When Strikeforce announced their World Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament, the promotion had high hopes that they would crown a champion by the end of 2011. Obviously, that never happened, but the end is in sight, as the two finalists, Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier, are set to meet on May 19 at the HP Pavilion to decide who will be crowned the first and last Strikeforce World Heavyweight Grand Prix champion.
Yes, the first and last champion. You see, in a somewhat strange twist, the ownership of Strikeforce decided to disband the promotion’s heavyweight division while the tournament was still in process, leaving Barnett and Cormier as the only heavyweight competitors left in the heavyweight division. For the most part, the rest of the roster was absorbed by the UFC.
With that in mind, some would say that the winner of the Grand Prix is essentially a lame duck, a champion over a non-existent weight division, and while that may be somewhat true, the winner will fight one more time in Strikeforce before they most likely move over to the UFC. When asked about who the champion would face, Strikeforce president Scott Coker was reluctant to offer up any possible opponents.
Barnett was more blunt on the subject, saying it’s not something he was concerned with in the least.
A manager can go ahead and think about that all they want to ad nauseum, rack their brains at night all about it. Fans, journalists, by all means, get into arguments, start near riots, burn stuff, all good. Me? I do not care. It does not matter. I gotta beat Daniel Cormier and after that, I’m sure there will be somebody else. Whatever they're doing someplace else, more power to ‘em.
With the focus clearly on this fight and nothing beyond, the matter of style and advantages was discussed. Barnett is one of the few fighters that employs a style based on catch wrestling, while Cormier, an NCAA All-American and a member of the U.S. Olympic team, has a solid background in wrestling.
When it comes to who holds the advantage inside the cage, Barnett feels that his experience gives him the edge.
I’ve been fighting for over 15 years now, so of course I’ll have an advantage. Daniel’s got nine fights, I’ve got, with unsanctioned fights, over 50, but Daniel’s an Olympic athlete and that is a big equalizer.
When asked his opinion on the subject, Cormier was quick to acknowledge that he may struggle with Barnett’s style, but that he felt he had prepared to the best of his ability for the fight.
I’m not necessarily sure you can prepare for it (catch wrestling), because what he does he does at a level that people can’t emulate, so it’s going to be tough. I have to avoid the positions where I can get into trouble in. It’s going to be tough, I’ve prepared as well as I can, I’ve spent as much time in the areas as I need to and most times that usually equals success.
Who will win the SF GP?
As far as his opponent’s unblemished record of 9-0 is concerned, the 31-5 Barnett was not dismissive of it, but he refused to put much stock into those numbers.
The term undefeated is incredibly relative. All I care about is the person, not the record; all that statistical stuff is garbage. I can see the guy fight, I can tell what he does. I can dissect the fights that he’s had, but looking on paper and saying, 'oh, he’s undefeated' or, 'he’s got three losses' or, 'he’s got 17 losses.' Well, if the guy's got 17 losses, you know that he’s been in the ring at least 17 times, so that says something in and of itself.
The Strikeforce World Heavyweight Grand Prix may have been an overly ambitious project for the promotion, but on May 19, it will, after more than a year, finally come to an end when either Barnett or Cormier has their hand raised in victory and that championship belt strapped around their waist.
**All quotes obtained first hand by BR MMA during a Strikeforce media conference call with Coker, Barnett and Cormier.