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Strikeforce: ‘Barnett vs. Kharitonov’ Preview

Hey, did you know there’s still a Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix in play?  Man, talk about a marginalized event.  Between Alistair Overeem jumping ship for a UFC superfight against Brock Lesnar and a week full of Nick Diaz-Carlos Condit-BJ Penn musical chairs, it almost seems as if this whole semifinal shebang has been reduced to an afterthought.  But not for me!  Because dammit, a cast of characters that includes former UFC champ Josh Barnett, big puncher Sergei Kharitonov and Brazilian behemoth Antonio Silva is the kind of thing that keeps me tossing and turning in my bed at night, pondering the meaning of life.  No, this Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix scheduled for broadcast on Showtime on Saturday still means the world to me, and to prove it, here’s a nice little preview I wrote about it.

-Josh Barnett vs. Sergei Kharitonov – With Overeem gone from the mix, Barnett definitely becomes the tournament’s resident odds-on favorite.  And with good reason, for he can stand and bang when necessary, and he’s got the kind of sub game that could prove perilous to anyone (yes, even jiu-jitsu black belts.  Barnett’s catchwrestling is that good.).  Still, the gigantic American has a tall order ahead of him in Russian monster Kharitonov, who’s competent on the ground and absolutely deadly when it comes to throwing strikes.  This is the marquee bout of the evening and rightfully so, mostly because it’s a compelling matchup but also because, BOOM!  There’s sure to be some fireworks.

-Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva vs. Daniel Cormier – It used to be that the only time we saw Bigfoot was when some yahoo with a camera hid in the woods and snapped pics of overly-hairy dudes running around naked.  But the sport of MMA has given the infamous and formerly mythical beast the opportunity to fight on television, so here we are with a bout that pairs Bigfoot up against an Olympic wrestler in Cormier.   Bigfoot – apparently a Brazilian with a jiu-jitsu black belt to boot – brings experience, very solid grappling and very dangerous hands into the cage, while Cormier (who replaces Overeem) brings top-level wrestling.  Truthfully, the only way the American wins this win is via concise lay-and-pray, as Bigfoot has him beat in all other departments.  Can Cormier do it?  Methinks no.  He cannot.

-Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Luke Rockhold – Let’s do some math.  On the Souza side of the equation, there’s a Brazilian wielding some of the best jiu-jitsu on the planet, a Strikeforce middleweight belt, and experience slaying all sorts of killer competition.  On the Rockhold side of the equation, there’s a jiu-jitsu brown belt, a resume full of wins over less-than-stellar competition, and an injury hiatus that encompasses the last year and a half.  Now, based on my calculations, on Saturday night someone is going to be outclassed exponentially, divided brutally, and subtracted from the cage.  Any idea who that’s going to be?

-Roger Gracie vs. Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal – Like Souza, Gracie is considered to have unearthly jiu-jitsu skills (with that last name, you kind of have to, right?).  Former Strikeforce light-heavyweight king King Mo has high-level collegiate wrestling.  Wouldn’t it be hilarious if these two decided to slug it out instead of mixing it up on the ground?  Ha!  Yeah, but there’s no chance of that because they’re not too good on the feet, and also because their fortunes always lie in the realm of the horizontal.  The big questions, then, are if the wrestler can pound on the jiu-jitsu guy for 15 minutes without getting caught, and can the jiu-jitsu guy catch him before that nightmare scenario plays out.  If I had to guess, I’d say Gracie eventually nails him.

-Maximo Blanco vs. Pat Healy – We all know Healy – he’s the stalwart everyman that Strikeforce can rely on when one of their top lightweights gets injured (in this case, Josh Thomson), and you can count on him to put up a decent fight.  But Blanco?  A Venezuelan-born wrestling champ who went over to Pancrase and Sengoku and wrecked stuff?  What an X-factor.  As this is Blanco’s first venture into US competition, all eyes will be on him, scrutinizing how he does.  Can Healy out-wrestle him?  Submit him?  Out-strike him?  Doubtful.  More than likely, we’re going to be in for a real treat of the “Oh my God, that man just killed that guy!” variety.

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