Strikeforce World Grand Prix Results: Winners, Losers and Other Thoughts
The Strikeforce World Grand Prix, a heavyweight tournament that started with such promise last year, finally came to an end tonight in San Jose, California.
Once expected to crown a fighter who could arguably be the top heavyweight in the world, the tournament fell apart when the two favorites, Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem, were upset and left the promotion respectively.
That left openings for veteran Josh Barnett and prospect Daniel Cormier to write their names in the history books, and the two delivered. Cormier dominated Barnett, alternating between outboxing the former UFC champion and slamming him on his head with superlative wrestling.
Overall, it was a pretty exciting night of fights on Showtime. Some winners and losers are obvious. We record their names in the record book. But sometimes, you can lose by winning and vice versa.
Who were the real winners and losers? The ones who will never be recorded for posterity, living only in our memories?
Winner: Daniel Cormier
Daniel Cormier, twice an Olympian, is more than just a wrestler. Training partners at the American Kickboxing Academy raved about his developing striking game, and it was on display for the world against Josh Barnett.
Barnett, a former UFC champion, came into the fight in great shape. Barnett injured his hand in the first round, but you couldn't tell during the five-round fight. He never stopped coming forward or throwing punches. He was simply outclassed by Cormier, who peppered him with punches and even landed several high kicks despite a five-inch height differential.
And, of course, there was wrestling. Cormier tossed Barnett like he was a child, once slamming him so hard the entire cage shook. On the ground, he maintained control, escaping Barnett's submission attempts with ease.
Now the Strikeforce World Grand Prix Champion, Cormier belongs in the UFC. In fact, he belongs in the cage with whoever survives a UFC 146 title fight between Junior dos Santos and Frank Mir. He's no longer a prospect—Daniel Cormier is a full-fledged challenger.
Loser: Josh Barnett
It doesn't get much worse. Barnett was throttled for five rounds. May have broken his hand. And with this loss in the heavyweight Grand Prix, may have lost his chance to come back to the UFC as well.
A former champion, Barnett was stripped of his title after failing a steroid test and departing the company. He's since feuded with UFC President Dana White. A win here would have forced White's hand.
Now? Who knows if Barnett will be allowed to return to the Octagon. His talent merits it. But there's only so far you can push the boss, and Barnett crossed that line and then some.
Winners: Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson
After 15 rounds between these two fighters, it's still hard to say who the better man is.
Thomson scored with punches and kicks and a nifty trip takedown, but Melendez's relentless attack ended up ruling the day. The champion won a split decision but was booed mercilessly after his hand was raised.
Thomson, who came on strong in the final two rounds, was classy in defeat, encouraging the crowd to cheer Melendez. Showtime was pushing a fourth fight between the two. Poor Melendez, who badly wants to challenge the UFC's best, looked near tears at the mere thought of it.
Loser: Gilbert Melendez
Gilbert Melendez won a great fight. How can he possibly be a loser? I can hear you furiously typing a comment already. Hear me out.
Melendez's teammate Nate Diaz proclaimed that Gil was the best fighter in the world at 155 pounds. That might well be true—but it's hard to make that case after his fight with Thomson. Josh is simply not considered a top fighter anymore. Injuries and time have taken their toll.
Melendez and Strikeforce are trying to sell Gil as the top dog in his weight class. After Saturday night? That's all but impossible. Melendez isn't supposed to struggle with the Josh Thomson's of the world—not if he's the best in the world.
Loser: Mike Kyle
Mike Kyle has come a long way. For years, he was despised in the MMA community—a bully best known for his unsportsmanlike conduct, most notably a despicable attack on Brian Olsen as the referee tried desperately to stop the fight.
Since then, Kyle is a changed man. He's developed as a man and developed his game dramatically, turning from a brawler into a precision puncher.
But it took me longer to type that paragraph than it took Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante to dispatch with Kyle last night. Feijao rocked Kyle early, then tapped him out with a guillotine.
After the fight, Feijao asked for a title shot. The problem? There's no champion. Announcer Mauro Ranallo speculated that Rafael might fight Gegard Mousasi for the title vacated by Dan Henderson when he left Strikeforce for the UFC.
Winner: Chris Spang
Chris Spang gave Nah-Shon Burrell a clinic in the Thai plumb, nailing him with knees every time he blinked and with punches when he foolishly tried to avoid the knees. It was the classic "lose-lose scenario for Burrell.
Burrell was hyped as a great athlete coming into the fight, but Spang, a Swedish striker from a fighting family (his father is a pro boxer and his brother Andreas lost Friday night in the Bellator Season 6 middleweight finals) seemed both stronger and quicker to the punch.
Real questions remain for Spang. He struggled against the wrestling attack of Ricky Legere Jr. in his last bout and is a long way from contention. But the 24-year-old just made a case that he is a prospect worth watching.
Loser: JZ Cavalcante
It's hard to imagine a time when fans could seriously believe Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante was the top lightweight in the world. But a run of success in Japan had many placing JZ on the top of their rankings in 2007.
Five years of injuries and struggles later, that very idea seems ludicrous. Isaac Vallie-Flagg, despite having a hyphenated last name, is a seriously talented guy. But he's a fighter who JZ was supposed to walk through. Instead, Cavalcante wore down, and Vallie-Flagg was able to win a split decision.
In his last eight fights, JZ's only one twice. After last night, he's clearly not an elite fighter anymore. Worse? He may not even be worthy of a spot on a major show's roster.
Winners: Virgil Zwicker and Carlos Inocente
Yes, it was sloppy. Yes, by the end of the bout, the two men were both exhausted to the point of collapse. No, neither man is a threat to any top fighter in the world.
But my goodness, these two guys had a fun little scrap. Zwicker, an American Indian tough guy, dropped to 205 for the first time. Based on the gut that still remained, he might even have 185 in his future.
He was outclassed in talent and athleticism but never quit. He took all that Inocente had to offer and continued charging forward. He was Homer Simpson as a boxer.
Inocente won a unanimous decision. It won't ever be called pretty. But it was spectacularly, entertainingly, bad.