A crazy week of mixed martial arts news outside the cage was capped off by an awesome event inside the cage tonight as the Strikeforce Grand Prix tournament continued from the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, OH.
Tournament combatants Josh Barnett and Sergei Kharitonov battled in the main event after a night of great fights that also included the other semi-final bout between Antonio “Big Foot” Silva and Daniel Cormier.
As we can do with any MMA event, looking back on the record books will give us somewhat of an overview of what happened during tonight’s fight card, but it’s tough because there are often things that happen inside the cage that change who the true “winners” and “losers” of the night really were. Sometimes those affected aren’t even in attendance, let alone fighting.
With that being said, let’s take a closer look at tonight’s real winners and losers.
Jordan Mein impressed in his very first Strikeforce appearance, knocking out veteran fighter Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos in the third round of their undercard fight. The 21-year old was having his 30th professional fight tonight, but this was by far the biggest of the 30.
Mein wasn’t expected to put on such a great performance, but he was very impressive in his debut for the promotion and has to be considered one of the top up-and-coming 170-pounders in Strikeforce, if not the world.
After losing to Nick Diaz in his Strikeforce welterweight title shot earlier this year, Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos was trying to get back in the win column tonight against a young fighter, Jordan Mein, who was making his Strikeforce debut.
Santos looked good for most of the fight, but got caught by a few strikes from the 21-year old midway through the third round. Cyborg was able to stay on his feet, but Mein absolutely crushed him with huge punches and elbows until the referee finally stepped in and called a stop to the bout.
This loss drops Santos to 1-3 in Strikeforce, a number which may prove to be the kiss of death on his contract. In fact, he may have already been gone if his wife wasn’t the torch-bearer for women’s MMA as a whole.
Coming off of a disappointing loss to Dan Henderson in his most recent fight, former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante must have felt somewhat disrespected that he was not even on the main card of tonight’s event.
But that won’t last long after his performance tonight.
Feijao fought an opponent, Yoel Romero, who utilized a very... unique... Style throughout the bout. But Feijao remained calm and collected, picking his spots to strike before finally landing a huge spinning backfist in the second round that rocked the MMA newbie in just his fifth professional fight. From there, it was just more picking his shots before Feijao sent his opponent flying to the canvas where he finished him off with one final punch to the face.
Feijao may have a date with destiny rematch with another former light heavyweight champion soon, but we’ll get to that later...
In what was unquestionably the biggest fight thus far in his MMA career, Romero practically refused to engage with Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante in the first round. Certainly there is something to be said about not wanting to be too aggressive against such an impressive opponent, but Romero practically did nothing in the entire first round.
In the second round, Romero’s first kick that landed ended up hitting Cavalcante below the belt. The commentators on HD Net ripped Romero’s “style” apart at this point.
Romero did explode with fury midway through the second round and landed quite a few shots, but was unable to land enough to actually finish Feijao. Eventually he got caught with a spinning backfist and was never really able to recover from there.
Roger Gracie came into tonight’s fight with all the hype in the world. An undefeated 4-0 MMA record followed an unbelievable submission grappling career that would have been good enough, on its own, to make Gracie a star.
But tonight was the first real challenge of his MMA career... And he failed. Badly.
Gracie looked completely out of place on his feet, opting to throw Street Fighter-like knees to the body of “King Mo” Lawal who absorbed them and answered repeatedly with punches. Finally, Mo landed a big right hand late in the first round which instantly sent the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt to the ground. From there, two more punches just added to what may have been the worst beating Gracie has ever received in his entire life.
The future is still bright for Gracie, but he will need to work extensively on his standup game. Though Lawal is a powerful puncher, he is not particularly known as a great technical striker—and he made Gracie look like a fool.
An absolutely thunderous knockout right hand punch from King Mo ended the undefeated career of Roger Gracie tonight in what may be Lawal’s comeback to the elite in the light heavyweight division.
Lawal took his time and waited for an opening, but made it count when he stepped past Gracie’s jab to land the overhand right. The punch connected perfectly and, judging by his reaction, looked to be the hardest that has ever hit the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. After a few more punches, Lawal was victorious over a previously undefeated Gracie.
After the bout, “King Mo” called out the man who took his Strikeforce light heavyweight championship, Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante. The fight seems to make a lot of sense now and would be a good No. 1 contenders fight if they decide to let it happen.
An emotional outpouring from a victorious Luke Rockhold was a stark contrast to the disappointment that must have been pumping through the veins of “Jacare” Souza following a unanimous decision loss to the young middleweight from American Kickboxing Academy.
Souza carried a four-fight win streak into tonight’s fight as the Strikeforce middleweight champion which included victories over top contenders Tim Kennedy and Robbie Lawler, but he just didn’t seem to have it on this night. Though he clipped Rockhold a few times throughout the fight, Souza didn’t look like he as really looking for the finish as much as he probably should have been.
There are still plenty of great fights left in this 31-year old, but losing his title has to be one of the toughest things that has happened in his career.
A new champion was born on this monumental night for Strikeforce as Luke Rockhold defeated Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza to become the Strikeforce middleweight champion.
Rockhold displayed a great chin when he took a few solid punches that nearly buckled him in the second round, but kept his composure and avoided getting knocked out. This was about as close as Souza ever came to winning the fight, though, as Rockhold was able to out-strike one of Anderson Silva’s training partners in impressive fashion to put his name in the record books as what some believe may be the final Strikeforce middleweight champion.
One of the fighters who may have been most affected by tonight’s results is actually middleweight contender Tim Kennedy, who recently defeated Robbie Lawler to secure his place as one of the top 185-pounders in Strikeforce.
Kennedy battled Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza for the vacant Strikeforce middleweight championship when previous champ Jake Shields left for the UFC, but fell short in a razor-thin judges’ decision that really could have gone either way.
The stars seemed to be aligned for a Kennedy-Jacare rematch in late 2011 or early 2012 if Souza could do what he was expected to and defeat Luke Rockhold, but we now know that didn’t happen. Fortunately for Kennedy, he should still be considered the top contender for the title as he has now won back-to-back fights.
Better yet, Kennedy’s chances might even be better against Rockhold than they would have been in a rematch against Souza, just given the stylistic matchup.
Antonio Silva came into tonight’s fight on an impressive three fight win streak that included victories over Andrei Arlovski, Mike Kyle and former pound-for-pound king Fedor Emelianenko. The victory over Fedor put Silva on the map as one of the top heavyweights in the world as some experts even had him ranked in the top-five in the world.
But that will change after tonight’s devastating knockout loss to Daniel Cormier.
“Big Foot” was the betting favorite coming into the fight and many believed that he would easily dismantle an opponent whom they had barely even heard of. But that confidence quickly turned to concern when Cormier dropped him early in the first round and proceeded to completely school him on the feet throughout the rest of the fight before finally securing the knockout.
Silva can still be safely considered a top heavyweight, but his mystique may be gone as we now know that his chin may not be quite as strong as it looks.
Cormier weathered the storm early when Silva came in and landed a few shots, but answered by absolutely smashing Silva with numerous big shots in the first half of the first round.
On more than one occasion, Cormier confidently stood above “Big Foot,” demanding that he stand back up versus doing what many believed he would and trying to out-wrestle him. This surprising turn of events got even more dramatic when Cormier hammered Silva with another huge right hand, this time an uppercut, which finally put an end to Big Foot’s night.
The question coming into this fight was not whether or not Kharitonov could out-strike Josh Barnett—we knew he had that ability—but what we didn’t know is whether he would be able to stay afloat if the fight went to the ground.
That question was answered early in the bout when Barnett tripped him to the ground before securing a full mount. From there, it was only a matter of time before Kharitonov was tapping.
As much as we want to believe that he has the standup skills to have a “puncher’s chance” in any fight, Kharitonov has not proven that he has the all-around defensive game to be a top-level fighter.
Josh Barnett did what he needed to by standing with Sergei Kharitonov early, but quickly imposed his will with a beautiful trip which instantly turned into a full mount. Barnett knew that once he had Kharitonov on the ground, the fight was his, and he proved it with a first-round submission victory, utilizing an arm-triangle choke to force a the tap-out late in the round.
Barnett now carries an 8-0 mixed martial arts record since Pride closed its doors, earning victories over quality opponents such as Jeff Monson, Pedro Rizzo, Brett Rogers and now Sergei Kharitonov. His performance tonight was every bit as dominant as his quarterfinals fight when he used the same submission to choke out Brett Rogers.
The catch wrestling expert will now fight Daniel Cormier in the finals of the tournament in what may very well be one of the most important fights of his career. A loss could mean he’s headed back overseas to fight in Japan while a win could force the UFC’s hand in giving him another big-money contract to fight in the Octagon.
Tonight’s event was a big one for American Kickboxing Academy who had four of their top talents performing on the card. Mike Kyle, Luke Rockhold, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal and Daniel Cormier all did their gym proud, though, as they ran a perfect 4-0 sweep on the night.
The night was made even better in that, despite being a significant underdog, Rockhold walked through “Jacare” Souza to become the new Strikeforce middleweight champion.
An awesome night of fights was exactly what fans tuned in to see tonight and that’s exactly what we got. Unbelievable performances from start to finish made this one of the most entertaining cards that Strikeforce has ever put on.
But what’s unfortunate about the whole situation is that the writing appears to be on the wall regarding the eventual demise of the Strikeforce brand. Even though the company name still holds quite a bit of value, Zuffa has made it very apparent that the company is on life support by the complete lack of promotion that they did for tonight’s event.
Events such as Fedor-Henderson in July were promoted heavily, but tonight’s event did not see anywhere near that kind of love.
Especially after the loss of Nick Diaz, Alistair Overeem and now Cung Le, one has to expect that Strikeforce’s doors are on their way to being closed. It may even be by the end of 2011.
We will likely see more defections from Strikeforce to the UFC, but you might as well not even bother looking for UFC fighters performing on Strikeforce cards. It’s just not going to happen.
Dan Henderson and Gilbert Melendez have both been rumored to be the next Strikeforce champion who will make his way to the UFC, but don’t be surprised if the UFC decides to pick from the heavyweight tournament tree. There is a lot of top talent still remaining in that division and the UFC is currently lacking depth in their own heavyweight division.
There is even a heavyweight competing tonight whom some believe could have a pretty decent chance at being the man to dethrone UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
The machine that is the UFC will soon swallow up Strikeforce entirely. It’s not if, but rather when. After tonight’s event, it may be sooner than we think.