It’s no secret, Strikeforce’s heavyweight landscape is filled with question marks.
With the current Champion, Alistair Overeem, only defending his title once since 2007 due to commitments in Japan and a string of worthy challengers hanging in the balance.
Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker is looking to start answering a few of our questions this coming February by hosting their first-ever eight-man, single-elimination heavyweight Grand Prix.
There are still many questions looming around the tournament at this stage, it’s unclear whether each tournament bout will be contested under three five-minute rounds and whether the Championship will be on the line in all of Overeem's fights, only in the final or not at all.
From what we understand right now, Coker is pushing to make each bout contested under five rounds but getting that is no easy feat, so the likely outcome is only the bouts featuring the current Champion will be five rounds.
The first tournament bout to be contested on the Feb. 12 event is former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski facing off against Sergei Kharitonov.
Andrei Arlovski set the heavyweight world on fire in the early portion of this decade with his vicious knockout power which silenced the likes of Vladimir Matyushenko, Tim Sylvia & Paul Buentello.
But today Arlovski is believed to be a shell of his former self, having not tasted victory since 2008. Since then Arlovski has suffered a string of defeats, with two of the three coming by way of knockout.
His opponent, Sergei Kharitonov will be making his first appearance inside the Strikeforce cage in the Grand Prix after years of competing in Japan. To date, Kharitonov has defeated top heavyweights, including Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum.
The Russian native has won four of his last five bouts, with his last victory coming at FEG’s New Year's Eve Dynamite!! Event with a quick knockout of DREAM Light-Heavyweight Grand Prix finalist, Tatsuya Mizuno.
Both Arlovski & Kharitonov need to collect a victory in the opening round of the tournament, but for completely different reasons.
For Arlovski, he needs to win to keep his career alive after his less than impressive run over the past few years while Kharitonov needs a victory to make a name for himself in the United States.
The second tournament bout on that night pits the former No. 1 heavyweight in the world, Fedor Emelianenko against Antonio “Big Foot” Silva.
Emelianenko spent a majority of his career competing in Japan’s PRIDE organization defeating some of the best heavyweights of all time, including Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and Mark Coleman.
But this past June, the Russian suffered his first legitimate defeat on his career when UFC cast-off Fabricio Werdum caught him in a triangle arm bar.
Silva, on the other hand, has not tasted defeat since he fell to Werdum. He has looked impressive defeating Arlovski and Mike Kyle.
This is a fight that will answer a lot of questions about the status of Emelianenko and whether he deserves his title of a top heavyweight.
But Silva is no push over; he is a rising star in the heavyweight division with heavy hands and legitimate ground skills. He is someone who can go far.
The other two opening round tournament bouts will take place in March in a yet to be determined time and place.
The first of the bouts to be contested in March pits former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett against Brett Rogers.
Barnett will be making his return to the United States and his Strikeforce debut, following a failed drug test in 2009 that signaled the death of the Affliction Entertainment organization.
Since then, Barnett has competed twice overseas against lesser caliber opponents with neither man able to escape the first round against “The Baby Faced Assassin.”
His opponent, Brett Rogers, is fighting for his job at this point and time. The past two appearances Rogers has had inside the Strikeforce cage have ended in him being knocked out in devastating fashion.
Outside of Strikeforce, Rogers has returned to his winning ways, defeating Ruben Villareal via Unanimous Decision in the W-1 organization.
Barnett and Rogers both have power in their hands, and both men desperately need a victory, so I don’t see this one going the distance.
The final tournament bout in March is between current Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem and top contender Fabricio Werdum.
Overeem and Werdum faced off before in 2006 in the opening round of PRIDE’s Openweight Grand Prix, on that night Overeem got caught in the web of the submission ace.
Since then, Overeem has legitimately doubled in size, became the first Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion, defeated Brett Rogers and Badr Hari and recently won the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix.
Werdum tested the waters in the UFC for a while before arriving in Strikeforce, where he’s yet to suffer a defeat, most recently being the first man to submit Fedor Emelianenko.
Both men have evolved greatly since they last faced one another, and this is a fight the fans have been begging for since Werdum defeated “The Last Emperor.”
Unlike the other bouts, you have to take into consideration that when these men square off it will be for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Championship thus, being a 25-minute fight.
The winner of this fight will likely be the odds-on favourite to take home the entire tournament and will make a serious claim to being one of the top heavyweights in the world.
With all eight participants being known for exciting performances in the past, you can bet that this will bring the fireworks in a big way and shape up the entire heavyweight landscape.