By the time Strikeforce “Barnett vs. Cormier” took place on May 19, 2012, the promotion was on its last legs. With its major television deal long gone in the wake of the infamous Nashville brawl, and the mystique of its signature star, Fedor Emelianenko, gutted by three straight losses, Strikeforce would be gone within a year. The heavyweight grand prix was the organization’s last great accomplishment, and by the time all was said and done, Cormier was unquestionably its greatest homegrown talent.
Ironically, Cormier was not part of the original eight-man field for the tournament; for the record, they were Emelianenko, Antonio Silva, Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, Andrei Arlovski, Sergei Kharitonov, Josh Barnett and Brett Rogers. Cormier was brought in as a replacement for Overeem, who jumped to the Ultimate Fighting Championship after defeating Werdum in the opening round. At the semifinals on Sept. 10, 2011, Cormier destroyed Silva with a colossal first-round uppercut in the co-main event, right before Barnett worked Kharitonov over on the ground on the way to a first-round submission via arm-triangle choke.
With the stage thus set, the grand prix final had to be delayed as Cormier recovered from a broken hand suffered in the Silva fight, and he and Barnett did not meet until May. In spite of being just 9-0 at the time, Cormier was the slightest of betting favorites, but Barnett was rightly seen as the stiffest test of his career to date by far. The freshly re-christened “Warmaster” was far more experienced, a solid striker, one of the best submission grapplers in heavyweight MMA history and much larger than Cormier.
On fight night, none of the advantages Barnett enjoyed on paper made any difference, as Cormier dominated him for five lopsided rounds. Cormier was superior in every phase, as he boxed comfortably with the much larger Barnett, took him down several times—including one memorably powerful high-crotch slam—and shrugged off his submission attempts on the ground. It cemented “DC” as not just a Top 10, but a Top 5 heavyweight, and not a moment too soon: Cormier would fight just once more in Strikforce, the promotion that had given him his start in MMA, before its purchase and annexation by the UFC. Once there, Cormier would become a two-division champion and notwithstanding his inability to overcome nemesis Jon Jones, build a legacy as one of the greatest fighters of all time.