With both the UFC and Strikeforce presenting big, “important” shows the last two weeks drawing comparisons is inevitable. Both saw one of their biggest draws headline in bouts that tended to be one sided affairs but still managed to create exhilarating finishes that served to remind us all of what we love so much about this sport. But, and I very well may stand alone here, if I had to choose between the two I would happily re-watch the more violent, more exciting, and ultimately more Earth shattering Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva than the overrated and, dare I say, boring UFC 126. Below I have compiled a match by match breakdown of the card that includes what was great about this past Saturday’s card and what, if anything, dragged it down.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio Silva
What caught my attention early in the fight as the combatants were still feeling each other out was this feeling, deep in my gut, that was urging me to root for Fedor. I’ve never really been a fan and maybe my reasons are sound and maybe they aren’t. My introduction to MMA fever came a little late in the game and so I wasn’t there to enjoy his run of 28-0 or anything else that contributed to his mythology. What I saw was a guy who worked hard at avoiding the fights everybody wanted to see and then, when he did step up to the plate, was capable of really only scraping by a Brett Rogers. Still, there he was perched atop so many pound for pound lists.
And yet I couldn’t help but feel as though the MMA world in general and Strikeforce in particular would be wounded if he lost here. Scott Coker, say what you will about him and there is a lot to say, has gone out of his way to give the fans something worth salivating over and his centerpiece was going to be a Fedor/Alistair Overeem battle that was possibly going to land the company in PPV land. But after two solid rounds of Bigfoot domination (I had round 1 for Silva though it was close) and a right eye that was swollen shut and looked as horrific as Josh Koscheck’s at the end of UFC 124 all of those plans were put on hold. Of course I didn’t want the fight to be stopped but I am something of a Neanderthal in that department. I’m certainly not going to believe that there is no way Fedor would have won that fight had it gone another 5 minutes, messed up eye or otherwise. Silva’s reaction shot when he was awarded the victory was emotional and beautiful and one of the most human moments I have ever seen in MMA.
Now the attention turns to the next round. Most people are assuming that Overeem is going to basically strut into the next round. He probably won’t strut but as of today I would pick him to win over Fabricio Werdum. It’s hardly a secret that Strikeforce wants to get in on that lucrative PPV pie and that things would have been so much easier had Fedor not decided that now was the time for a losing streak. But Silva/Overeem is a pretty attractive match, at least to me. It wouldn’t earn the buy rate, of course, and because of that the promotions PPV delusions have most likely once again gone up in smoke, for better or for worse.
Where I would like to take a shot at Coker is in his post-fight comments when he declared that, hey, of course Fedor could be the number 1 replacement. In case he missed the entire event Fedor looked old and sloppy whereas Shane Del Rosario looked like somebody who could be injected into the tournament and emerge out the other end a bona fide star. . .but I suppose that’s business for you.
Andrei Arlovski vs. Sergei Kharitonov
To me this fight was a pretty easy one to call as Arlovski has looked checked out for a while now and he looked almost permanently checked out after his decision to stand and swing with Kharitonov turned out poorly. Arlovski came out ready to claim a KO early and his striking looked strong and crisp. Kharitonov, however, seemed to just sit back and weather the storm. And once Arlovski started to gas and started to become predictable Kharitonov just let him have it real good. The knockout itself was a little anti-climactic as Arlovski went down and Kharitonov had to use a few shots on the ground to finish the deal but the straight dead ahead stare on Arlovski’s face was downright scary. So much so that after the fight the entire announce team, more or less, sat around and called for his retirement (and with three of his last four fights ending in him being knocked out I would say they have a strong case to make).
The 2nd biggest losers here were the 11% fans who, in a pre-fight poll, said that Arlovski would win the tournament. Maybe they were voting based on his easy-ish path to the finals but more likely they were voting on his name value alone . . .come on fans, you’re better than that.
Lavar Johnson vs. Shane Del Rosario
Well, before Fedor lost and Coker felt the need to push him back to the front of the line most would have assumed that this fight here would have determined the #1 alternate in the heavyweight Grand Prix. Del Rosario was undefeated at 10-0 and Johnson was in the midst of a seven fight win streak that stretched back to August 2008, nearly a year before he suffered life threatening injuries due to multiple gun shot wounds. Del Rosario looked as impressive as always here though he got a bit of help due to some whack strategizing from Johnson who found it wise to try and take his opponent down. Once there things got ugly for “Big” real fast as Del Rosario easily took a mount position which he used to pulverize Johnson and then rolled it into a textbook armbar that got him a first round submission victory. I saw Del Rosario winning this fight (and many more to come I might add) but it turned out to be a lot less competitive than I had imagined.
Chad Griggs vs. Gianpiero Villante
To me this ugly, technically unsound mess is the precise reason why this card is superior to the snoozer that was UFC 126. While I have no doubt that the talent level in this bout was a few miles below that on display in the Jake Ellenberger/Carlos Eduardo Rocha contest at UFC 126 this fight was so much more fun to watch. Griggs came out and just hammered away on Villante in an especially ruthless fashion. Somehow Villante held on and held on and even landed a sharp head kick than split open Griggs’ ear and left half his body covered in blood. But then Griggs, a man who had been maligned for his cardio back when he stretchered out Bobby Lashley, still had something left in the tank and continued to land his oh so heavy hands until finally he finished the up and coming prospect he was supposed to lose to. Ellenberger/Rocha was much more artistic but nothing tops the beauty of a backyard brawl.
Valentijn Overeem vs. Ray Sefo
This was easily the biggest let down of the night, though I guess for it to be an actual let down you would have had to have had some expectations coming in. I did not mainly because this Sefo character probably came out of the same central casting office where Strikeforce finds their punching bags for Herschel Walker. He had, in his 40 years of life, compiled a 2-0 record and looked like an amateur out there against Alistair’s older brother. The big moment was when Overeem threw the exact same front kick that Anderson Silva used to perfection last weekend. . .he of course missed and a minute or so later the fight was over as Overeem tapped the poor guy without even really having to try.
- Showtime, I’m guessing, saw the opening Grand Prix fights as such a momentous occasion that they felt as though they simply must have Gus Johnson behind the mic doing play by play. Too bad because he is, in my mind at least, the absolute worst when it comes to guys calling major North American MMA promotions. But then, as an extra thumb in the eye, they threw in the second worse with Frank Shamrock. The man who feels comfortable dropping lines like, “I can honestly say as a former world champion fighter. . .” and “He’s been hurt a couple good times.” The man who doesn’t understand that the Tale of the Tape graphic is there as an easy way to read information and that we hardly need his stupid pen scrippling all over it. Please, please, please. . .Pat Miletich and Stepehn Quadros. . .please.
- There has been criticism that the length of the show was way too short, and I tend to agree. Obviously the easy answer is to steal from the UFC and show prelims to fill in the gaps, but Strikeforce does not do that. Some have said that it is a way to concentrate talent and not water down the card while others have said that it is because some of the fighters are not under contract to Showtime. Either way I would like to see them stretch their cards in one way or another just so long as it doesn’t involve special announcements about the return of Gina Carano.
It seems clear to me that this whole tournament thing isn’t exactly playing out as Scott Coker may have hoped. He’s left to abandon his PPV plans and shoehorn Fedor back into the tournament. But all is not lost as the madness that ensued bred a stellar card and the fights that are still to come promise to deliver more excitement. Alistair Overeem now is way out ahead of the pack as far as the tournament favorites are concerned and we can spend our time now fantasizing about him fighting the likes of Antonio Silva, Josh Barnett or Sergei Kharitonov.