At last, the finals of the labored Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix have arrived. The tournament began with some genuine MMA superstars, names like Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, and Antonio Silva. But at this point, the only two fighters who remain are Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier, and Cormier wasn’t even in the tournament to begin with.
So Strikeforce’s experiment fizzled out, and I have no doubt that being acquired by Zuffa didn’t really help matters (remember Overeem being abruptly released from Strikeforce, only to be signed by the UFC soon afterwards?). But what we’re left with is a very compelling fight, featuring a long-time elite heavyweight in Josh Barnett and a new phenom in Daniel Cormier. The other fights on Saturday night feature a lightweight championship match and also a rubber match in Gilbert Melendez vs. Josh Thomson, a light-heavyweight battle between Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante and Mike Kyle, and a welterweight clash between Nah-Shon Burrell and Christopher Spang. Here’s what SILVA has to say about the fights:
Those who have been reading this blog for a while should know all about how much I like Daniel Cormier. He’s by far the best prospect in heavyweight MMA right now (although he is arguably not a prospect anymore since he’s beaten Antonio Silva and Jeff Monson). Cormier has legitimate world-class wrestling skills, but has supplemented that with punishing boxing and quick hands. Meanwhile, Josh Barnett is still the same fighter who has been a perennial top 10 heavyweight for a decade now, but his level of competition has not been terrific since the collapse of PRIDE FC in 2007.
Barnett has outstanding catch wrestling and is a master of using pressure to compel his opponent to make the move Barnett wants him to. He’s very tricky with submissions, and has solid striking as well. At the same time, I think Cormier has developed his striking into something better and more dangerous than Barnett’s, and while it’s not impossible for Cormier to be taken down, that will be an extremely difficult task for Barnett to accomplish, especially if he has to do it more than once. To top it off, Cormier is a fighter on the rise, who is just now entering the beginning of the prime of his career, while Barnett has been in the MMA game a very long time now. I understand why Barnett opened as the betting favorite, and he’s definitely a skilled fighter, but I see this being Cormier’s time to announce his arrival as an elite heavyweight in MMA.
As for the lightweight championship match, there are a lot of people counting out Josh Thomson, but SILVA sees Thomson as a top 10 lightweight right now, based on being 1-1 against Melendez and having wins over Gesias Cavalcante, Pat Healy, and K.J. Noons. Thomson is a well-rounded fighter with good grappling, but he’s looked somewhat shaky in recent fights, and he’s getting to the point where he has a lot of “mileage.” Meanwhile, Melendez is as good as he’s ever been. Thomson will need to take Melendez down consistently to have a chance in this one. I’m not going to count Thomson out, because of his SILVA score and prior win over Melendez, but if recent fights are any indication, Melendez has a good chance of winning by TKO.
SILVA also likes Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante to beat Mike Kyle in what figures to be a striking war, and Nah-Shon Burrell to beat the inexperienced Christopher Spang in the first fight on Showtime. Enjoy the fights!