By: William Holmes
Many feel that Strikeforce will eventually be folded into the UFC when their contract with Showtime is completed. In the mean time, Strikeforce continues to put on solid cards packed with talent that can easily compete in the UFC. This Saturday, Strikeforce puts on the semifinals of their Heavyweight Grand Prix on Showtime. While two of the favorites in the beginning of the tournament are no longer in it, it still features top 10 worthy heavyweights with impressive resumes. A preview of Saturday’s card is as follows.
Muhammed Lawal (7-1) vs. Roger Gracie(4-0); Light Heavyweight
This matchup brings back memories of MMA’s early days, when a master of one style of martial arts faces off against the master of another style of martial arts. You won’t find many mixed martial artists who are better in wrestling than Muhammed Lawal, and you won’t find many mixed martial artists who are better in jiu jitsu than Roger Gracie. Gracie’s ability at submissions will likely cause Lawal to avoid attempting takedowns, and Lawal’s ability at wrestling will likely prevent Gracie from taking the fight to the ground, making this matchup between grappling wizards a standup affair.
Lawal was the former light heavyweight champion of Strikeforce before being knocked out by Rafael Cavalcante. Five of his seven victories have come by KO or TKO, and he has defeated tough fighters such as Gegard Mousasi and Mike Whitehead. Gracie has only has four fights, and all four victories have come by submission. Gracie however has yet to face a top tier opponent such as Lawal, and the biggest name he has defeated was Kevin Randleman in 2010, who has since retired from fighting. If this fight goes to the ground, Gracie should pull of another submission victory. However, Lawal will likely keep the fight standing, and add another TKO or KO to his resume.
Luke Rockhold (7-1) vs. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (14-2); Middleweight Championship
It’s not often that a championship fight isn’t the main event of a promotion’s card. Jacare takes on a rising prospect in MMA for Strikeforce’s middleweight championship. With Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem and welterweight champion Nick Diaz being signed with the UFC, and their light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson in negotiations with the UFC, Jacare really needs to have an impressive victory in order to make the jump to the UFC.
Eleven of Jacare’s victories have come by submission, and he has zero KO or TKO victories. He’s currently riding a four fight win streak over opponents such as Matt Lindland, Robbie Lawler, and Tim Kennedy. Jacare’s two losses have come by KO, and his standup game is still a work in progress. Luke Rockhold has won six fights in a row, with five of them coming by submission. However, Luke Rockhold has little to no chance of submitting Jacare, and he has yet to face a well known opponent. A victory by Rockhold will be a big surprise, and you should expect Jacare to add submission number twelve to his resume after Saturday night.
Daniel Cormier (8-0) vs. Antonio Silva (16-2); Heavyweight Grand Prix Semifinal
Daniel Cormier is a late replacement for Alistair Overeem, but you shouldn’t hold the fact that he is a replacement against him. His wrestling is Olympic caliber, and in his last fight against Jeff Monsoon he a huge improvement in his standup abilities. Cormier also trains out of American Kickboxing Academy, one of the top MMA’s camps in the world. Prior to getting the nod to compete in Strikeforce’s Grand Prix, Cormier had victories in Strikeforce over Jeff Monsoon, Devin Cole, and Jason Riley.
Antonio Silva is the former heavyweight champion of Elite XC, and advanced in the tournament with a victory over the legendary Fedor Emelianenko. While fighting for Strikeforce, Silva has gone 3-1, with a victory over former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski and a loss to Fabricio Werdum. Silva is a very large heavyweight, with a height of 6’4” and a weight of 264lbs. Silva is one of the few heavyweights who actually has to cut weight to make the heavyweight limit.
Silva easily represents the toughest fight for Cormier to date, and come fight night he will have a large weight and height advantage over Cormier. This will likely negate any wrestling advantage that Cormier would have over Silva. Additionally, Silva is the more experienced fighter who has fought tougher competition to date. Cormier is a high ceiling prospect, but Silva will be too much for him to handle. Expect Silva to win this fight by a close decision.
Josh Barnett (30-5) vs. Sergei Kharitonov (18-4); Heavyweight Grand Prix Semifinal
Josh Barnett is one of the most colorful and controversial fighters in mixed martial arts. Prior to Jon Jones becoming a champion, Josh Barnett was considered the youngest UFC champion of all time. Josh Barnett also holds the dubious distinction of testing positive twice for steroids. Barnett defeated the overmatched Brett Rodgers by arm triangle submission in the first round of the grand prix, and he has not lost since 2006. Barnett has fought for nearly every major promotion, including the UFC, Pride, Affliction, Dream, and Strikeforce. His standup skills are average at best, but his submission skills are top notch, with eighteen of his victories coming by submission.
Sergei Kharitonov defeated the KO prone Andre Arlovski in the first round of the grand prix. Nine of his victories have come by KO or TKO, and he also holds a victory over the last heavyweight champion of Strikeforce, Alistair Overeem. Kharitonov has gone 4-1 in his last five fights, and his lone loss came at the hands of Jeff Monson by submission.
Kharitonov is a dangerous fighter, but if he had a hard time handling the submission skills of Jeff Monson, he will likely have a more difficult time handling the submission skills of the much larger Josh Barnett. Barnett should take this fight easily by submission victory in the first or second round.