since that loss, Werdum has suffered some critical losses along the way, while Overeem (pictured above) has clearly refined his game and become a top five heavyweight in the world. Two simple questions here are, can Werdum avoid Overeem’s striking onslaught and can Overeem avoid being taken down by the jiu-jitsu wizard? I say Overeem is much better all-around than he was five years ago, thus he will avoid the takedown and destroy his worthy opponent; possibly finishing him in the first round. Don’t blink, these two can end that fast.

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