Strikeforce: Which Fighter Has the Most to Lose?

Andrew SaundersCorrespondent IIMay 17, 2012

HOLLYWOOD - MARCH 17:  Strikeforce World Lightweight Champion Gilbert 'El Nino' Melendez attends the CBS' Strikeforce MMA Fighters Open Media Workout on March 17, 2010 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images)
Valerie Macon/Getty Images

Saturday night, Strikeforce brings us some big matchups. On the docket is the finals of the Heavyweight Grand Prix, a bout with the lightweight championship hanging in the balance, as well as intriguing battles in the light-heavyweight division. Let's take a look at the fighters who can't afford to lose this weekend.

Mike Kyle is an AKA fighter who has bounced between the light-heavyweight and heavyweight division throughout his career. His stock within the organization jumped in a major way when he stepped in as a late replacement against the dangerous Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva. Nearly knocking out the giant, Kyle earned the respect of the MMA world despite losing.

On Saturday, Kyle will grant a rematch to Rafael Cavalcante, a fighter who would go on to win the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Championship only three fights after Kyle knocked him out. If Cavalcante avenges this loss, it will take away the bargaining power of the AKA fighter who hopes to transfer to the UFC as soon as possible.

We now take a look at Lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez. Currently seen as best lightweight fighter outside of the UFC, fans across the globe have been foaming at the mouth in hopes of having the Cesar Gracie fighter transferred into the talent-rich roster pool of the UFC. Instead of getting a bout with a UFC star, Melendez has been given a rubber match with Josh Thomson. Already in an unfavorable situation against an unranked opponent, what would a loss on Saturday mean to him?

Not only would Melendez lose his status, but he would lose his championship and likely be stuck in the land of Strikeforce for the forseeable future. That fate sends chills down my spine.

Photo by Esther Lin/Strikeforce
Photo by Esther Lin/Strikeforce

In the main event, we see two fighters who have a lot on the line. Winning the Heavyweight Grand Prix as an alternate would be an incredible feat, and Daniel Cormier has the ability to conclude his Cinderella story on Saturday night. However, while Cormier has the most to gain on Saturday, as an underdog he is supposed to lose. At the end of the day, we all know that Cormier will wind up in the UFC, regardless of tomorrow night's outcome.

Which brings us to the man who can lose everything: Josh Barnett. As a man who has failed three prior drug tests, if Barnett is defeated on Saturday night, he will have a greatly diminished appeal to the company he nearly destroyed a decade ago.

With the love/hate relationship that Barnett holds with UFC President Dana White, the only way at securing a job inside the Octagon is to win the Grand Prix. Without that bargaining chip, Barnett will find himself in possession of a pink slip and staring at the padlocked doors to the Zuffa offices.

Not only can Josh Barnett lose the tournament on Saturday, but he can lose his job, his spot in the rankings and any hope of ever fighting a top ranked heavyweight for the rest of his career. With the smaller paydays out on the independent circuit, you had better believe that Barnett knows that failure is not an option.

Tune in to Showtime for Strikeforce: Barnett vs Cormier on Saturday night. The main card airs at 10pm EST.