Strikeforce invaded the east coast for the first time last night as they held the first round of the Heavyweight Grand Prix at The Izod Center in East Rutherford, NJ.
The real winners thus far are the east coast fans who are starting to get more attention from the bigger promotions and Strikeforce. The organization has to be happy with the attendance as 11,287 rabid fans packed the arena. Scott Coker himself said that the organization would be looking to make a return to the area in the near future.
As far as the fighters are concerned the difference between the winners and losers was clearly evident last night as the Heavyweight Grand Prix is off to a rousing start thanks to some dominating performances. From watching Alistair Overeem's brother Valentijn make Ray Sefo look like a lost child on the ground to what may have been the last time we will see Fedor complete, the card had a little bit of everything.
The elder Overeem was fighting in the United States for the first time since 2002 when he lost to Aaron Brink at WFA TWo. To say Overeem is a journeyman is putting it mildly, with his submission win over Sefo his record now stands at 29-25. He did what he needed to do, get the fight to the floor and take advantage of Sefo's clear disadvantage on the mat. Up next for Overeem is in question as he is the second alternate for the tournament.
Sefo is 39-years-old and has had a long, successful career as a kickboxer. He has been in the K-1 World Grand Prix Finals eight times. As far as MMA is concerned he hasn't had all that much experience. Last night's loss was the first of his career, but then again he has a total of three mixed martial arts bouts under his belt. He may get another bout on the Challenger series because he is clearly not an elite MMA fighter, his name is what landed him in this tournament.
Chad Griggs and Long Island, NY native Gianpiero Villante were up next and these two certainly did not disappoint. For just under three minutes bombs were thrown, mostly by Griggs, but Villante did a good job of staying in the fight until Griggs finally cracked him with a right hand ending the bout at 2:49 of round one. Griggs is in waiting mode as he is the 3rd alternate. Villante will probably go back to fighting for Ring of Combat, but don't be surprised to see him fight for Strikeforce again, especially if they do come back east.
In a battle of heavyweight prospects, the undefeated Shane Del Rosario took on Lavar Johnson to determine the first alternate. Johnson is one hell of a story having survived a gun shot wound to the abdomen in July of 2009. Since coming back he has he had won two straight bouts, but Rosario proved to be a bit too much locking on a fight ending armbar from the mount at 4:31 of round one. Both men are crowd pleasers and did well on their first big Showtime card. I'd like to see Johnson battle Griggs, that's a bout that would produce some fireworks.
In the evening's first quarterfinal bout, Andrei Arlovski looked to rebound from a three fight losing streak as he took on Sergei Kharitonov. Arlovski still has a strong following, but once again he was on the wrong end of a knockout. Kharitonov needed just 2:49 to put Arlovski to sleep. Kharitonov will take on the winner of the Josh Barnett-Brett Rogers bout scheduled to take place in April. The Russian has defeated some quality fighters throughout his career and will be a handful for Barnett.
Arlovski is only 32-years-old, but after suffering three brutal knockouts in his last four bouts he needs to reevaluate his career. Whether that means taking a break or fighting on smaller cards to try and get his confidence back. No one wants to see him get knocked out anymore, last night he was motionless on the mat. He just doesn't seem to have his head into his fights and as we have all seen the mental aspect of MMA is just as important as the physical. He just has not been the same since the Fedor fight, who knows if he will ever fully recover.
Last but not least the east coast fans were given their first opportunity to watch the great Fedor in action, in person. From the beginning it was evident that Fedor was going to have problems with Silva due to the almost 50 pound weight difference between the men. The first round saw Fedor swinging for the fences and quite possibly winning a close round, but the momentum began to change at the end of the round when Silva got on top towards the end of the round.
Round two was as dominating a round as there could be as Silva took Fedor down early and kept him there the entire round. After achieving mount it was only a matter of time before Fedor began to tire. Carrying a man of that size on top of you while he is raining down hammerfists and punches would normally have put most fighters away a lot sooner. Fedor never gave up and tried many times to escape by giving up his back, but Silva flattened him out and continued raining down on the the man many consider the best heavyweight of all time.
Seeing Fedor's corner try to get the swelling down that had caused his right eye to shut was like watching a great ballplayer walking off the field for quite possibly the last time. He was bruised, battered and beaten, in fact I don't think he put up much of an argument when the referee halted the bout between rounds two and three. In a great sign of class and respect an overjoyed Silva controlled his emotions for a moment and bowed in front of Fedor. That is what makes MMA so great.
Fedor has a lot of thinking to do, does he give light heavyweight a shot? After being involved in so many wars would the drop down be enough? After being involved in so many wars, a lot of the time fighting men much bigger than himself, does Fedor have any gas left in his tank or is it simply a case of Father Time catching up to the vaunted Russian. No matter what he decides the man is amazing and has given fans a lifetime of memories.
Silva now moves on to face the rematch between Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem. He has already lost to Werdum back in November of 2009 via unanimous decision. He will go into that bout with his confidence at an all time high and riding a three fight win streak. HIs standup leaves a bit to be desired and Overeem would probably punish him until finally putting him away.
A rematch with Werdum would be similar to their first as both men rely on their grappling to win their bouts, but both fighters have improved since then and Werdum would be coming off of wins against Fedor and Overeem back to back.
The Heavyweight Grand Prix is off to a great start and hopefully will only get better. I could see Strikeforce using this model with all of their weight classes. It is an interesting concept and something the American fans aren't all that accustomed to.