Alistair Overeem is long gone. So, too, is Fedor Emelianenko. Fabricio Werdum, Antonio Silva, Sergei Kharitonov, Brett Rogers and Andrei Arlovski? All eliminated. It took more than a year, but the final of the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix is finally upon us.
When Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier lock horns at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday, it will mark the culmination of a long -- and sometimes disappointing -- tournament. All things considered, a pretty decent matchup has emerged from the drawn-out proceedings. Barnett and Cormier figure to eventually inject life into the UFC’s struggling heavyweight division, but, for now, bracket bragging rights are stake.
To further prove that Strikeforce is all about finishing what it started, the show also offers the rubber match between lightweight rivals Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson. Maybe it is not exactly what “El Nino” asked for, but taking two out of three from “The Punk” will at least give him some opportunity for closure.
Here is a closer look at Strikeforce “Barnett vs. Cormier” event, with analysis and picks.
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: Strikeforce "Barnett vs. Cormier" Free Fan Pick’Em
Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Final
Josh Barnett (31-5, 2-0 SF) vs. Daniel Cormier (9-0, 6-0 SF)
The Matchup: Since Cormier has been billed as one of the sport’s top heavyweight prospects, it is sometimes easy to forget the American Kickboxing Academy product is 33 years old, just a year younger than Barnett. In terms of MMA experience, however, Barnett is leaps and bounds ahead of the 2004 Olympian. “The Warmaster” has 27 more professional fights than Cormier and has competed in promotions such as the UFC, Pride Fighting Championships, Pancrase and K-1 over the course of a career that began in 1997. It has been a little more than a decade since the Seattle native set foot inside the UFC’s Octagon, so casual fans might not be aware that Barnett remains one of the world’s top heavyweights. Capturing the Strikeforce grand prix would solidify that status and give him momentum heading toward what looks to be an eventual UFC return.
Cormier entered the sport known primarily for his wrestling prowess, and he used that to overwhelm foes earlier in his career. Lately, the former Oklahoma State Cowboy has showcased his ever-improving standup. Against Jeff Monson in June, Cormier eschewed his wrestling and drilled Monson with multiple combinations en route to a unanimous decision victory. He was even more impressive at Strikeforce “Barnett vs. Kharitonov,” where, as a replacement for Overeem, he scored a first-round knockout of the massive Antonio Silva. Cormier cracked the Brazilian with a right hand early in the contest and later sealed the deal with an uppercut in the opening frame. It was the type of victory that served notice that Cormier had arrived as a legitimate contender, as he overcame a significant size and reach disadvantage to earn his most significant win to date.
It will be more of the same against Barnett, who holds a seven-inch reach edge on Cormier and figures to have a decent weight advantage come fight night, as well, though not as pronounced as Silva’s. Despite his pre-fight professional wrestling theatrics, Barnett is a cerebral fighter who knows how to exploit his opponent’s weaknesses. He has underrated athleticism and can strike effectively in spots, but his main goal in most fights is to get the action to the mat, where he can rely on his grappling and submission skills. He has only been officially knocked out once -- by Pedro Rizzo in 2001 -- so Cormier might find it difficult to land a momentum-changing shot like he did against Silva. In his last bout, Barnett walked through several solid blows from renowned knockout artist Sergei Kharitonov to force the takedown.
Cormier has never been taken down in a Strikeforce bout; expect Barnett to try and put that sparkling record to the test early and often. Much of this fight hinges on who gets the advantage in clinches and tie-ups. Barnett excels at forcing his opponents into the clinch and getting them to the ground from there. On the canvas, the former UFC heavyweight king will apply suffocating pressure from top position while landing savvy ground-and-pound. Barnett is adept at advancing position on the mat, and he will work diligently until he can apply a submission.
Cormier’s defensive wrestling is his trump card, but a prolonged battle of this sort will prove to be draining. Cormier will need to prove he can defend Barnett’s takedowns as effectively in the third round and beyond as he does in the first. In addition, he should look for openings for single-legs as the two men jostle for positioning against the fence. While Barnett is better than most heavyweights when fighting from his back, it would still allow Cormier the opportunity to land some offense of his own on the ground -- much more than he would if he has to defend against Barnett’s pressure from above.
The Pick: Cormier looks like he has a promising future, but Barnett is crafty and will not allow his foe to overwhelm him early. Look for Barnett to wear down Cormier over the course of the bout in clinches and from top position, eventually taking the fight via submission late in round three.
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