After much to do about fallen emperors and Ubereems, buy-outs, drops outs, upsets, and late replacements, the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix has finally reached its conclusion, provided neither “The Warmaster” Josh Barnett (31-5) nor “DC” Daniel Cormier (9-0) has anything unexpected hinder their ability to compete in the match-up. In addition to the tournament finals, Strikeforce has booked a trio of bouts worthy of supporting the organization’s greatest endeavor to date. “El Nino” Gilbert Melendez (20-2) will put his lightweight strap on the line against “The Punk” Josh Thomson (19-4) in the pair’s long-awaited rubber match. “Feijao” Rafael Cavalcante (11-3) will continue to recover from the loss of his title as he looks for a second straight win, and revenge, against “Mak” Mike Kyle (19-8-1). Opening the card, Challengers Series import “The Kiss” Christopher Spang (4-1) will seek redemption for his Strikeforce debut loss as he steps in the cage across from “The Rock-N-Rolla” Nah-Shon Burrell (8-1). It’s a strong card and it has been a long time in the making, and for fans it has a lot of live up to.
Christopher Spang vs. Nah-Shon Burrell: The opening main card fight features two men who are skilled, but are still filling in the holes in their respective games and are also working out the kinks that fighting on the Strikeforce level has exposed. Both men are strikers first, as was evident in their at best rudimentary ground skill display in their most recent bouts. This is where Burrell’s opportunity to shine comes in. In his last match against James Terry (11-4) and a previous bout with Joe Ray (8-3), Burrell was unable to utilize his inside striking game due to the threat of the takedown and the pressure each man applied. He has to have that inside game against Spang who has over three inches of reach on him, but fortunately for the “Rock-N-Rolla”, Spang lacks anything even resembling the takedown abilities needed to keep his aggression in check. Look for Burrell to struggle with the reach for a round or two before getting comfortable inside and landing a few big hooks and uppercuts to end the fight. Burrell via TKO (Punches), Round 2
Rafael Cavalcante vs. Mike Kyle: These two men have met before. Kyle spoiled “Feijao’s” Strikeforce debut when he beat the brakes off of a gassed Cavalcante in the second round to secure a TKO win. While this time it is unlikely that “Feijao” will show up out of shape, the King of the Cage veteran has improved his wrestling game since then and possesses the same weapon that took the Brazilian’s belt from him a little over a year ago: a devastating overhand right. Cavalcante is the more skilled fighter of the two, and despite Kyle’s improved takedown defense, the BJJ black belt should still be able to get “Mak” down at will. The only question is will he be able to finish him. Kyle is a tough nut to crack and as long as he doesn’t get rash and waste a ton of energy trying to fight in the clinch, it isn’t likely he will be finished. That means he has 15 minutes to land one punch. If he lands it, he wins, if he doesn’t, the judges will hand it to the former champ and no one will complain about the call. Kyle via TKO (Punch), Round 3
Gilbert Melendez vs. Josh Thomson: When “The Punk” Josh Thomson injured his knee, he assured fans it would not stop the third installment of his war with Caesar Gracie protégé Gilbert Melendez from happening. He is half correct; the scheduled bout will still take place, but it won’t likely be the contest fans are hoping for. In their first fight, Thomson took the nod with superior striking as he nullified Melendez’s excellent ground skills with the takedown defense he picked up during years of wrestling experience. In the second, Melendez had evolved and out-struck “The Punk”. The third will unfortunately not be one of the close decisions the previous two were. Since Thomson became the last man to defeat “El Nino”, the young champion has steadily improved and has become as dangerous on the feet as he is on the mat. In the same time, Thomson has been plagued by injuries, much like the knee injury that threatened this bout, and it has had a very noticeable effect on his performances. Even his three victories have proven to be of far lesser quality than those earlier in his career. Fans expecting the fireworks present in the pair’s first two meetings will likely be disappointed as Melendez respects Thomson’s ability to take control of the fight at anytime and opts for a decision win over pushing for a finish. Melendez via Unanimous Decision
Josh Barnett vs. Daniel Cormier: Despite only one of the pair being in the tournament’s starting field, it is quite possible that this Grand Prix finale does, in fact, host Strikeforce’s top two heavyweight talents. Barnett started as the ringer on the side of the brackets that housed the arguably over-hyped and the washed-out heavy hitters of the world and predictably dominated the field. Cormier enter the “stacked” half of the brackets as an alternate after everything that could go wrong for the Strikeforce marketing team on that side of the field, did go wrong. The funny thing is, with the possible exception of “Demolition Man” Alistair Overeem (36-11), the red hot blue chip prospect from OSU is, in fact, the best heavyweight fighter to enter that side of the brackets. Despite the best efforts of the aforementioned marketing team, the fans will get to see the two best Strikeforce heavyweights instead of the best vs. the most heavily promoted. Most pundits feel that Barnett, with his wealth of experience and elite grappling skills, will either dominate a decision or secure a submission after wearing down the young dark horse. However, each man has a similar skill set on the feet with Cormier being the more technical of the two. He also was the captain of the US Olympic Freestyle Wrestling Team and is easily the most accomplished wrestler Barnett has faced to date. Even worse for the “Warmaster”, unlike most of his previous opponents with storied grappling backgrounds, Cormier is in his prime. Barnett is a crafty veteran who is hard to finish and exceptionally well-rounded, but this is Cormier’s time to shine as he out-grapples the grappler, keeps it on the feet, and knocks out Josh Barnett for the second time in his long career. Cormier via KO (Punches), Round 3