Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix: Do We Care About This Tournament Anymore?
Tournaments are like the Tower of Babel in the combat sports world.
In the beginning, everyone is enthusiastic, the will is there and it truly seems like the impossible can be pulled off.
Then you get halfway through it, pour hundreds of hours of work into it, only to realize everyone is speaking a different language, and no one knows what the Sam Hill is going on.
Confusion and frustration are the curses levied by the fight gods on every single-elimination style tournament, which seems kind of unfair, as tournaments are supposed to epitomize what fighting is all about: a no-BS way to determine who the best is.
Alas, it is not for mere mortals to try to touch the face of God.
I mean, this sort of thing was bound to happen sooner or later, right?
Just look at the pandemonium that befell the "Super Six" boxing tournament on Showtime, the same network that houses Strikeforce (for the time being, at least). No tourney is immune from the chaos.
But in that case, the frustration was "worth it," as the Super Six was the launching pad from which U.S Olympian Andre Ward catapulted into boxing’s elite ranks, whether or not he beats Froch.
But post-Ubereem, what exactly are we left with in the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament?
This is a tournament without Fedor, unarguably its biggest draw at the start, who could have used a win here to regain his grip on the heavyweight throne (how strange that notion seems now in hindsight).
It’s a tournament without Werdum, who could have added to the legitimacy of his Fedor win and BJJ credentials to become a bona-fide heavyweight superstar.
And most frustrating of all, it’s a tournament without Overeem, the Strikeforce heavyweight champ and K-1 Grand Prix winner who could have ridden a win right into the top five rankings in the world, justifying at long last his years of (arguably undeserved) hype from MMA fans around the world.
Now the only place to catch Overeem is in the unemployment line—and by that, I mean the next United Glory show, crushing cans like he was working in a recycling plant.
Same old, same old.
I’m still crossing my fingers, toes and God knows what else that Overeem will make his way to the UFC sooner rather than later.
What does that leave us in the tournament field? Let’s break it down, shall we?
Antonio Silva Wins It
Antonio Silva wins: On its face, this doesn't seem like too bad an option.
With all eyes looking forward to the inevitable Strikeforce/UFC merger, having a giant, 280-pound Bond villain as tournament champ seems an attractive prospect. In a UFC heavyweight division full of monsters like Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos and Shane Carwin, Silva would seem to be a perfect fit.
The problem is that prior to his win over Fedor, Silva was not viewed as an "elite"-level heavyweight. He previously dropped a decision to the much-smaller Werdum and carried a fading Andrei Arlovski to a three-round decision. Silva barely survived against undersized journeyman heavyweight Mike Kyle, and his list of opponents during his Japan days reads like a who's who of heavyweights you've never heard of.
And that win over Fedor is already lost some of his luster after "The Last Emperor" was starched by 185-pound, 500-year-old Dan Henderson in his last fight.
Silva needs to keep winning impressively for this tournament to launch him into "the elite." Otherwise, cynical fans will simply say he was the biggest man in a suddenly not-so-big heavyweight tourney field.
Daniel Cormier Wins It
A lot of haters are going to come pouring out of the woodwork if AKA prospect Daniel Cormier wins it all.
First will be the Strikeforce haters, conspicuously absent since the UFC's purchase of Strikeforce some months ago. This outcome will give them lease to strike up the hate-choir once again.
If Cormier, an alternate and MMA neophyte, wins what many were hyperbolizing as the "greatest tournament in MMA history" only a few months ago (lookin' at you, Bas), then it will mean that the tournament, its participants and the Strikeforce heavyweight division itself were weak as all hell, just like the haters predicted.
The second group of haters to raise hackles will be the wrestling haters. Composed of "Just Bleed!" type of casual fans, BJJ enthusiasts and everyone at Team Roughouse, this contingent will howl to high heavens that a Cormier win is further proof of the wrestlers' "takeover" of MMA.
You know where the argument goes from there—something like, "Wrestling is killing the sport! It's too boring! Wrestlers exploit the Unified Rules! ANGRY VOICES!"
Never mind the fact that Cormier fought his last fight almost entirely on the feet—and won.
The biggest problem with this outcome is in the likely event of a merger, I doubt Cormier would be willing to face UFC champ and fellow AKA'er Cain Velasquez for the title. Cain and Cormier could then become the Fitch/Kos of the heavyweight division.
Cut to Dana turning purple...
Sergei Kharitonov Wins It
When Pat Miletich claimed at the start of the tournament that Sergei Kharitonov was his dark horse pick to win it all, his response from fans was a lot of eye-rolling and disbelieving chuckles.
I'll be damned if old Pat isn't starting to look a hell of a lot more prescient.
Kharitonov's path to victory lane is looking a lot easier now than it was when the tournament began. He faces Josh Barnett next, a fellow cagey vet who, in the past, has struggled with Eastern European kickboxers with power and a good sprawl (see: Cro Cop, Mirko).
With a win there, Kharitonov faces either Silva—who is less than bulletproof on the feet despite looking like an Easter Island statue—or Cormier, who one would assume is miles behind Kharitonov in the striking game.
The biggest problem with a Kharitonov win is his complete lack of name value in North America. Even back-to-back, crushing victories to win the tourney would likely leave him little more then a blip on casual fans' radars.
Sergei also has to know he's fighting for his job in this tourney, as recent weeks have seen every one of his Golden Glory compatriots cut from the Zuffa promotions. Being in the tournament is likely all that saved him from Dana White's axe. A loss could be the end of his fortunes stateside.
Josh Barnett Wins It
And I saw and beheld a pale horse, and his name that sat upon it was Josh Barnett, and hell followed him.
Yes folks, if Josh Barnett—easily the most despised man in MMA today—wins the tournament, the MMA Internet may very well explode.
People absolutely despise Mr. Barnett right now; he's a fringe heavyweight contender at best, competing in a league outside the UFC.
Can you imagine how much they'll hate him when he's the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament champ?
And you just know he'll use all the mic time he'll get in victory to cut big, extravagant, pro-wrestling style "promos" and rub everybody's face in his obnoxious awesomeness.
Barnett has the tools to win it, folks. He's a top-notch grappler and a cagey veteran to boot. As far as pure submission ability goes, he's miles ahead of the rest of the tournament field. If he can make every one of his opponents fight "his fight"—that is, get in their mount and let it rain pitter-patter punches—he's going to walk away with it, and that's a fact.
That's the bad news.
Here's the worse news: It won't make a lick of difference.
Call me crazy, but I don't think there's a chance in hell Josh Barnett ever steps foot in the UFC—not after he failed three (three!) PED tests, forfeited his UFC heavyweight championship eons ago and single-handedly killed the Affliction promotion.
Okay, I don't think Dana would hold that one against him—except for the part where Barnett once vowed to urinate in Dana's mouth.
Yeah, I don't see that going over too well with the boss.
Josh Barnett wins this tournament, and the "greatest heavyweight MMA tourney ever" turns out to be a giant waste of time, money and, dare I say, emotional investment.
Oh, the humanity!