The Strikeforce World Heavyweight Grand Prix has reached its conclusion and the result is one that none of the odds makers could have predicted. When the smoke cleared after a year of mixed martial arts action, it was an alternate, Daniel Cormier (10-0), who emerged the ultimate victor after dominating one of the sport’s most respected veterans in “Warmaster” Josh Barnett (31-6) for five full rounds. “El Nino” Gilbert Melendez (21-2) retained his belt in a razor thin Split Decision in his rubber match against “The Punk” Josh Thomson (19-5). The pair of three-round affairs that opened the night’s action, however, took far less time to determine the outcome. “Feijao” Rafael Cavalcante (12-3) got revenge for his 2009 loss to “Mak” Mike Kyle (19-9) in just 33 seconds and “The Kiss” Chris Spang (5-1) added a third knockout to his resume in just over three minutes at the expense of “The Rock-N-Rolla” Nah-Shon Burrell (8-2). It was one of those rare nights where not a single bout disappoints.
Chris Spang vs. Nah-Shon Burrell: The opening bout of the main card was a classic striking match-up between a long, mobile boxer and a more compact, short-range powerhouse. Burrell has the more dangerous striking of the two, but he was simply unable to get inside of Spang’s superior outside striking to implement his aggressive style. It was thought that Burrell would have been able to keep Spang on his heels because he had no need to fear a takedown, but Spang made him pay for his aggressive tendencies in a whole other way when at around 3:15 of the first he blasted “The Rock-N-Rolla” from functional consciousness with a solid hook and ended the fight shortly there after with knees from the Thai Plumb. Spang via TKO (Knees), Round 1, 3:25
Rafael Cavalcante vs. Mike Kyle: Three years ago, Mike Kyle upset a heavily favored “Feijao” Cavalcante in his Strikeforce debut with a second-round TKO. Pundits blamed many things (“Feijao’s” conditioning, him overlooking Kyle, etc.) for their error, but in the end, it was Kyle’s night. Things were much different in the rematch. Cavalcante wasted no time in exacting his revenge. He rocked Kyle hard within seconds of the opening bell and then jumped into an Arm-in Guillotine Choke. Kyle staggered around the cage for a few seconds with Cavalcante hanging from his neck in a standing guard before attempting a desperation slam to escape. “Feijao” had none of it and Kyle tapped at 33 seconds of the first. Cavalcante via Submission (Guillotine Choke), Round 1, 0:33
Gilbert Melendez vs. Josh Thomson: Fans got much of what they have come to expect from “El Nino” and “The Punk” in their third meeting. The two were dead even and actively trading for the entire 25 minutes of their third five-round title tilt. The first round would eventually be a cause for controversy as it was so even that 10-10 would have been a perfectly reasonable score. Rounds two and three saw the champion edge out Thomson, while four and five were clearly dominated by the challenger. Though fans booed the Split Decision for Melendez, it was by no means an unreasonable call. The first round was dead even on every measurable level. The only real controversial aspect of the fight is for some reason getting almost no attention whatsoever from the MMA community. Melendez inadvertently fingered Thomson’s eye no less than five times throughout the match and a point was never deducted. In fact, it appeared from the telecast that no warning was even given to the champ. The lost point would have resulted in a Majority Draw, a more than fair outcome. Melendez via Split Decision
Josh Barnett vs. Daniel Cormier: From the opening bell to the last, this five-round affair was all about the former US Olympic Captain. While there was never a moment that the long-time top ten heavyweight Josh Barnett was out of the fight, the night belonged solely to Daniel Cormier whose wrestling was in a league of its own and whose striking was just a little too fast and a little too accurate for the crafty veteran to handle. Barnett did some damage and adapted well to the holes in Cormier’s game, landing several solid knees and nearly securing an Inverted Heel Hook off of a Kneebar attempt, but in the end the “Warmaster” simply couldn’t overcome the pure athleticism and toughness of the OSU freestyle stand-out. At the end of the fight, Barnett was more battered and beaten than fans have ever seen him in his long career, but he was still actively looking to reverse his fortunes at the final bell. It was a heavyweight tilt that will be remembered for a long time due both to the grit of each man and the emergence of Daniel Cormier as a tournament champion and elite MMA heavyweight. Cormier via Unanimous Decision
Click here for the full list of Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier results.