Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix: Grading Every Main Card Fighter
After a rough and bumpy road, the finals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix are finally set. This past Saturday night, Daniel Cormier and Josh Barnett punched their ticket to the finals, and will meet each other early in 2012 to determine the first Grand Prix champion.
Also on the card, Luke Rockhold turned in a performance of a lifetime as he defeated Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza for the Strikeforce middleweight title. King Mo Lawal also made a successful return to the cage as he ended the Roger Gracie hype train, and Pat Healy put a halt to Maximo Blanco's title run before it ever began.
So if you set aside the fact that the fighter won or loss, how did they perform?
Once again, it is time for the unofficial official professor of Bleacher Report MMA to hand out grades to all the main card fighters.
Daniel Cormier: A
If anyone had doubts about Cormier's striking prowess, he put them all to rest when he put Bigfoot Silva to sleep with one big right hand.
The Olympic wrestler showed that AKA has turned the wrestler in to a full-fledged mixed martial artist. Cormier never once shot in for a takedown. The much smaller Cormier was content trading with Silva in the middle of the cage.
Then with one punch, the alternate taking the place of former champion Alistair Overeem overcame the odds and will now fight for the Grand Prix title early next year.
Maximo Blanco: D
Blanco was entering Strikeforce with much hype behind him. After tearing through the ranks in the now defunct Sengoku, Blanco was seen by many as a legit threat to the lightweight title currently held by Gilbert Melendez.
However, the trend of fighters from Japan failing in the United States continued.
Blanco had great success early in his fight against Pat Healy, but he seemed to run out of gas in the second round. Healy used this to his advantage and became only the second person to submit Blanco when he secured a rear-naked choke in the last minute of the second round.
King Mo Lawal: B+
King Mo made a successful return to Strikeforce after suffering his first loss at the hands of Rafael Cavalcante.
Lawal paid no respect to the surname of the fighter in front of him, and gave Roger Gracie a lesson in Striking 101. Lawal ended Gracie's night by knockout with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first round.
Was this the first step in Lawal's march back to the top, or just a case of exploiting an over-matched opponent?
Pat Healy: B+
Pat Healy stepped in as a late replacement for Josh Thomson against Maximo Blanco Saturday night. Healy, the rough and rugged veteran, never got the note that he was supposed to be a showcase match for Blanco.
Although the going got rough early on, Healy withstood the storm, and capitalized when Blanco started to run out of gas late in the second round when he secured the rear-naked choke victory.
Sergei Kharitonov: F
Kharitonov, with his superior striking, was supposed to give Barnett some problems. However, that never came to be.
Kharitonov was over-matched from the fight's onset, and never stood a chance against the "Warmaster." Once the fight hit the ground, Kharitonov looked like a fish out of water, and just laid there until he was forced to tap out due to an arm triangle choke late in the first round.
Luke Rockhold: B+
Rockhold put on the greatest performance of his life when he went the distance against reigning Strikeforce middleweight champion Jacare Souza.
The match was highly contested, and it showed by the media's scoring. Some respected members had Rockhold winning, while some had Souza retaining his belt.
But when the official judges turned in their scorecards, they unanimously awarded the belt to Rockhold, with one judge somehow giving Rockhold all five rounds.
Roger Gracie: F-
Roger Gracie must have forgotten that he is a jiu-jitsu expert first, second and third. For Gracie, striking falls somewhere around seventh or eighth in his areas of strength.
Despite that, Gracie was content to trade with King Mo, the heavy-handed wrestler. It took less than a round for Gracie to figure out that he had no chance trading strikes with Lawal. Too bad for Gracie he was laying face down on the canvas when he finally figured this out.
Antonio Silva: F
Silva was stuck between a rock and a hard place in his fight against Daniel Cormier. Had he taken the fight to the mat, Cormier's wrestling would have given him fits. But the biggest surprise was that the much smaller Cormier was able to connect to Silva's chin with no problems.
All it took was one big right hand to Silva's enormous chin to put him down and out for the second time of his career. It is still up in the air if Silva took Cormier lightly, or if Cormier is truly the newest elite heavyweight to hit the MMA scene.
Jacare Souza: C
Jacare Souza put on a spirited effort against the young Rockhold, who was coming off a 19-month layoff to challenge for the middleweight title.
The verdict about Souza is still up in the air. Did he take his challenger lightly because of his lack of experience and the lengthy layoff, or is Jacare not as good as everyone believed him to be?
This question will be answered the next time we see Jacare in action.
Josh Barnett: A-
What is there really to say about Barnett? He completely dominated Kharitonov the entire fight.
In the finals, it goes without saying that Barnett will face his greatest challenge in the tournament when he takes on Daniel Cormier. Both fighters are incredibly skilled on the ground, but it is now safe to say that Cormier will hold the decisive edge in the striking department.
What kind of game plan will the "Warmaster" come up with to neutralize the strengths of Cormier? Or a better question may be will Barnett be able to come up with a game plan to neutralize Cormier?
We will all find out in a few months.