Saturday, June 18, Strikeforce returns with the second installment of the first round of its Heavyweight Grand Prix as “The Demolition Man” Alistair Overeem (31-12) takes on “Vai Cavalo” Fabricio Werdum (14-4-1) and “The Grim” Brett Rogers (11-2) squares off with “The Babyfaced Assassin” Josh Barnett (21-5). The card is one of the better showings from Strikeforce in a long time, perhaps due to an influx of financial backing from Zuffa, and features several of the names that recently staked a claim in the California-based promotion. Among those names are former title challenger KJ Noons (9-3), “Gamebred” Jorge Masvidal (19-6), “The Python” Valentijn Overeem (27-21), and “The Grave Digger” Chad Griggs (9-1) as well as a bout between blue chip wrestler Daniel Cormier (6-0) and submission specialist “The Snowman” Jeff Monson (37-11). This last pairing is an excellent test of Cormier’s skills as “The Snowman” is not only a monster on the ground but is a battle tested veteran with more fights than all of Cormier’s previous opponents combined.
At First Glance: This fight is Daniel Cormier’s “big break”. When most people think of a fighter’s chance to make it big, they think of a UFC or Strikeforce debut, but it really happens when a fighter gets his first known and respected opponent. In the world of submission grappling and MMA, Jeff Monson is about as respected as they come. As an Abu Dhabi Combat Club champion, a NOGI champion, an International Sport Karate Association heavyweight champion, and a former UFC heavyweight title contender, “The Snowman” is a tall order indeed for the talented young Cormier to take on. A victory over Monson would certainly propel him into the MMA spotlight, but Daniel Cormier will have to answer a whole host of questions to achieve that.
In Depth: In every way this fight is a bad match-up for Daniel Cormier. His career so far has lived and died based solely on his wrestling talents honed on the US Olympic Team and at Oklahoma State University. However, Monson’s stellar record as a PAC-10 Conference Champion at Oregon State and his multiple Team USA wrestling credentials match up at least even with Cormier’s and his multiple ADCC and NOGI championships point to a much more potent ground game once the fight hits the mat. Monson also has the power in his hands to make the stand-up game a less than encouraging prospect. Added to this is the fact that Monson fought more fights in 2010 alone than Cormier has in his entire career, pointing to the massive advantage Monson has in experience. For Daniel Cormier to win, he has to find the happy medium between long range punching, mid-range takedowns, and clinch control to stall out the offensive tools that Monson has at his disposal. Both men are experts at getting the fight to the mat and controlling it once it gets there, but Monson is a master of finishing fighters once he has that control.
Wild Card: Jeff Monson has fought seven times in the past ten months and even though he won every one of those bouts, the stress of repeated full contact competition takes its toll in the form of numerous minor injuries that often don’t have time to heal. Against a younger, fresher, and larger opponent like Cormier, that can be a disadvantage Monson can’t afford to give up. There is every chance that if Cormier pushes this bout into the later rounds by fighting a war of attrition on the mat, those injuries will catch-up to Monson and his body will give out before the final bell.
The Verdict: Cormier is a solid blue chip prospect, but his time has yet to come. In Monson, he faces a man that has built his same skill set into a well-rounded and finely honed complete ground game that Daniel Cormier simply isn’t prepared to face at this point in his career and betting on Monson’s iron frame giving out on him isn’t a wise wager. Cormier will take the fight to the mat, but he will pay for it when “The Snowman” twists one of his limbs into a position it wasn’t designed to be in. Monson via Submission (Kimura), Round 2.