If only we could ignore for the evening the unfortunate fact that Saturday’s Strikeforce card, no matter how awesome, is just another baby step in a methodical plan by our MMA overlords to cruise control a once great fight promotion straight off a cliff. But those thoughts will most likely be all too prevalent when we sit down this weekend. And while the blasphemy of watching the UFC promote a Strikeforce card is hardly the abomination that watching the WWE try and recapture the ECW magic was there is something all together depressing about knowing that we witnessing an end of days. That said, I still think the Heavyweight Grand Prix is worth something even if Fedor Emelianenko has gotten his ass kicked twice since it started and Alistair Overeem hightailed it straight towards a UFC 141 meeting with Brock Lesnar. Into Overeem’s slot steps Daniel Cormier, a tragedy prone yet undefeated wrestler who will try and earn his keep against the now tournament favorite Antonio Silva. And while Cormier/Silva is a long way from the Overeem/Emelianenko that everybody hoped for and banked on for this card it is still a high quality matchup that will go far in determining exactly where they fit in to the UFC’s heavyweight division.
The other semi-final contest is actually the main event here and that is probably because of Josh Barnett and the star power that he provides. Here he will face another resurrected face from yesteryear in Sergei Kharitonov, the man who holds the one win over rising star Mike Russow. He got to this point by massacring Andrei Arlovski in the opening round in such dominant fashion that it led some to outright forecast him as the eventual tournament winner. Barnett though, despite his checkered past and trail of destruction, will be playing the sentimental favorite here, Strikeforce’s version of Tito Ortiz if you will, as he tries to grab at glory one last time before the cruelties of time turn against him. Of course that potential path to the promise land looked a lot brighter before the Overeem/Lesnar fight was signed and some were speculating that the winner of the Grand Prix would be in line for a UFC title shot. But now many see that showdown in Toronto as the de facto #1 contender fight. I would like to remind you though that neither Lesnar’s health nor Overeem’s reliability are especially strong so a crack at the Velasquez/Dos Santos winner isn’t toally out of the question.
Further down the card we find a middleweight title match (no wonder all their champs are fleeing the promotion) as Jacare Souza defends against Luke Rockhold in a contest that should be highly competitive. Of course Mauro Ranallo probably won’t mention it but right now Jacare is only one of two male Strikeforce champions currently under contract and that really the only value those titles have is as something shiny for the fighters to point to on their resume whilst negotiating with the UFC. Back at the time of the merge Jacare was probably one of their lowest profile champs but he is deadly inside the cage and he will be looking to set himself up for future success with a win on Saturday. Rockhold poses an interesting challenge for him as he’ll bring a wicked ground game to Ohio with him and his imposing, lanky frame will by tough for Jacare to negotiate. My money though would stay on the champ as I just can’t ignore the monster layoff Rockhold is coming off of (19 months, I kid you not) and the realization that he has really yet to fight anybody who could even be considered in the same class as this particular Brazilian.
Speaking of long layoffs, we now come to King Mo Lawal and his long awaited return to action. He’s spent the last 13 months recovering from a knee injury he sustained in his unsuccessful title defense against Rafael Feijao. Here he will go up against an MMA prince in Roger Gracie who is undefeated in his four pro fights. This may be the toughest fight to pick on a card that is full of them though I tend to shy away from King Mo. Too much of him smells like an overproduced entity conjured up by a company starved for eyeballs. Not that he doesn’t have impressive wins and a title in his background, but seriously, just how far do you envision him going in the UFC’s light heavyweight division once he lands there. At the same time why should we believe in Gracie? How are we to know if he is the real deal or just a highly functional BJJ practitioner with an advantageous last name? This fight will help us find our way through the fog.
Rounding out the card is a fight that could have made for an amazing Challengers headliner as Pat Healy takes on big time prospect Maximo Blanco. I’m really glad to see Healy off the Challengers cards but I fear they may have thrown him to the wolves here as the 8-2-1 27 year old made a big impression in Sengoku last year. Overall the card is stacked and there should be a ton here to enjoy. We all know the score and even if the Strikeforce middleweight championship is more useless than ever viewing this outing as a high level UFC try out is probably the healthiest way to watch. I, for one, really want to see Barnett and Kharitonov and Healy and Jacare moved up to the big time, and they probably will be regardless, but the better they perform at this show the better their chances are of making a splash inside the Octagon.