Here at Liver Kick, we mostly focus on Kickboxing, Muay Thai, and Shootboxing. Spreading the good word of striking is our goal but the upcoming Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix is just too good to not cover. Not only does it contain many current kickboxing stars but it also harkens back to PRIDE and the way they ran tournaments which appeals to all of us who are fans of Japanese MMA.
So without further ado, here are my picks for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. As it could quickly get crazy considering every permutation involved with reserve fighters, I'll make my picks assuming all fighters stay healthy.
Quarterfinal Fights 1 & 2
February 12, 2011
Izod Center - East Rutherford, New Jersey
Sergei Kharitonov vs. Andrei Arlovski
This is an interesting match as both fighters are Russian Sambo practitioners which will do them no good in this fight as I see it being a pure striking battle. Sergei, fresh off of a knockout win against Tatsuya Mizuno at Dynamite!! 2010, must be feeling confident. Andrei, on the other hand, seems to be very hard on himself. Watch any of his recent interviews and you'll see that The Pitbull is very critical of the way he fought in his three straight losses, even calling himself a loser at one point. His head just doesn't seem to be in the right place.
One thing to remember is that both men have trained in boxing and pursued careers in the sweet science at different points in their past. Sergei also fights in K-1 and Andrei nearly had his chance at the 2010 Final 16 in Seoul if it were not for an injury that kept him out.
With two fighters that are so closely matched both physically and in the skills they bring to the cage, the mental edge is often the deciding factor. I don't see Andrei winning that battle as it's been some time since we've seen a confident, aggressive performance from him. Sergei will win this fight with a hard-fought decision.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio Silva
Fedor is looking to show that his submission loss against Fabricio Werdum is nothing but a distant memory and that he is still the same fighter capable of the same awe-inspiring performances. I believe this fight is the perfect setup for that as Bigfoot Silva has ground skills but prefers to fight standing up and striking.
In his fight against Emelianenko, Andrei Arlovski showed that great movement along with getting in and out quickly with your strikes, can throw Fedor off of his rhythm. Unfortunately for Andrei, it also showed that one mistake against The Last Emperor and your night is most likely over. Silva doesn't have good movement and isn't quick with his strikes. Fedor will win this fight by knockout.
Quarterfinal Fights 3 & 4
Date and location to be determind
Josh Barnett vs. Brett Rogers
Brett Rogers will be looking to bounce back in a big way after his two recent knockout losses to fellow tournament participants Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem. Unfortunately for Brett, I don't believe that will happen against Barnett. Josh has over a decade of experience in the fight game from all over the world. That kind of combat knowledge can't be overestimated especially against someone as relatively green as Rogers.
The Babyfaced Assassin has the edge in every skillset. Standing, Josh can knock people out and his ground game goes without saying. The only place I see Brett winning this fight is with a really lucky punch as Josh has only one KO loss on his record in 34 fights. I expect Josh to win this fight wherever he wants to.
Alistair Overeem vs. Fabricio Werdum
Alistair Overeem will have revenge on his mind as he meets Fabricio Werdum, the man to hand Fedor Emelianenko his first legitimate loss. Werdum defeated Alistair by way of kimura in May of 2006 while they were both fighting in PRIDE. This was of course while The Reem was fighting as a light heavyweight. He's a much different competitor now that he's fighting as a heavyweight going undefeated in his last ten MMA contests.
Werdum is still flying high after his historical victory over the greatest heavyweight to ever live. This was proven by Vai Cavalo when, at the HWGP press conference, he said that he has watched the Fedor fight a 1,000 times. Confidence shouldn't be a problem when he enters the cage on April 9 to battle the physical specimen known as Ubereem.
If you look at Werdum's record, you'll see that he hasn't fared well against fighters with an advanced striking game. Junior Dos Santos sent Fabricio packing from the UFC after he knocked him out with an uppercut at UFC 90. He also has losses against Sergei Kharitonov and Andrei Arlovski. All three of those fighters, while good on their feet, aren't on the same level as Overeem who is the current K-1 World Grand Prix champion. I look for Alistair to use superior movement and space to avoid Werdum's takedown attempts while waiting for the opening to KO him.
Semifinal Fights 1 & 2
Date and location to be determined
Josh Barnett vs. Sergei Kharitonov
I see this fight going much the same way as Josh's previous fight against Brett Rogers. Sergei is better on his feet and on the ground than Rogers but not enough to beat Barnett. They're pretty close in size so that cancels out any physical advantage Sergei would have. Kharitonov does have power behind his punches and good technique so we could potentially see Josh KO'd. I wouldn't count on it, though. I see the BFA submitting Sergei for the win.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Alistair Overeem
Here it is. The match we've all been waiting for. If we're lucky enough to see this fight come to fruition, it will be the combat sports event of the year - regardless of promotion.
It's really tough to break this fight down. Both fighters are so great at what they do. Fedor can beat you anywhere the fight goes. His striking is unconventional but supremely effective. His judo, sambo, and jiu-jitsu is so sneaky that fighters rarely see an armbar or choke coming until it's already applied. That being said, Fedor's most dangerous skill is his mental toughness and calm demeanor. Nothing rattles him. He barely changes expression whether he's throwing a punch or performing an uchimata. Using all of these assets, Fedor has built a career that may never be matched. He's a true legend and one of the very best.
Alistair has a lot to gain in this tournament. He's the K-1 WGP champion, Dream heavyweight champion, and Strikeforce heavyweight champion. He'll be looking to add the HWGP belt to that collection. A pretty remarkable accomplishment if he's able to achieve it.
The Reem is also enjoying a big surge in popularity in the States. His widely acclaimed online documentary made Alistair a household name in many circles. As I write this, the mighty Dutchman is doing an online chat with fans on ESPN.com after completing an interview with Jon Anik for MMA Live. Overeem was also in Arlington, Texas for Super Bowl XLV and has since said he is a big fan of American football now. Point is, he's doing all the right things to endear himself to a fan base that may not know much about him. I believe all of that combined with a great performance throughout the HWGP, will make Alistair a superstar in America.
As far as the fight goes, toss a coin. Both men are so talented and bring along so many intangibles that it all comes down to who doesn't make a mistake. Alistair has the edge in technical striking. Fedor is great on the ground but so is Overeem. I'm a huge fan of both of these guys and it's really hard for me to pick one over the other. But since I have to, I'll go with Alistair in this fight. He has so much momentum right now that it's hard to see him losing. Wow.. I just picked against Fedor.
Heavyweight Grand Prix Final
Date and location to be determined
Alistair Overeem vs. Josh Barnett
While this isn't Fedor vs Alistair, it's still a match that carries some intrigue and should be real fun to watch. Of the eight fighters that started the tournament, I believe that Josh has the highest degree of wrestling ability. Wrestling is the new black in MMA and Barnett has been doing it for years. Combine that with his advanced submission skills and he's a threat to anyone.
Alistair will have to use his takedown defense to stifle Barnett's shots, utilize the clinch with knees to the body to wear Barnett down, and pick him apart with strikes. Alistair has 19 submission wins to his credit but I'm not sure going to the ground with Josh is something he wants to do if he can avoid it. Barnett is dangerous from the top and bottom with his ground game. The Reem will be best served keeping this fight standing and knocking out Barnett or at least striking his way to a decision.
So, there are my picks for the tournament. My whole bracket could be dashed on Saturday night or I may just be a long, lost descendant of Nostradamus blessed with clairvoyance.
Either way, tell me your picks for the tournament and why you think they'll win.