We are within 24 hours of Strikeforce’s opening rounds of their inaugural Heavyweight Tournament that will feature some of the world’s elite big men, some past, present and future champions. Overall, this tournament has generated some serious buzz from all corners of the MMA community, having the potential to produce goliath matchups between pillars of the division. The action begins with Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva this Saturday night.
Before we get ahead of ourselves with excitement—to experience the resurgence of this old glorified format, rooted in the genetic makeup of the sport—let’s not forget the familiar pitfalls of such a contest and the rigors suffered by its contestants.
Jonathan Snowden wrote an excellent piece assessing Fedor Emelianenko’s chances of winning the whole tournament—which would require three fights, against tough competitors, in eight months. Essentially, Snowden pinpointed three major factors preventing Fedor from completing such a task: injury, age and management.
As the diehard Fedor fan-boy I allow myself to be at times, it was hard to argue against his reasoning. But it also inspired me to dig a little further and apply these same shortcomings to the other fighters in tournament.
Having little knowledge of how the majority of these contestants are managed, age and injury would be the prevalent concern to nearly everybody fighting under this format—not exclusively to the likes of Fedor (though I do agree with Snowden, punching a massive structure like Big Foot Silva, puts any hands at risk, especially Fedor’s previously broken ones).
Back in the Pride and early UFC days, injuries and alternates having to rear their ugly heads in tournaments were as common as Royce Gracie submitting guys for the whole kit and caboodle. Being susceptible to the consequences of injury, fighting at this rate, is exclusive to nobody. As soon as that even-keeled, everyday Joe decides to jump into a career of mixed martial arts, he’s accepting a long, tortuous path of nagging injury, with or without competing in tournaments.
The Journal of Sports Science and Medicine did an interesting report in 2006 researching injury ratios amongst competitors, based on rounds and/or number of fights.
A total of 171 MMA matches involving 220 different competitors took place during the study period, producing 96 injuries to 78 fighters. The overall injury rate was 28.6 injuries per 100 fight participations or 12.5 injuries per 100 competitor rounds. Of the 171 matches fought, 69 (40 percent) ended with at least one injured fighter.
Like any study, the general point expressed is meant to incite conversation, not to be sensationalized by numbers, which can easily be misrepresentative due to many variables. In a sense, none of these fighters in the next eight months can guarantee an injury-free journey to the belt.
Now moving onto the second half of concern surrounding Fedor’s chances of banking the title over his counterparts: age. Literally, Fedor is the oldest fighter in this tournament at the age of 34. Comparatively, there’s not much difference in age range between everybody on the tournament roster.
Going from oldest to youngest: Fedor (34), Barnett (33), Werdum (33), Arlovski (32), Silva (31), Kharitonov (30), Overeem (30) and Rogers (29). Five years separates the youngest from the oldest; the oldest has already destroyed the youngest in a match over a year ago at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers.
Though I’d agree Fedor has put on some rough mileage in his career since 2000, it’s hard for me to deny that same fact when we turn our attention to the majority of the participants. Most of these guys have been through the ringer with hard consecutive fights against top competition at some point in their careers, with the exception of Silva and Rogers.
Despite the consensus on Fedor’s preferential status in the tournament, for good or bad, what is in agreement would be the fact that an any tournament format pulls no punches and exposes weaknesses more transparently. On paper, due to the possibly of injury, this tournament will be fairly decided across the board by exposed holes in the armor, kinks in the chain, etc. The most exciting aspect of this particular bracketed contest is everybody will be in the realm of possibly to go far, assuming they do the right things and avoid an early anatomical exit.
Let’s take a look at each participants Achilles' heel:
Fedor, 34 (32-2)
I agree with Snowden’s concern over Fedor’s hand stability for the same reasons. He generates so much power with his technique and speed, one slip on the forehead or sloppy punch could lead to aggravating a previous breaks suffered in past fights against Gary Goodridge, Tim Sylvia and Brett Rodgers.
Josh Barnett, 33 (26-5)
Barnett’s reliability has been in question ever since he was forced to drop out of his main event fight with Fedor under the Affliction banner for failing a drug test—some could argue this stunt single-handedly buried the company’s promotional aspirations. On skill alone, Barnett is certainly a dark horse in the tournament, assuming he gives himself a chance to prove it.
Alistair Overeem, 30 (34-11)
After making short work of his tournament counterpart Brett Rogers, last summer, for the heavyweight title and running through the K-1 Grand Prix gauntlet late last year, Overeem must feel indestructible. Overconfidence from being a heavy favorite to win the tournament and the pressure to perform in America on such a huge stage could play havoc on The Reem’s mental health and nerves.
Andrei Arlovski, 32 (15-8)
Kharitonov had nice things to say about Arlovski’s chin out of respect for his opponent, but there’s no denying the glass jaw x-factor that comes with the former UFC heavyweight champ. A list consisting of Pedro Rizzo, Ricco Rodriguez, Tim Sylvia, Brett Rogers and Fedor Emelianenko have all put their stamp on Arlovski’s suspect chin for wins. Fighting somebody with Kharitonov’s power naturally raises concerns for The Pitbull’s ability to withstand punches on the feet.
Sergei Kharitonov, 30 (17-4)
The big question mark over Kharitonov is his conditioning and cardio. Skills alone, he should be considered another dark horse with wins over Overeem and Werdum in the past. But without the fuel in the tank to go the distance, those tools will be rendered useless.
Brett Rogers, 29 (11-2)
Rogers comes into this tournament as the least well-rounded, experienced fighter. His three potential opponents on his side of the bracket—each side of the brackets in reality—all have tremendous fighting experience and versed skills in the main disciplines of the sport. Rogers will have an uphill battle against all these seasoned guys.
Antonio “Big Foot” Silva, 31 (15-2)
Having to fight one of the sport’s toughest legends like Fedor in the first round would seem to be Silva at an immediate disadvantage. Smart money and Vegas money has Silva’s early exit from the contest as eminent, with Fedor as a huge favorite. In all honesty, if Silva can get past Fedor, he has a great chance at taking the grand prize home. There’s no area Silva is particularly weak in; he has black belts in Judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and karate and has formable power in his hands.
Fabricio Werdum, 33 (14-4)
Due to his slightly above average striking, the temptation to get the fight to the ground, where he is light years beyond most, is usually too strong for Werdum to make him unpredictable. There are a handful of fighters in this tournament with good take-down defense and strong accurate striking.