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The Potential Depth Of The Strikeforce Heavyweight Division

strikeforcecrestWith the recent announcement of a partnership between Strikeforce and DREAM, and an obvious alliance with M-1 Global and their branch of fighters, it got me to thinking about the possible talent pool from all of these combined promotions. Most specifically in the Strikeforce heavyweight division. A division which has fallen under a great deal of scepticism in recent weeks since the announcement of Fedor Emelianenko signing with the organization.

As it appears to me, the possibilities for incoming talent in Strikeforce’s reputably weak heavyweight division seem near endless with the recent factoring of M-1 and DREAM into the equation. Even beyond those possibilities there is still a score of unsigned talent floating through the smaller organizations that would go miles in bolstering the relatively thin current roster of the Strikeforce heavyweight division.

Come along as I take a look at the current crop of Strikeforce heavyweights, and peek into what’s to come in the months and years to follow for the still growing promotion.

First things first, who does Strikeforce definitely have on their roster at this time?

Fedor Emelianenko: A man that truly needs no introduction. The greatest fighter to have ever competed in mixed martial arts in this writers humble opinion.

Brett Rogers: At 6’5″ tall, and tipping the scales right around the 265 pound mark, Brett “The Grim” Rogers brings a certain raw and violent element into the game that is often overlooked, but very relevant in the business of busting people up. The combination of growing up on Chicago’s often notorious south side and training for years out of Mike Reiley’s Team Bison in Minnesota have served to make this towering heavyweight a very serious problem for any man he faces off with. Just based on his size, strength and raw talent for smashing grown men about the face alone make Rogers a heavyweight that will continue to be a force for years to come in Strikeforce. You just can’t teach the killer instinct and tenaciousness that Rogers was born with.

Alistair Overeem: Over forty professional fights in the fight game with victories over the likes of highly regarded fighters such as Vitor Belfort, Igor Vovchanchyn, Sergei Kharitonov and Paul Buentello should tell you all you need to know about “The Demolition Man”. Known for his punishing stand-up arsenal, Overeem has an insanely underrated ground game as well. Just check out the nasty reverse armbar/keylock thing he gets Mark Hunt with at the 4:15 mark of this video… absolutely vicious. At a massively ripped 260-plus pounds, the newly remodeled Overeem brings the type of experience and possesses the type of arsenal to keep the just 29 year old still developing veteran of the fight game near the top at Strikeforce for as long as he deems fit.

Fabricio Werdum: A leaned down and focused 230 pound Fabricio Werdum is a frightening prospect for heavyweights choosing to make their stake in Strikeforce. A decorated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, Werdum is easily one of the most dangerous heavyweight submission artists in the game today. Wins over men such as Gabriel Gonzaga, Aleksander Emelianenko, and current Strikeforce title holder Alistair Overeem further support the common belief that Werdum could best anyone on the right night.

Shane Del Rosario: The undefeated Del Rosario could make a major impact at light-heavyweight if he chose to make the cut, but as of right now there’s no reason to, as he has stopped all seven of the opponents that have came before him. Known as a heavy handed slugger with a strong wrestling game, this Team Oyama fighter has made a name for himself while competing under the EliteXC and M-1 Challenge banners. His last appearance saw him TKO Maxim Grishin in just twenty-one seconds during an M-1 Challenge event on July 4, 2009. Del Rosario has already inked with Strikeforce and expects to make his debut sometime soon.

Roger Gracie: A second degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the last name tells you all you need to know about Roger. Standing at a towering 6’4″ tall and weighing right around the 220 pound mark, Gracie has notched an unblemished record of 2-0 up until this point in his still growing mixed martial arts career. Both of his victories came by…. drum roll…. you guessed it, submission. So it’s no mystery as to what Roger brings to the table in Strikeforce, world class submissions. Some of the names that Gracie has toppled in the past during Jiu-Jitsu competition include fellow Strikeforce heavyweight Fabricio Werdum, Mario Sperry, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, and Robert Drysdasle to name a few. The twenty-seven year old native of Rio de Janeiro , Brazil has been tending to a newborn son but will likely make his Strikeforce debut in the near future. Click here to check out some of Roger’s past work.

Lavar Johnson: A shockwave rippled through the mixed martial arts community when it was learned that Lavar “Big” Johnson had fallen victim to a random act of violence in July when he was wounded in a shooting that left another dead. After some time spent recuperating in the hospital Johnson was recently released and wants to return to training as soon as possible. Lord willing Lavar is able to make a full recovery, the heavyweight powerhouse would make a profound impact in Strikeforce. With a record of 12-3, every one of Johnson’s twelve victories have been finished with strikes. An electrifying stand-up fighter, Lavar is widely respected and feared for his ferocious clinch game. Johnson is a scary man, and admittedly one of my very favorite heavyweights to watch fight.

Ray Sefo: If you’re a fan of K-1, or even just a fan of brutal knockouts, you’ll likely quickly become a fan of of Strikeforce’s most recently signed heavyweights, Mr. Ray Sefo. Commonly referred to in kickboxing circles as “Sugarfoot, the New Zealand born striker is one of the hardest punchers kickboxing has ever seen. With a kickboxing record of 54-20 competing at the highest level possible, a professional boxing record of 5-1 and a mixed martial arts record of just 1-0, Sefo promises to be one bring top level striking and fireworks to the Strikeforce heavyweight division. The Xtreme Couture trained mixed martial artist will make his Strikeforce debut on September 25 against Kevin Jordan as part of the Strikeforce Challengers series which airs live on Showtime.

With the bulk of the current Strikeforce heavyweight line-up out of the way, let’s take a closer look at many of the names and faces that the promotion could very realistically bring into the playing field sometime in the near future.

Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal: Now Mo has told me I can’t count how many times that he doesn’t care where he fights, 185, 205 or heavy, it’s all about where he can make the most money. Makes sense, right? Well it’s in my opinion that no matter where he ends up signing, he has a good chance at making the most money in heavyweight match-ups. Sure, the win over Kerr doesn’t prove much, but trust me when I tell you that Lawal is the goods. The type of success he had while wrestling after getting as late a start as he did is just unheard of. He’s a tremendous athlete and would be a huge attribute to any organization that chose to scoop him up while they still could. Strikeforce and flashy King Mo entrances just makes sense. Some good fights for him there too in my estimation.

Daniel Puder: This former WWE superstar has an impressive record of 8-0 and the type of raw talent that should have the major leagues fighting to sign him. While I won’t go as far as to say that Puder would carve a path of destruction through Strikeforce like he has against some of the lesser opposition he’s faced in the past, taking into consideration that he’s been involved in the fight game since 2003 and developed his base in MMA at the famed American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California make the move to Strikeforce seem like an appropriate one for the powerful submission fighter based out of California.

Gilbert Yvel: While Yvel was rumored to be making the move to the UFC, those rumors have recently been squashed and Yvel’s future home seems far from certain at this point. Strikeforce seems like a perfect fit for the devastating kickboxer with a highly underrated submission arsenal. Yvel’s achilles heel has long been top level wrestlers and submission fighters, however, fights with guys like Brett Rogers, Ray Sefo, Lavar Johnson or Alistair Overeem would all fail to disappoint. Yvel has won eight of his last nine bouts, with his most recent performance being a horrifying first round knockout over Pedro Rizzo in June.

Alexey Oleinik: This is the baddest Russian heavyweight many people have never heard of. Fighting alongside Fedor Emelianenko out of the Red Devil Sport Club, Alexey Oleinik sports an impressive record of 24-4-1 during his more than twelve years spent in the sport. A win over a name opponent is the only thing currently holding this submission master back from widespread recognition. The M-1 Global connection makes it very likely that we could see this enormously talented heavyweight in Strikeforce very soon. The main thing to take note of with Alexey is his freakish ability to submit his opponents with the Ezekiel Choke. For those of you unfamiliar with the technique, it looks like this (5:10 mark), and it never works in real life for anyone other than Oleinik, so DO NOT try this at home during a for real fight kids. Unbelievably, eleven of the thirty-two year old veteran’s victories have come from the normally ineffective choke. It’s like you know it’s coming, there’s just not a thing you can do about it. A couple other fun facts for you arm-triangle fans out there; one evening Alexey submitted three different guys with the Eze-Choke during a tournament in Perm, Russia, and at another point in his career the human python strung together four consecutive wins from the submission.

Sergei Kharitonov: A man that requires no introduction from old school PRIDE fans, Kharitonov at one point rivaled Fedor Emelianenko as the scariest Russian on the planet. Anyone remember Kharitonov making hamburger meat out of Semmy Schilt’s face during PRIDE Critical Countdown 2004? That’s what I’m talking about. One of the most brutal beatings I have seen anywhere in my life, and that fight epitomized Kharitonov’s fighting style; vicious, overwhelming, sadistic. A Sambo specialist in the tradition of fellow countryman Emelianenko, Kharitonov has a dangerous ground game and bruising stand up attack that would make any man think twice before signing the contract to face him. The DREAM connection makes Sergei theoretically available to Strikeforce, and few would disagree that it’s about time for the American public to get familiar with this Russian Airborne Trooper with a talent for sending opponents to the emergency room. Sergei has a record of 16-4 with wins over heavyweight notables such as Mike Russow, Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem. The last two names on that list and a rumored feud with Fedor make Kharitonov coming to Strikeforce sensible in so many ways.

Melvin Mahoef: Before everyone jumps down my throat telling me Manhoef isn’t a heavyweight, the fact that he jumped up to heavyweight on a single days notice to become the first man ever to knock normally iron-chinned Mark Hunt unconscious make him a threat regardless of the size of his opponent. Manhoef=Excitement. It doesn’t matter how you cut it. I think Manhoef actually might have more success with his style in the heavyweight division considering his speed and explosive knockout power. Heavyweights would be a little easier for a guy like Manhoef to zero in on. Don’t get me wrong, Manhoef’s not gong to be the best heavyweight in the division, but he would undeniably be one of the more fun to watch.

Jeff Monson: Monson is a top ten, or at the very least a top twenty heavyweight, and would be a solid addition to Strikeforce, or any other promotion for that matter. “The Snowman” is an absolute human cannonball standing 5’9″ and weighing more than 240 muscle packed pounds. He is a world class heavyweight grappler with a professional fighting record of 31-8 with twenty submissions. A submission ratio rarely seen with the big boys. Monson’s style is mauling and overpowering. The rear-naked and north-south chokes are his bread and butter. The thing with Monson right now is that he is due for sentencing on October 1 for an incident where he pleaded guilty to malicious mischief and entered an Alford Plea for charges stemming from a graffiti related incident involving the Washington State Capitol. Strikeforce is likely waiting to discover the terms of the sentencing before committing to Monson, but he would surely bolster their talent in a major way.

Tim Sylvia: The price tag would likely be the main thing stopping Tim from signing with Strikeforce. It’s obvious that Sylvia isn’t going to be able to demand much at this point being that he’s currently coming back from consecutive lightning quick stoppages, with the latter of which against an aging former boxer in his MMA debut, but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be in Strikeforce right now. I don’t think UFC fans are in a hurry to see Tim return to the Octagon, and Strikeforce could be a place for Tim to re-invent himself. He obviously needs to do something. As iof right now “The Maine-iac” is set to return to action against Jason Riley at Adrenaline MMA IV on September 18, and if he can look impressive in that one, and be reasonable in his salary negotiations, Strikeforce may be a good look for Big Tim.

Blagoi Ivanov: Blagoi deserves noting for one simple and obvious reason, he’s the last guy to defeat Fedor Emelianenko during a Combat Sambo match. A sport Emelianenko admittedly takes a great deal of pride in being considered the best in. Ivanov has been yapping up a storm about how he wants to face off with Fedor in an MMA rules bout but two fights remaining on his World Victory Road (Sengoku) contract don’t make that happening any time really soon a possibility. However, if he can look impressive in a scheduled bout with Aleksander Emelianenko during a September event scheduled for South Korea, and notch up a couple more impressive wins in Sengoku, Blagoi would be ripe for the picking when his current contract expires. As of right now Ivanov employs a wild, brawling style that will require some smoothing over before he even thinks of facing off with his old Sambo rival.

Aleksander Emelianenko: Any man that stabs a fully grown bear to death with a knife demands my respect, and Aleksander falls directly into that category. For whatever reason, Emelianenko has had some serious troubles getting cleared to fight in the states but that’s where the M-1 Global and DREAM connection come into play. Partnering up with the previously noted promotions open doors for events to be held all over the world. If Strikeforce was to hold an event in Japan where fighters like Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem are enormously popular, this would open the door for Aleksander to enter the heavyweight landscape.

Paul Buentello: Now I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I know the details of Buentello’s current contract obligations or negotiations, as this is a question many would like clarified, but I do know that “The Headhunter” was fighting for Strikeforce not that long ago, and it seems like the logical place for him to end up when the dust settles. Buentello has long been one of the more exciting heavyweights to watch and his addition to Strikeforce would likely go a long way in further legitimizing their plus-sized division.

Andrei Arlovski: Once Arlovski gets his head on straight after brutalizing some poor sucker on the second season of MTV’s Bully Beatdown, he should be prime for his return to the cage. Dana White has already come out to say he’s not interested in Arlovski at this point, and it seems like if Arlovski wants to compete in MMA for a respectable sum his options are down to Japan or Strikeforce. If he chooses DREAM , he chooses Strikeforce, so the only way I see Arlovski not winding up back with Strikeforce would be if he signed with Sengoku, which I would find very unlikely.

Daniel Cormier: An Olympic level wrestler that currently walks around near 240 pounds, Cormier has recently started to train at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California along with UFC veterans such as Cain Velasquez, Paul Buentello, Jon Fitch and Mike Swick. In a recent conversation with Cormier revealed that he wanted to compete in the big show as soon as possible. The big show being either Strikeforce or the UFC. It will be interesting to see where he ends up, but you can rest assured that both promotions are keeping a close eye on the development of this world class athlete. You can see from this video (watch from the 3:10 mark) that MMA was a natural transition for the decorated grappler.

Bobby Lashley: Bobby Lashley is prime picking for Strikeforce right now. There aren’t many that would fault the promotion for signing the relative newcomer to the fight game, and I feel like most would agree that it would be a very good fit. Lashley is an extremely powerful, explosive and marketable former WWE superstar that developed quite a fan base during his wrestling days that has followed him into MMA. Lashley vs. anyone in the Strikeforce heavyweight division sells an enormous amount of tickets right now. You market him right, and you could have a gold mine on your hands.

Dave Herman: Up and coming knockout artist Dave “Pee Wee” Herman is supposed to be fighting for Bellator at some point in the beginning of next year, but as of right now he’s fighting Don Frye at Shark Fights 6, which tells me that if Strikeforce really wanted him, they could work something out. Another talented heavyweight without a real home, now that Herman is finally getting serious with his training he could be a force in any division that has faith in him for many years to come. A bunch of exciting fights await Herman in Strikeforce.

Semmy Schilt: Semmy Schilt could possibly wind up in Strikeforce throughout the K-1/DREAM connection. A three-time K-1 World Grand Prix champion with a mixed martial arts record of 26-14, the nearly seven foot tall Dutch striker trains alongside Alistair Overeem at Team Golden Glory in Holland. Schilt has a surprisingly dangerous ground game, with ten of his twenty-six victories coming by way of submission.

Jerome Le Banner: A massive power puncher known for battering his opponents during his time spent in K-1, Le Banner currently hold a professional mixed martial arts record of 3-1-1. With his 93 kickboxing matches compared to his 5 in MMA it’s apparent that Jerome will not be a regular on the Strikeforce scene, it seems feasible that a single fight here and there may be able to be negotiated.

Peter Aerts: If you’re a fan of Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and you’re not already a huge fan of Peter “The Lumberjack” Aerts, you can thank me later. While definitely a longshot to throw his name into the mix at Strikeforce, the fact that Aerts has fought in MMA rules twice (four years ago) leaves me a glimmer of hope. An absolute legend in the world of kickboxing, the 6’3″, 240 pound knockout artist with a kickboxing record of 95-27 and 65 knockouts has sent more men to the hospital from shin kicks to the face than any other big man in the sport.

Ray Mercer: To hell with it, bring “Merciless” in for the Tim Sylvia rematch. I’d watch it.

Rogent Lloret: This native of Barcelona, Spain is well versed in the art of submissions. His involvement in the M-1 Challenge make him a possibility for the future. Lloret currently holds a record of 8-1 and recently fought to a draw with the previously noted Alexey Oleinik. Much like Alexey, Lloret also seems to have a bizarre penchant for the arm-triangle choke.

Now that Strikeforce has forged an alliance with DREAM, the longshot of K-1 fighters throwing their name into the mix is a remote possibility. Below is a list of the four men I would absolutely love to see fight in mixed martial arts at some point.

Gokhan Saki: Much like Fedor Emelianenko, Saki may not physically look like the most intimidating guy on the planet, but man, he will kick your a** bad. This guy is without question one of the most terrifying strikers in the world. The impact of just a single one of his kicks to the meaty portion of the thigh is enough to bring any but the most battle worn kickboxers to their knees in agonizing pain. His punches are sharp and powerful, and Saki’s ability to mix it all up keep his opponents guessing, and off balance more times than not. Gokhan’s kickboxing record is 67-12 with 49 knockouts.

Daniel Ghita: Hands down the most vicious leg kicker I have ever seen in my life. The guy looks like a Romanian version of Gabriel Gonzaga and kicks hard enough to make a horse jealous. Just a couple well placed kicks to the most conditioned kickboxer’s legs leave his opponents writhing in pain. Ghita is just flat out scary because you would never think that someone that looks so unassuming could be so dangerous. He looks like the average guy that would be sitting at the end of a local sports bar, but make the mistake of not knowing who Daniel Ghita is and it may be your last.

Remy Bonjasky: One of the most technical and lethal kickboxers in the history of K-1. It’s not hard to see how “The Flying Gentleman” earned his nickname, flying knees and kicks have left countless numbers of Bonjasky’s past opponents wondering how they ended up in their dressing rooms. The high flying and constantly threatening style of Remy could make the 6’4″, 240 pound kickboxer one with the greatest chance of success in the world of MMA, and at just 33 years of age, there’s still time.

Badr Hari: If Badr Hari teamed up with an insanely skilled Jiu-Jitsu practitioner for a solid year or two he could very easily become one of the most well respected heavyweight mixed martial artists in no time. Training out of Mike’s Gym in Holland along with Melvin Manhoef, fighting runs deep in Hari’s blood. If someone could teach him how to use his towering 6’5″, 225 pound frame to his advantage on the ground, the big boys in Strikeforce would have a very serious problem on their hands.

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