The American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas shall host the second installment of the inaugural Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix less than one week after its home team the Dallas Mavericks toppled bitter rivals the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals. This Saturday, June 18, the Strikeforce Heavyweight Tournament resumes after a three-month break to bring its heavy hitting champion face-to-face yet again with his former foe and to wrap up the last of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Quarter-Finals as well as bring some of its up-and-coming stars to the big stage. Strikeforce, DREAM and K-1 champion “The Demolition Man” Alistair Overeem (31-12) meets “Vai Cavalo” Fabricio Werdum (14-4) in a long awaited rematch that pits arguably the world’s best heavyweight striker against the world’s best heavyweight Jiu-Jitsu black belt. Former UFC Heavyweight Champion, PRIDE, and Sengoku stand-out “The Baby Faced Assassin” Josh Barnett (21-5) fights Chicago-born slugger ”The Grim” Brett Rogers (11-2) in the co-main event to determine which man moves on to the tournament semi-finals. The reemergence of “Conviction” Gina Carano (7-1), who was making her return to the cage against undefeated Sarah D’Alelio (3-0), has been pulled due to Carano not receiving medical clearance from her doctor and has been replaced by a previously scheduled prelim bout between former Elite XC Lightweight Champion KJ Noons (9-3) and “Gamebred” Jorge Masvidal (19-6). Opening up the main card though are a pair of tournament reservoir bouts with former UFC heavyweight title contender and American submission specialist “The Snowman” Jeff Monson (37-11) returning to the big leagues opposite the undefeated rising star Daniel Cormier (6-0), and IFL veteran and heavyweight dark horse “The Grave Digger” Chad Griggs (9-1) looking to continue his dominant win streak when he meets former PRIDE veteran and powerhouse “The Python” Valentijn Overeem (27-21). With the opportunity for either Griggs or Overeem to partake in one of Strikeforce’s most major events, both men have a lot to gain but even more to lose.
At First Glance: Valentijn Overeem, the elder brother of multi-promotion heavyweight champ Alistair Overeem, made his Strikeforce debut with a resounding first-round submission over K-1 veteran “Sugarfoot” Ray Sefo (2-2) in February. Now “The Python” is looking for another crushing win over a fellow dark horse in Chad Griggs. Chad Griggs is riding a five-fight win streak – none of which made it to the third round.”The Grave Digger” is most well-known for his bloody beatdown of “The Dominator” Bobby Lashley (6-1) at Strikeforce: Houston, and is now looking to climb another rung on the Strikeforce heavyweight ladder at the expense of the seasoned veteran Valentijn Overeem. With the international promotions of RINGS, PRIDE, It’s Showtime, and K-1 being former homes of Overeem, the amount of fights on his record clearly outweigh the career of the American-born Griggs. However, this bout certainly would not mark the first time the green horns dethroned the seasoned veterans, and Griggs has a lot to gain with a victory this Saturday night.
In Depth: Overeem’s nickname should be “The Bull” after the charging takedown he unleashed against Ray Sefo; his gargantuan size would only add to the foundation of the name, too. Overeem is very well-rounded in both the striking and grappling departments of the game. With 14 submission wins and nine wins by TKO he clearly is comfortable wherever the fight goes. “The Grave Digger” Griggs has finished all of his opponents via strikes, most of them in the first round. His professional record proves that once Griggs finds his groove he always comes out with a win, and furthermore, that he has come a long way since his sole career loss, to Shane Ott (3-3) via Kimura, in 2007. Valentijn Overeem has also seen his share of defeats and while his record may not be the prettiest in MMA, he can never truly be counted out. With 11 losses by way of submission and nine via TKO he has proven to fall to even his own devices; Griggs can use this as a game plan and use Overeem’s own strengths against him. The adage “A Puncher’s Chance” may be Griggs’ MO when approaching this fight, as he may stand and out-strike Overeem, clipping his chin and finishing the fight with his brutal ground-and-pound. Overeem’s best route to the victory is to use his powerful kicks to batter the legs and body of Griggs, keeping his distance until he sees Griggs begin to wince from the pain then take him down. Overeem is a brute and once he gets a choke or an arm he will likely end it quickly and the same can be said of his striking: if given the opportunity to connect, his opponent probably won’t last long. It would be to Griggs’ advantage to avoid going to the mat with “The Python”. He was outclassed by the wrestling of Bobby Lashley and the strength of Valentijn will likely render similar results. Overeem seems to have found a new fuel to light the fire in his career and now looks to keep it burning with a win over “The Grave Digger”.
Wild Card: Griggs, a true underdog in the heavyweight ranks, is dangerous as long as he is conscious. He has solid striking and furthermore may capitalize on his above par footwork and head movement to avoid the bombs of Overeem and get in the openings to land damage. Griggs can look at Overeem’s striking as a double-edged sword – it’s world class but the level of his aggressive in the stand-up has also cost the win on more than one occasion. Griggs will likely employ good ole American boxing against the Overeem brothers’ renowned Dutch style of kickboxing to find a soft spot on the chin of Valentijn and send the bull to the mat for the referee to intervene.
The Verdict: “The Python” Valentijn Overeem signed with Strikeforce to make a statement that he is far from done in the MMA world. He has been fighting since 1996 and despite his spotty success, has always been a force to be reckoned with. The elder Overeem brother has gone toe to toe with some of the best in the world but now looks to start a new chapter in his career in the USA and with a win over Griggs. Expect Valentijn to use his aggression and kickboxing to batter Griggs’ legs and pepper his head and body with punches. The longer the fight lasts the more Griggs will be looking for a way out, and as long as Overeem doesn’t become overzealous and consequently make a mistake, he ought to be able to go the distance and earn the judges’ nod. Overeem via Unanimous Decision.