When it came to the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Semifinals Saturday night in Cincinnati, Ohio, the underlying story had to do with American Kickboxing Academy (AKA), who had a clean sweep in their four fights; three of which were on the main card. Oh yeah, a little guy known as Josh Barnett, former UFC Heavyweight Champion, also won in his tournament semifinal fight setting up a showdown with probably the biggest winner of the night, Daniel Cormier (pictured @ left).
Cormier (9-0, 4 KO's, 3 subs), a former two-time U.S. Olympian in freestyle wrestling and last minute replacement in this tournament, made the most of his opportunity as he knocked out his much more imposing and experienced opponent in the first round. Antonio 'Bigfoot' Silva (16-3, 11 KO's 3 subs) was coming off the biggest win of his career after he thrashed Fedor Emelianenko back in February. Everybody expected the same against the much smaller and inexperienced Cormier who only stands 5'10 1/2", compared to Silva's 6'4" frame. However, someone forgot to tell Cormier.
It took the former Olympian less than four minutes to dispatch of Silva, dropping him three times in the first round with punches the last one with a beautiful right handed uppercut from the inside. Cormier, who was an alternate who replaced former champion Alistair Overeem in the tourney, now finds himself in the final against an even more experienced former champion, Josh Barnett (31-5, 7 KO's 19 subs). When asked about his chances, Cormier responded by saying, "I train with the best heavyweight (UFC Champion Cain Velasquez) in the world on a daily basis."
Barnett, who has not lost in nearly five years, took just about 30 seconds longer than Cormier to defeat his opponent Sergei Kharitonov (18-5, 9 KO's 8 subs) via an arm triangle choke. It was business as usual for Barnett, who avoided Kharitonov's punches early and eventually caught him in a clinch and took him down. Once there, Barnett used his superior position to pound on his Russian opponent until Kharitonov made the mistake Barnett was looking for.
The only negative about Barnett's performance tonight was him changing his nickname to 'The Warmaster'. It may very well be the cheesiest and worst nickname in MMA history, but then again Barnett comes from a pro wrestling background in Japan. As a matter fact, in his post-fight interview Barnett said, "Catch wrestling is where it's at; pro wrestling all the way." Barnett and Cormier will meet sometime in early 2012.
The other featured bout had AKA middleweight (185 lbs.) Luke Rockhold (8-1, 1 KO, 6 subs), wrestling the title away from former champion Ronald 'Jacare' Souza (14-3, 11 subs) in an entertaining five round affair. In the end, it was Rockhold winning a very close unanimous decision as two judges understandably scored it 48-47, while one judge had it 50-45, which was outright ridiculous. This was Rockhold's first fight in 19 months due to injury, which made it even more impressive and it showed as he was overcome with emotion after the decision was rendered.
Also on the card, former light-heavyweight champ Muhammed 'King Mo' Lawal (8-1, 6 KO's) added another notch to his short, but impressive list of victories as he knocked out the latest installment from the first family of MMA Roger Gracie (4-1, 4 subs). Looking extremely relaxed and patient with his boxing, Lawal, who recently joined the AKA team, caught Gracie with an overhand right on the temple that was the beginning of the end for the decorated grappler. Up next for 'The King', "I want Feijao." Rafael 'Feijao' Calvacante is the man who defeated Lawal for his title.
It was a clean sweep for AKA fighters tonight and it started on the prelims with light-heavyweight Mike 'MAK' Kyle (19-8-1, 12 KO's 3 subs) who scored a unanimous decision victory over previously undefeated Marcos Rogerio 'Pezao' de Lima (8-1, 6 KO's 1 sub). Kyle, who used to compete at heavyweight, was rebounding from a loss last December to none other than the previously mentioned Antonio 'Bigfoot' Silva. AKA, was already regarded as one of the top gyms around the world in MMA circles and with the clean sweep tonight from their young lions, no one can argue that point.