Josh Barnett (top) should take Sergei Kharitonov down and finish him there. | Photo: Dave Mandel
With surprises aplenty en route to the semifinals, the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix moves ahead. The next stop is slated for Saturday at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, as four heavyweights remain in what has been a tournament defined by as many plot twists outside the cage as in it.
In the Josh Barnett-Sergei Kharitonov semifinal, fans are treated to a showdown between two of the game’s most tested and battle-hardened heavyweights, as both have extensive experience dating back to the salad days of Pride Fighting Championships. In the Antonio Silva-Daniel Cormier side of the Final Four, fans will get a glimpse of two new-breed heavyweights looking to make their mark on a tournament, which, when it began, had Alistair Overeem and Fedor Emelianenko pegged as the most likely winners.
Outside of the grand prix, Strikeforce middleweight champion Ronaldo Souza aims to defend his 185-pound crown against American Kickboxing Academy prospect Luke Rockhold. The gifted Brazilian may be lesser-known to fans, but a stellar performance could ultimately expedite his migration to the UFC, given middleweight king Anderson Silva’s dire need of challengers. Souza’s blend of otherworldly grappling and aggressive standup make him a fun fighter to watch, and it is a great combination to have for a Strikeforce champion looking for the call up. Just ask Nick Diaz.
Here is a closer look at the Strikeforce “Barnett vs. Kharitonov,” with previews and picks.
Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Semifinals
Josh Barnett (30-5, 1-0 SF) vs. Sergei Kharitonov (18-4, 1-0 SF)
The Matchup: When the grand prix kicked off in February, the bracket in which these two meet was clearly perceived to be the tournament’s easiest. However, with Emelianenko’s elimination and Overeem’s withdrawal, the victor here will likely be considered the favorite in the final. Barnett and Kharitonov are experienced veterans, with a slate of fights against tough competition.
Barnett relies on his excellent grappling, submission skills and often-underrated athleticism to dictate fights; Kharitonov falls back on solid striking to keep bouts standing and defensive grappling to return fights to an upright position. The Russian’s footwork and shot placement make him one of the better heavyweights on the feet, with a style underwritten by a strong chin and the belief that he can take out anyone if he can force exchanges. Barnett -- who now finds himself on the cusp of a return to the UFC in an enviably strong negotiating position should he win the tournament -- has to take away that belief by making this his kind of fight.
Despite having been away from the UFC since 2002, Barnett remains one of the game’s best heavyweights. Willing to strike when he has to and blessed with size and power on the feet, he nonetheless fights smartly within his envelope. He dictates where the action goes as soon as he can wrest his opponent in a clinch and get it to the mat, where his sublime ground skills are always a threat.
Kharitonov’s game plan will be to circle, pick shots and get out of range. It may be tempting for him to get sucked into clinches, where he can trade short punches and uppercuts in a dirty boxing-style fight, but that is the kind of con at which Barnett excels, and he will quickly dump his man to the ground. This fight will hit the mat early once Barnett times Kharitonov’s strikes, and he will go to work, exerting pressure from the top with his body weight and intelligent ground-and-pound.
The Pick: Barnett is not going to get rid of Kharitonov easily, as the Russian is a tough and durable customer. However, Barnett is simply too big and intelligent to be denied. He will wear down Kharitonov via ground-and-pound and soften him up for the kill, winning by submission in the third round.
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