It's hard to believe that, after 16 months of waiting, speculating and hand-wringing, the Strikeforce world heavyweight grand prix is actually going to come to an end.
Back when it was announced, MMA nerds—and yes, I include myself in that illustrious group—went bonkers over the possibilities the tournament held. After all, there are three things that every fan adores about the sport, and two of them are heavyweights and tournaments. The other two things? Arianny Celeste and Brittney Palmer, of course.
There was a chance the tournament would never be completed at all. Back in August, it looked like Strikeforce was all but dead. But here we are. Scott Coker's last grand experiment is finally coming to an end.
As per usual, we're going to power rank each of the main-card fighters. Think of this as a pound for pound list, but one that only includes the dudes fighting on the main card.
Oh, and I'm excluding Nah-Shon Burrell and Christopher Spang because, well, they're Nah-Shon Burrell and Christopher Spang.
Let's get started.
Outside of a loss to gargantuan heavyweight Antonio Silva, Mike Kyle has been pretty good over the past few years. In fact, his last loss prior to the Silva defeat came against Fabricio Werdum, and he's been spotless ever since at light heavyweight.
Kyle is facing Rafael Cavalcante for the second time after defeating the Brazilian back in his light heavyweight debut in 2009. A second win over Cavalcante would put Kyle in the driver's seat for a Strikeforce light heavyweight title shot, if such a thing still exists.
Let's face it: Thomson is getting a lightweight title shot—and a third bout with Gilbert Melendez—because he's really the only true lightweight remaining in Strikeforce with any name value. That's pretty much the gist of it.
He's the last man standing, in a manner of speaking, and so he's getting another crack at the belt despite being 1-1 in his last two fights.
But that's the state of the Strikeforce lightweight division. Melendez is considered by many—myself included—to be the best lightweight in the world, but there is absolutely no competition for him remaining in the company.
I'm sure Thomson will give it his best effort, but he's got very little chance of actually dethroning the champion, especially if the rumors that he injured his knee in training are true.
Cavalcante is the former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, having captured that belt from new Bellator and TNA Wrestling signee "King" Mo Lawal. He lost that title to Dan Henderson in his first defense last March, but rebounded with a win over Yoel Romero Palacio.
Cavalcante has outstanding power in his hands, and we'll likely see a fruitful standup war between him and Kyle.
Much like opponent Mike Kyle, "Feijao" has some name value. A win here would probably earn him a title fight for the vacant Strikeforce belt against someone like Gegard Mousasi. That's only if they're planning on keeping the belt around, of course.
"The War Machine" is one of the best and most enduring heavyweights in the history of the sport, but he's most famous for transgressions involving failed drug tests.
He was a UFC heavyweight champion, but had the title stripped after failing for three banned substances. And then there was the Affliction ordeal, when Barnett's drug failure caused the collapse of a dream fight with Fedor Emelianenko and the eventual death of the promotion as a whole.
Barnett has rebounded admirably since then, however. He was one of the favorites to reach the finals of the grand prix tournament when it began, and he's been its only true constant since the beginning. A win here would virtually guarantee Barnett a spot back in the UFC, which is the one place most fans of the sport assumed he'd never return to.
He's got a chance to win the fight. I tend to consider Cormier a heavy favorite here, but Barnett's catch-wrestling prowess can not be discounted. He'll have a tough time getting Cormier to the mat, but if he's able to do so, he has a good chance of securing a submission win. I wouldn't count on it, though.
I think Barnett will get a chance in the UFC regardless of the outcome of this fight. He's still a top ten heavyweight either way, and I want to see how he fares against the only heavyweight roster in the sport that still matters.
Daniel Cormier's ascension to the level of top-flight heavyweights isn't all that surprising. He's got what amounts to one of the best current wrestling pedigree in the sport, having achieved true world-class level in international competitions.
That wrestling pedigree alone could have carried him to a top ten ranking. But it's his daily training sessions with Cain Velasquez—the man I still consider to be the best heavyweight in the sport despite his quick knockout loss to Junior dos Santos—that turned him into a true threat to the best the heavyweight division has to offer.
Cormier has accrued incredible power, speed and precision striking in his hands. It actually reminds me—and forgive me if you've heard this before—of legendary Russian Fedor Emelianenko, back in the days when he was a relevant fighter. Mix that with his extraordinary wrestling and you have a heavyweight to be reckoned with.
Cormier will defeat Barnett to capture the grand prix championship, and then he'll move to the UFC to compete with, and defeat, the best in the world.
Was there ever any doubt in your mind as to who the top-ranked fighter on this list would be?
In my mind, Gilbert Melendez is the best lightweight in the world. You can disagree with me if you want, and I'm sure a lot of you will. And a lot of you will be wrong, too.
The unfortunate thing for Melendez is that, after he defeats Thomson, there won't be any competition left in Strikeforce. He's stuck there for the remainder of his contract, which means Dana White and company will need to pony up the dough and try to find someone from the UFC roster who is willing to move over and fight Melendez on his turf. As the last four months have shown us, that will be a tough task.
In a way, Melendez will be the last male star Strikeforce has left after this event. The final two big heavyweights will be moving to the UFC, and all of the top talent from the other weight classes has been stripped.
Sure, they've still got Ronda Rousey, and that's a good thing. But Melendez deserves better than to be the king of a division with talent that is still purely developmental at best.
Expect Melendez to put on a clinic against Thomson and to make a statement that he deserves to be fighting the best in the world.