Following Saturday night’s Strikeforce card, I’ve read numerous pieces on the internet talking about how people are no longer interested in watching this tournament play out, and that it doesn’t matter if it comes to a conclusion at all. Personally, I think that talk is ridiculous. The Strikeforce Grand Prix still features four Heavyweights who are among the top 15 in the sport, a collection of talent that is rare when looking at the division. Whomever comes out the victor of the tournament will also be the best challenger for Cain Velasquez or Junior dos Santos, as there is currently nobody in the UFC Heavyweight division who provides an intriguing fight for either. How that equates to something that isn’t worth watching is beyond me.
If you look at the reasons that have been cited for the sudden disinterest, you’ll also see that many of them are misguided. Yes the Alistair Overeem-Fabricio Werdum bout was a strange one, and neither fighter looked particularly impressive, but this is nothing new for opponents of Werdum. His size and incredibly dangerous guard often leave his foes with no option but to play a tentative game on the feet. Overeem was no different, and avoided grappling with Werdum until he was visibly fatigued. The result was a far different Overeem than we have seen in recent fights, but remember that he was also facing the his most dangerous opponent since 2007.
Overeem will not have a repeat of his Saturday performance in the later rounds, because nobody else in the field will force him into the game of cat and mouse that Werdum did, so that reason to discount the tournament is a flawed one.
I’ve also seen some backlash towards Josh Barnett’s victory over Brett Rogers, and this really boils down to two things in my mind:
- Many people simply dislike Barnett. Whether it be the steroid issue, or his personality, he is reviled by some of the MMA community.
- The matchmaking in this fight wasn’t great. Rogers was always a sacrificial lamb for Barnett, and it seems like it created unrealistic expectations for the newly minted “War Master”.
Looking at the fight rationally, Rogers literally presented no offense for Barnett to be concerned about, and Josh dominated the entirety of the fight. Comparing Barnett’s success against Rogers with someone like Overeem, it’s hard to see the difference. Both fighters completely outclassed Rogers. They did it in different ways, but the end result was a decisive finish. Barnett’s performance actually intrigued me much more about his side of the bracket. I had always favoured the former UFC Champion to end up in the finals, but now I find myself wondering if he can’t take the whole tournament with his mix of underrated boxing and dominating top position grappling. Josh Barnett is one of the reasons my interest in the Grand Prix is spiking right now.
The final reason I can think that people may be down on the Grand Prix right now would be the names which have already bowed out of the tournament. Fedor Emelianenko and Andrei Arlovski were arguably the biggest names known to fans prior to the tournament beginning, and both were defeated soundly in the first round. What fans need to realize is that the men who beat them (Antonio Silva and Sergei Kharitonov) present more interesting stylistic matchups to those remaining competitors. As much as a long awaited Fedor/Overeem semifinal would please tenured MMA fans, and a Fedor/Barnett final would finally bring to fruition a match that fans have wanted for nearly 10 years, Antonio Silva proved he is the better fighter in 2011, and deserves his semifinal spot.
Although the World Grand Prix has not gone quite as planned – both in terms of schedule and results – to this point, I find myself more interested in how it will play out now than I did at the beginning. There is a genuine argument for each of the remaining four fighters to win the tournament. The pre-tournament favorite, Alistair Overeem, is still likely the favorite, but would anyone be shocked if Antonio Silva continued to develop at an astounding rate and knocked off the current Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion in their semifinal clash? Josh Barnett has already experienced a lengthy run as one of the top Heavyweights as the sport, and proved against Brett Rogers that he still belongs in that group. Would it really be shocking to see him win two more fights to be crowned Grand Prix champion? Sergei Kharitonov likely has the longest odds to win at this point, but with his powerful striking, he is capable of knocking out any of the remaining fighters in the tournament, all of whom are very hittable fighters when striking.
Fans can say what they want about this tournament, but I’ll be watching it through to the finish because at this point I have no idea how it will play out, and I couldn’t be happier about that.