I don’t know how many of you can remember back this far but way back when, in the pre-Zuffa days, the Strikeforce Grand Prix was a big deal in the MMA community. We would discuss at length; what would happen to the winner and whether any of it would be on pay-per-view and just what would happen when Fedor inevitably took on Overeem in the semi-finals. But mostly we argued about how dim witted the brackets were. And while that theory still holds true today we are on the eve of the one big, huge upside to that whole mess and that is the remarkably robust card we get tomorrow which easily shames both UFC 130 and UFC 131 on paper. We all know that this fight, on the weak side of the bracket, between Brett Rogers (11-2) and Josh Barnett (29-5) may not have the modern day relevance of the main event it is hard to argue that any other first round match has as much depth in the backstory department.
Rogers was once a hot shot heavyweight prospect who first drove his record to a stellar 10-0 and then crashed smack into his own personal performance ceiling. He was the man who got the call to face Fedor Emelianenko in his Strikeforce debut on CBS, and in an ominous sign of things to come for The Last Emperor Rogers was able to keep Fedor on the defensive for over a round before he got caught with a supersonic right that ended his undefeated streak. Then, in a famous case of booking ineptitude, Rogers parlayed that loss into a title shot against Alistair Overeem. But his performance there was much worse, so horrendous in fact that I honestly would not have blinked had he been left off the Grand Prix roster. His next opponent, of course, is the perpetually notorious Barnett who is only able to return to fight in the states because he has successfully gamed the Athletic Commission system and got licensed in the Wild Wild West also known as Texas. In the short history of MMA his troubled story is one of epic proportions and there is no reason to reiterate it here. I will mention though that his last last two fights took place in the previous calendar year and that they both were on the other side of the globe. In Japan he nearly KO’d the rather rotund Mighty Mo with a low blow and then caught him in a kimura for the win. In Australia a few months later he looked downright unbeatable for the three minutes it took him to beat Geronimo dos Santos. Now he’s back in the USA fighting for the first time since the days of Affliction and under the Zuffa banner for the first time since UFC 36 in 2002 when he beat Randy Couture for the heavyweight title.
So how does it all play out tomorrow night? I’ll say that I see no way Rogers can win unless he works a flawless Roy Nelson-like strategy and I don’t see Barnett being stupid enough to fall for it, though I will also admit that I just simply want Barnett to win because as a journalist I can’t think of many thing more appealing than the idea of him riding this freak show train all the way to a UFC title shot. Watch for a slow moving, lethargic contest with lots of tie ups and even more double under hooks. Rogers does know how to use his size to his advantage and if he can get Barnett down he at least has a chance to keep him there depending on what kind of shape he shows up in. But the deciding factors should be Rogers’ suspect defense combined with Barnett’s depth of experience. It will probably take him about 7 or 8 minutes to find a hole in Rogers’ game but once he does look for him to exploit it dramatically and quickly win the fight via TKO. It may not be as spectacularly violent as Overeem’s stoppage of him but the end result will be all the same.