Strikeforce Results: Heavyweight Grand Prix Falters After Uninspiring Matchups

Joe SchaferCorrespondent IJune 19, 2011

Now that Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum is in the books, I think we can all agree the last two quarterfinal bouts of this Heavyweight Grand Prix were duds compared to the first two back in February.

Strikeforce’s goliath tournament continues to be an intriguing draw to MMA fans, even after Saturday’s uneventful fights between Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, Josh Bartnett and Brett Rogers, but still left spectators uninspired.

The culprit here: lopsided, stylistic nightmare matches that were heavily hyped by the press.

As soon as the brackets were announced, I felt like Barnett stood alone on his side of the table as the craftier veteran and heavy favorite to make it to the final showdown, mainly due to the fact he was the only fighter with serious wrestling skills in a pool of mediocre, yet heavy handed, strikers.

Let’s not fool ourselves further by continuing to believe Brett Rogers belongs at the top half of the division. Believe me, this is not a pretentious exercise of proclaiming the correct foresight in hindsight of a fight—but I was weary of calling Roger’s a contender even after he knocked out Andre Arlovski way back when.

Needless to say, if Strikeforce’s heavyweight division was well established with a healthy number of legitimate contenders to challenge newly signed Fedor Emelianenko back then, Rogers would have never been picked to be the “up and coming” knockout artist the promotion needed at the time.

Rogers should have never been in a position to fight Fedor or Overeem—at least not at that or this point in his career—and it showed when he lost both fights. Barnett out classing him last night was just icing on my point.

I’m not unjustly tearing Rogers a new one, but like it or not, he was thrown to the sharks. Strikeforce took a gamble on trying to legitimize a fresh face who was coming off an explosive knockout win over an ex-UFC heavyweight champ with a glass jaw.

After looking at Roger’s record leading up to the Arlovski fight—stopping his first ten opponents by either KO or TKO all in the first or second rounds—excitement surrounding his potential was justified to the extent that fans had to realize he was fighting unknowns. Unfortunately for his development, Strikeforce catapulted Rogers into the spotlight against their two best heavyweights after beating Arlovski

Since then, Rogers has been exposed as the unpolished, heavy handed amateur he was coming into Strikeforce, now losing three of his last four—barely getting by Hunt’s poster boy Ruben Villareal back in October.

As I was watching Barnett smother Rogers for a round and a half, the outcome was far from surprising. Rogers was never given a chance to land his “one-hitter quitter” and never had a chance once the fight hit the ground.

In fact, after the night concluded, you could make a convincing case for Barnett to be the new favorite to win the whole tournament.

Moving on to the last Grand Prix bout of the night between Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum.

Stylistically, this was like watching a tango between oil and water or two one-legged dancers. Neither man had any intentions of playing with fire, Overeem stayed as far away from Werdum’s guard as possible and Werdum only stood toe-to-toe with his foe long enough to set up his failed take down attempts.

The tone was set straight out of the gate when Overeem completely stuffed all of Werdum’s shots, using his power and strength to effectively sprawl to safety. Werdoomsday started taking on a whole new meaning once it became evident the he could not take Overeem down by conventional means.

To Werdum’s credit, he did take enough risks to set up his take downs by trading strikes with his K-1 Grand Prix champion opponent—which surprisingly he landed a good amount of his strikes.

Once he clinched with Overeem, Werdum immediately pulled guard in hopes of keeping the powerful Dutchman on the ground, trying to give himself a realistic chance of winning.

This strategy failed too, proving a broader principle that heavily relying on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to get guys to the ground, without any sufficient wrestling skills, is not an effective approach, even against opponents who are primarily strikers.

Werdum ran out of ways of getting Overeem to the ground and more importantly, he had no answer for keeping him there. The few seconds Overeem was in Werdum’s guard, it took just as quick for him to stand back to his feet.

Witnessing both fighters egging each other to play into the other’s strength was exhausting to watch for three rounds. It took the competitiveness and importance out of the fight for me.

Strategically, this all made perfect sense. What didn’t make too much sense to me was how two of the best heavyweights in MMA could make a quarterfinal matchup—a grudge rematch of sorts—look so one dimensional.

Surely each fighter knew the other wouldn’t willingly engage in their strongest attribute. Where’s the Plan-B? As unfortunately predictable as the back and forth charades were, it was caused more because of one-dimensional stylistic difficulties than poor matchmaking.

But, to make matters worse, both Overeem and Werdum were noticeably gassed by the end of the second round, trying to make their V8’s run on Prius gas tanks.

Then again, it’s mixed martial arts, a sport that forces all types of competitors into adapting numerous skill sets, not just to rely on one.

Overeem needed the break out performance he didn’t get and Werdum was never able to execute his newly refined game plan he had promised in interviews leading up to the fight. Neither guy really strengthened their cause to fight the UFC’s best—namely Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos.

Unlike Werdum, Overeem has kept his chances of winning the tournament alive and he still has the opportunity to prove why he should be considered a top five heavyweight in the world.

But, that has become a much taller order after the last 48 hours, with Antonio Silva and possibly Josh Barnett waiting in line to strip Overeem of his belt. Silva’s strikes are more powerful than Werdum’s and Barnett won’t have the same problems getting Overeem to the mat.

At best, it was a shaky entrance into the tournament’s for Strikeforce’s heavyweight champion.