It was the beginning of the greatest heavyweight tournament of all-time and it may have been the end of the greatest heavyweight of all-time. The fans that tuned in to see the big boys slug it out and put on exciting fights with finishes got their time’s worth. The fans that tuned in to see Kelli Hutcherson were more disappointed than Vadim Finklestein. It was one of the most memorable nights in MMA history though and it had nothing to do with Strikeforce’s poor attempt to re-create the PRIDE opening ceremonies.
Antonio Silva defeated Fedor Emelianenko by TKO (Doctor Stoppage) at 5:00 in Round Two
It was supposed to be the triumphant return of Fedor Emelianenko. Instead it was the coming out party for Antonio Silva and the possible end of a legend.
The fight started like almost every Fedor fight. He came out slow and just waiting to unload. Silva used an effective jab and tried a couple of leg kicks but Fedor avoided them. Then Fedor unleashed one of his famous flurries and the crowd went crazy, anticipating a knockout. Silva ducked under and covered well though before landing some very good right hands that looked clean but you wouldn’t know it given Fedor’s lack of reaction. Silva did a nice job using his size and the cage to his advantage as he constantly clinched with Fedor, put him up against the cage, and wore him down. Fedor managed to threaten with a guillotine during one clinch attempt, which led to Silva going for a takedown only to end up on his back. That’s when it looked like we would see classic Fedor. He looked to rain down his brutal ground and pound but when Silva wouldn’t let him, Fedor went to plan B. He tried a kimura but Silva escaped and got back to his feet. At the end of the round Silva managed a takedown but it was too late for him to do anything with it. A close first round and one that certainly boosted the confidence of Silva. The second round started with Fedor looking for his trademark right hand but Silva timing it, ducking under, and getting a takedown. The next five minutes were almost unexplainable. Silva went from half guard to side control and then to mount with absolute ease. From mount he dominated Fedor. Silva rained down punches and hammerfists at will as Fedor did nothing but try to block and give up his back. The ref took a good look at things but Fedor was still moving so the fight continued. Silva went for an arm triangle that looked tight but Fedor managed to survive. Near the end of the round Silva tried for a kneebar but Fedor escaped and went for a heel hook but Silva gave a thumbs up and the round ended. The fact that Fedor not only survived the round but showed a sign of life at the very end gave Fedor fans hope. Fedor’s right eye was swollen shut but this was Fedor and there were only five minutes left so there was no way they could stop the fight, right? Wrong. The non-Kris Kringle looking doctor determined that Fedor could not continue and it was over. Silva raised his hands in glory while Fedor could do nothing but stand there with his usual stoic look, contemplating calling it a career.
I’m not a guy to kick a fighter when he’s down because I live in America and soccer kicks are illegal but I truly anticipate the retirement of Fedor and wouldn’t blame a bit should he go through with it. No one can take away from the fact that this time last year, Fedor was considered the best fighter of all time. Then something happened. Maybe he just started fighting better competition, maybe his heart wasn’t into it anymore, maybe he couldn’t adjust to the cage, maybe he didn’t like fighting on Showtime, maybe he got tired of being an M-1 Global puppet and wanted a way out, only he knows the truth, but whatever happened you can just tell that he’s not the same guy that dominated all those years in Japan. The most shocking thing about Fedor’s performance was his inability to do anything with Silva on top of him. I understand that Silva is a big guy but the way he easily passed to mount and controlled Fedor spoke more about Fedor’s technical inabilities than anything. Should Fedor fight again, one thing he has to do is change up his training. Like BJ Penn, you can only improve so much when you’re by far the best guy in the gym and you spend the majority of the time dominating in sparring. That’s an overlooked reason as to what makes guys like Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva great. They’re constantly training with top guys and getting pushed in the gym by fighters just as good as them. But as I said, I think Fedor will retire. If I had to guess, my guess would be that his heart just isn’t in it anymore. He’s cemented his legacy as one of the best all-time, he doesn’t appear to need the money, and he’s not someone who craves attention. When you’re only fighting because you love to fight and that loves vanishes, it’s time to call it career.
All the credit in the world goes to Silva. A lot of people wrote him off and underestimated him, which was very foolish, and he proved all the doubters wrong. He had the perfect game plan for this fight. He threw straight punches, covered well, and used his size to his advantage. You couldn’t have scripted a better performance by Silva. He didn’t catch Fedor in a submission early in the fight, he didn’t knock him out with the first punch thrown, and he didn’t do just enough to win a decision. He dominated Fedor and beat him up worse than Clubber Lang’s beat down on Rocky Balbao in their first fight with M-1 Global playing the role of Mickey. Here’s how crazy MMA is and why it’s such an unpredictable sport: Silva barely won a split decision against Ricco Rodriguez, couldn’t finish Andrei Arlovski, and almost lost to Mike Kyle. Despite those facts though, he was the first person to stop Fedor with strikes. Things like that make smart people like me look less smart and average people like Adam Tool look stupid. Up next for Silva will be the winner of Alistair Overeem vs. Fabricio Werdum. While Silva stated that he wants Overeem next and Werdum in the final, something very unlikely to happen, Overeem is a poor match up for Silva. While Werdum does hold a win over Silva, it’s just a better style fight for him compared to Overeem.
Predicted Next Fights: Fedor vs. Retirement – Silva vs. Overeem/Werdum winner
Sergei Kharitonov defeated Andrei Arlovski by KO (Punches) at 2:49 in Round One
As popular as ever, Andrei Arlovski tried to regain his championship form. Unfortunately his one big weakness can’t be fixed and Sergei Kharitonov took advantage of that.
Arlovski looked as good as he’d ever looked very early in this fight. He was moving well, getting in and out with his punches, and really tagging Kharitonov. He was making a mistake in trapping himself against the cage but he was getting away with it. Arlovski’s biggest flaw showed up. Kharitonov caught him with a right hand that rocked Arlovski and followed it up with a series of right hands that eventually put him down. Standing over Arlovski, Kharitonov landed a couple of punches on the dazed Belorussian to put him out cold for the third time in four fights. Kharitonov celebrated while Arlovski just lied there motionless.
Arlovski is only 32 years old and very popular with the fans but his career may be over. While I don’t think he’ll retire, I do think that he’ll strongly consider it. In seven of his nine losses, he’s been knocked out cold. It’s not a situation like Chuck Liddell either where he once had a great chin that has just taken so much abuse over the years that it can no longer take a punch. Arlovski has never had a great chin and the more he gets knocked out, the chances of it happening in future fights increases. He was doing well in this fight but when you can’t take a punch and you’re known as a striker, it’s tough survive in this sport. Maybe when he signs his next contract he can have a clause that states that he’ll only fight grapplers but most heavyweights hit hard and Arlovski just won’t be able to survive. Arlovski is one of the nicest fighters I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and I’d like to see him do well again but his weakness is something that he can’t improve. Maybe he just needs to take a long break, work on his grappling, and try and re-invent himself as a grappler. It might be the only choice he has if he wants to continue to compete.
It wasn’t a great performance by Kharitonov as he was eating a lot of clean punches prior to the finish, but he stayed patient, waited for his opening, and capitalized on Arlovski’s weakness. It re-affirmed the world that Kharitonov does have knockout power and is a real dark horse in this tournament. He looked to be in solid shape, which I thought would be the most telling thing prior to the fight, and he did what he needed to do. As long as he continues to stay in good shape, he has a real shot in this tournament. He’ll face the winner of Josh Barnett vs. Brett Rogers and I’m sure he’s hoping for Rogers to win because he’s considered the weakest competition in the tournament and plus that’s a good match up for Kharitonov given his striking and well-rounded ability compared to Rogers.
Predicted Next Fights: Arlovski vs. Jeff Monson – Kharitonov vs. Rogers/Barnett winner
Shane del Rosario defeated Lavar Johnson by Submission (Armbar) at 4:31 in Round One
In a battle of heavily hyped prospects, Shane del Rosario took that next step to stardom while Lavar Johnson heads back to the drawing board.
This fight went about as expected. Johnson was looking for that one big punch and while he tagged Rosario a couple of times, Rosario shook it off and fought on. Not wanting to get into a slugfest, Rosario used his speed and kicks to avoid the power of Johnson. Eventually Rosario got the fight to the ground, where he quickly mounted Johnson and locked on an armbar for the victory. Rosario remained unbeaten while Johnson suffered his first loss in eight fights.
Johnson is a good heavyweight to have around because he always brings it and none of his fights ever gone to decision. I’m honestly not sure how good he is or how good he can be given his age but at least you know that he’s going to put on a show when he’s on the card. He did what he could in this fight but Rosario was just too technical and quick for him. I think Johnson will end up back on the Challengers Series events and used as a gate keeper type fighter to see which heavyweights are ready to make the leap.
Rosario is legit, folks. He looks better in every fight and he has a great attitude about the sport. He’s a good technical striker, although his defense could use some work, and he’s solid on the ground as well. It was rumored that the winner of this fight would be the first alternate in the tournament but now it appears that a mystery committee, likely consisting of the same people who decide that it’s a good idea to keep making movies starring Nicolas Cage, will be deciding tournament replacements. Rosario wants to stay active this year, which is a good move given his lack of inactivity in recent years. Maybe Strikeforce is unknowingly to us holding a lower level heavyweight tournament featuring Rosario, Chad Griggs, Valentijn Overeem, and Daniel Cormier. Even if they’re not, they have permission to steal the idea from me.
Predicted Next Fights: Johnson vs. Villante – Rosario vs. Griggs
Chad Griggs defeated Gian Villante by TKO (Strikes) at 2:49 in Round One
Chad Griggs and Gian Villante slugged it out and in the end, only Griggs was left standing.
If you like two guys just going out there and slugging it out then this was the fight for you. Griggs and Villante decided that the best defense was a good offense so they repeatedly punched each other in the face, much to the delight of the crowd. Villante landed a nice head kick, that busted the ear of Griggs but otherwise they were content with clinching and dirty boxing. Finally Griggs dropped Villante with a right hand, Villante got up, got dropped again, and didn’t get back up. Griggs proved that it was no fluke that he beat Bobby Lashley.
I’m not sure what happened to Villante in this fight but he certainly did look like the fighter he was hyped to be. Maybe the bright lights of Strikeforce got to him or maybe he’s not who many thought he was. I’m more inclined to believe that the pressure got to him and that he got caught playing Griggs’ game but the next fight will show the truth. Villante is a natural light heavyweight but he seems to enjoy fighting at heavyweight so I assume that he’ll stay there, unless he takes another beating like he did this past Saturday.
While I’m still not 100% sold on Griggs, he showed me something in this fight, mainly that he can take a good punch and slug it out with anyone. Maybe he’s not ready for the top heavyweights and I still believe that working a second job as a firefighter hurts him but he’s slowly gaining a fanbase and if he keeps putting on fun fights, the people will continue to like him. I’m still waiting for Alison Brie to appear in his corner, and when that happens he’ll be unbeatable, but until then he’ll just have to survive without her. For the record, Griggs has absolutely no idea about the NBC show ‘Community’ nor the character ‘Starburns’ on the show.
Predicted Next Fights: Villante vs. Johnson – Griggs vs. Rosario
Valentijn Overeem defeated Ray Sefo by Submission (Neck Crank) at 1:37 in Round One
Valentijn Overeem showed that you need more than just striking in MMA, making quick work of K-1 legend Ray Sefo.
This fight went about as expected. Overeem was willing to test things out on the feet for about a minute or so and then when the time was right, he easily put Sefo on his back, moved to side control, and finished things with a neck crank. It was a strong Strikeforce debut for Overeem but not exactly a career defining moment given his competition.
I’m not sure that you’re a fan of MMA if you don’t like Sefo but it’s pretty obvious that he’s not a MMA fighter. He had his chance on the feet early but couldn’t quite find his range or Overeem’s chin. Once the fight hit the ground, Sefo was a fish out of water and it showed quickly. While I don’t think Sefo is done fighting, I do believe that he’s done fighting MMA. He’s 40 years old and not going to pick up on the ground anytime soon, nor does he want to. I think he’s happy working as a striking consultant at Xtreme Couture and occasionally competing in K-1. More power to the guy if he’s content with that because there are plenty of unhappy fighters in the sport so it’s always nice to see a guy who is always all smiles.
Overeem didn’t really prove anything in this fight but he did what he needed to do so he should be credited for that. He didn’t play a striking battle with Sefo for too long because he knew that’s where Sefo could catch him so he took him down and finished him with a neck crank. Overeem is still a mediocre fighter with conditioning and commitment concerns but at you’re guaranteed a quick fight when he steps in the cage. Since I’m sold on my lower level heavyweight tournament, even if no one else is, I’ll say that Overeem faces Daniel Cormier next. It would be a good step up in competition for Cormier and a good marketing win should he pick up the victory.
Predicted Next Fights: Sefo vs. MMA Retirement – Overeem vs. Cormier
The heavyweight grand prix is off to a great and very surprising start. This event will be remember for a long time, especially if it truly is the last time we see Fedor compete in MMA. Even if he does compete again, this event will still be remembered for being the beginning of something that is hopefully very special for Strikeforce and something that could allow them to take that next step in the MMA world or this event will be remembered for the start of what could be a large nail in the Strikeforce coffin.
The next MMA event is Strikeforce Challengers Series 14 so I hope everyone is prepared for The Walk Out.
PHOTO CREDIT – ESTHER LIN / STRIKEFORCE