By: William Holmes
Zuffa controlled Strikeforce brings a strong card this weekend with the quarterfinal round of their heavyweight grand prix tournament. A tournament such as this brings back memories of Pride’s Grand Prix tournaments, and with Zuffa’s promotional and financial backing, Strikeforce should be able to successfully see this tournament to completion.
Conor Heun (8-4) vs. Magno Almeida (9-1)
The first bout on the preliminary card is a lightweight matchup between Conor Heun and Magno Almeida. Conor Heun is on a two fight losing streak, losing to K.J. Noons and Jorge Gurgel. He also has not fought in a year. Magno Almeida fights for his first major promotion with an impressive 9-1 record, with eight of his victories coming by submission. Almeida’s only loss was by decision to Fernando Paulon.
This will be Almeida’s first major opponent, but not fighting in a year will surely hurt Conor Heun’s chances of winning this fight. I expect Almeida to pull off another submission victory.
Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante (15-4-1, 1 NC) vs. Justin Wilcox (11-3)
The next bout on the preliminary card is another lightweight matchup between veteran JZ Cavalcante and rising contender Justin Wilcox. JZ Cavalcante is the better known fighter of the two, but has lost three of his last four fights. Granted, they were against tough opponents such as Josh Thompson, Kawajiri, and Aoki, but in the past three and a half years he has only had one victory. JZ will be Wilcox’s toughest fight to date, and has strung off an impressive six fight win streak since a submission loss to Ishida.
Wilcox has been the more active fighter of the two, and has looked good his last few fights. Wilcox’s strong wrestling will be too much for Cavalcante to handle, and I expect him to take a decision victory in this matchup.
Valentijn Overeem (29-25) vs. Chad Griggs (10-1)
Chad Griggs is most famous for beating former WWE superstar Bobby Lashley, and had a very exciting technical knockout over Gian Villante in his last bout. Don’t let Valentijn’s record fool you, he is a very experienced fighter and holds a victory of UFC legend Randy Couture.
However, Valentijn is certainly the lesser of the two Overeem brothers, and his signing to fight for Strikeforce was likely done as a favor to acquire Alistair Overeem’s services. It is very common for promoters to put action an action packed stand up fight as the first fight of the night, and this fight should be entertaining. Valentijn is approaching 35, and has been fighting since 1996. If he was going to make an impact on the heavyweight division, he would have done it years ago. I expect Griggs to win the fight by knockout.
Daniel Cormier (7-0) vs. Jeff Monson (42-11)
This is a matchup I can’t wait to watch. Former Olympian Daniel Cormier faces his toughest opponent to date in UFC veteran Jeff Monson. Daniel Cormier doesn’t look to be the most in shape fighter, but as a former Olympian, you know he has the stamina to press the action all three rounds. Of course Cormier is undefeated, but he has to face any opponent with name value. Jeff Monson will be the first well known fighter Cormier will face in his young career. Jeff Monson has been on an eight fight win streak, and this is his first fight for a major promotion since a victory of Sergei Kharitonov for Dream in 2009.
Monson will test Cormier often, and Cormier may be wise to avoid the ground since Monson is a submission specialist. However, Cormier is the superior athlete of the two, and he should win the fight. I don’t expect this to be an exciting affair, and I think Monson will get taken down often, but there should be some exciting grappling exchanges on the ground. Cormier should win this fight by decision.
K.J. Noons (10-3) vs. Jorge Masvidal (21-6)
Former Elite XC lightweight champion KJ Noons faces off against the always tough Jorge Masvidal. Both fighters have flirted with the welterweight division, but face off in the lightweight division with a possible title shot hanging in the balance.
K.J. Noons has some of the best standup technique in MMA, but he does have holes in his game. He is not known for his ground fighting technique, but has shown the ability to keep the fight standing. Masvidal is very tough, and is probably most famous for his rarely seen inverted triangle choke submission loss to Toby Imada in Bellator.
If the fight goes to the ground, Masvidal has the edge, if the fight stays standing, Noons has the edge. Prior to his loss to Diaz at welterweight, Noons had won six fights in a row. I expect Noons to keep the fight standing and get back on a winning streak. A fight between Noons and current Strikeforce champion Glibert Melendez will be very intriguing, provided Melendez does not first jump to the UFC.
Josh Barnett (29-5) vs. Brett Rogers (11-2)
Barnett has not fought since July of 2010, and needs a strong victory for the public to forget his last positive drug test for steroids. Brett Rogers started off his career hot, but has lost two of his last three fights, and his decision victory over journeyman Ruben Villareal was supposedly lackluster and not impressive. Barnett of course has fought the best of the best, but has shown he can wilt against a solid striker, as evidenced by his three losses to Cro Cop.
Ring rust is always a factor in any fight, and to have your first fight in over a year against heavy handed Brett Rogers is not an ideal situation for Josh Barnett. However, Barnett long time veteran of the sport, and should have the knowledge to avoid Rogers’ power and take the fight to the ground where Barnett holds the obvious advantage. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rogers wins by knockout, but I expect Barnett to win by submission.
Alistair Overeem (34-11, 1 NC) vs. Fabricio Werdum (14-4-1)
The winner of this fight will likely be considered the favorite to win the Grand Prix heavyweight tournament. They have fought each other before in 2006, with Werdum taking the submission victory over the then noticeably smaller Alistair Overeem.
No fighter in the heavyweight division outside of the UFC is more feared than Alistair Overeem. He has nine fights in the row, picking up the Dream Heavyweight Title as well as the Strikeforce Heavyweight Title. In addition, he managed to win K1 kickboxing Grand Prix Championship proving that MMA fighters can compete with and beat the elite pure strikers in the world. Since Werdum’s knockout defeat to current UFC number 1 contender Junior Dos Santos, he has won three fights in a row being the first man to defeat legendary Fedor Emelianenko, and also defeating former Elite XC champion Antonio Silva.
It would be foolish to look at the former fight between Overeem and Werdum to pick a winner in this fight. Overeem is a lot bigger than he was when they first fought, and has developed a more complete game. However, one of Overeem’s weakness prior to blowing up to heavyweight was his cardio. Since fighting as a heavyweight, he has rarely fought past the first round. If Werdrum can survive the first round, he stands a good chance at catching Overeem in a submission as he tires. However, Overeem has looked beastly recently, and I expect him to win this fight convincingly by knockout, helping build up anticipation for the next round of Strikeforce’s heavyweight grand prix.