The Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix continues this weekend. It was a tournament that started out with plenty of fanfare and intrigue, but has taken a hit thanks to the loss of the greatest heavyweight ever, an extremely lackluster fight between the first round headliner, and the prompt removal of the heavyweight champion despite winning his first round fight. To make matters worse, it was announced earlier this week that the aforementioned heavyweight champion will be making his UFC debut against the biggest heavyweight draw in the sport in December.
Basically, this tournament has turned out exactly how everyone expected it to.
Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Semifinal Fight: Daniel Cormier vs. Antonio Silva
Cormier’s Speed And Pace: If Daniel Cormier has one distinct advantage in this fight, it’s his speed. Even though Antonio Silva moves well for his size, he can’t match the speed and pace that Cormier can set. Cormier is one of the smaller heavyweights in the division, but as his training partner Cain Velasquez has proven, size doesn’t always matter. If Cormier can stay on the outside and use his speed to throw off Silva, he could definitely win the fight.
Silva’s Size: You can’t teach size, and Silva has plenty of it. Whatever he lacks in technical ability, he makes up for in shear size and strength. He beat Fedor Emelianenko thanks in large part to just how big he was. He was able to lean on Fedor against the cage, get him to the ground, and put all his weight on him while also punching him in the face. The thing with Silva is that he knows how to use his size to his advantage. He does a very good job of getting inside, neutralizing his opponents speed, and bullying guys around in the cage.
Too Early For Cormier? Cormier just fought Jeff Monson, who is a serviceable, but aging veteran who was focused on cutting to 205. Now he’s facing Silva, who’s fought, and beaten, some of the top heavyweights in the sport. Cormier is essentially going from high school, straight into the pros. Some guys can make the transition with relative ease, but others struggle to handle the pressure. I don’t really question the mental toughness of Cormier because most wrestlers, especially a high-level wrestler like Cormier, are mentally tough. But he’s never been in the MMA spotlight like he’ll be on Saturday, and that can affect even the toughest fighters.
Silva’s Focus: I like to follow pretty much every fighter on twitter because I think what people tweet says a lot about their character and focus. Based on Silva’s tweets, I’m not so sure that he’s focused on Cormier. He’s busy trading barbs with Chael Sonnen and Josh Barnett, while Cormier is just going about his business as usual. I’m not saying that Silva is overlooking Cormier, but he just beat the best heavyweight of all-time and was scheduled to fight the best heavyweight in the company. Now he’s facing a guy who is only known amongst the hardcore fans. It’s possible that he suffered a mental letdown when his new fight was announced and if he can’t get up for this fight mentally, he could be in big trouble.
Cormier’s Wrestling: Even though Cormier is one of the best credentialed wrestlers in all of MMA, it hasn’t quite translated to MMA. That said, Cormier knows what he’s doing on the ground and won’t be held down by Silva like Silva held down Fedor. Cormier is a relentless scrambler and won’t stop until he gets the top position. So even if he can’t get Silva down with his initial takedown, I don’t think Silva will be able to hold down Cormier like he’s down so many opponents before him.
Gameplans: One thing that people overlooked in Silva’s victory over Fedor is the fact that he had a great game plan and he stuck to it. Training at AKA, I’m sure Bob Cook and company have developed a great game plan for Cormier, and he’s someone who will stick to that game plan. Like a lot of fights, I think this fight simply comes down to, “who can force the other one off their game plan, and can that person adapt?”
Fight Prediction: I like Cormier in this fight. I think Silva relies too much on his size, and if that doesn’t work for him, I’m not real sure that he has a back up plan. Plus, I’m sold on Cormier. I think he has all the tools to be a top heavyweight and that this will be his coming out party. He’ll use his speed to avoid the clinch of Silva, and frustrate and wear out the big Brazilian with his striking and pace en route to a decision.
Official Prediction: Daniel Cormier to defeat Antonio Silva by Decision
Heavyweight Grand Prix Semifinal Fight: Sergei Kharitonov vs. Josh Barnett
Lack Of Competition: In the past few years, Sergei Kharitonov and Josh Barnett haven’t really faced the best fighters in the world at heavyweight. They’ve fought solid fighters like Andrei Arlovski, Jeff Monson, Brett Rogers, and Pedro Rizzo but you have to go back to 2007 when Kharitonov fought Alistair Overeem and 2006 when Barnett fought Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to find the last time either competitor traded leather with a top ranked heavyweight. When you’ve been facing less than stellar competitor over the years, it’s easy put things in cruise control in training and in the fight, which would be a mistake for either man, because they both have the skills to beat each other.
Kharitonov’s Striking: Kharitonov is an excellent striker who has competed in K-1 and has one punch power. Barnett has a solid chin but he’s also a hittable target and if Kharitonov can connect, he could put Barnett down. He also has a good uppercut, which could be key for him in this fight because of Barnett’s wrestling. Barnett has to be very weary shooting in that he avoids Kharitonov’s uppercut. Barnett also throws a lot of hooks, which leaves him open to straight counter punches.
Barnett’s Grappling: Barnett is arguably the best catch wrestler in MMA. He does a great job combining his wrestling with his submissions and securing dominant positions. He’s dominated his last few opponents on the ground, and granted they’ve been opponents with almost no ground game, but Kharitonov isn’t known for being an expert on the ground either. My knock on Barnett’s ground game is that he’s almost too patient.
Fight Prediction: This fight will be intriguing for as long as both men are standing. Once it hits the ground though, it should be all Barnett, and I expect it to hit the ground pretty quickly. I think the fight will play out a lot like Barnett vs. Rogers, where Barnett immediately goes for the takedown, gets it, and then has his way with Kharitonov before putting him away late in the first.
Official Prediction: Josh Barnett to defeat Sergei Kharitonov by Submission in Round One
PHOTO CREDIT – STRIKEFORCE