Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov goes down tomorrow night from the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio.
FightLine.com writer Dana Becker and head writer Mark Wayne preview the top fights and offer their predictions for the show. Also, don’t forget to check back at FightLine.com Saturday afternoon for our live, ongoing coverage of Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov.
Josh Barnett Vs. Sergei Kharitonov
He was already picked to win his side of the bracket and now, with Alistair Overeem and Fedor Emelianenko out of the tournament, Josh Barnett is the likely favorite to sweep the entire Strikeforce World Heavyweight Grand Prix. His entry into the finals is hardly a gimme though, as he’ll be facing hard-nosed Russian striker Sergei Kharitonov this weekend in the tournament semi-finals.
A K-1 level striker who’s split two bouts with former Strikeforce heavyweight champ and previous tournament favorite Alistair Overeem, Kharitonov will certainly be looking to utilize his edge in that department when he meets Barnett, a grappling specialist. Kharitonov won’t completely outmatched if the bout hits the mat, as he boasts a more-than-competent ground game himself. He owns almost as many wins by submission (8) as he does by KO/TKO (9) and he’s only been submitted once in his career, by Jeff Monson, a two-time ADCC champ.
Though his appearances have been sporadic, Barnett hasn’t lost a bout since dropping a unanimous decision to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in 2006. Since then, he’s mowed through the likes of Jeff Monson, Pedro Rizzo, Gilbert Yvel and Brett Rogers; his performance against the latter earning him the fight with Kharitonov. The War Master is known as a submission grappling specialist and the fact that he’s earned twice more victories by submission than knockout, illustrates why. However, he’s shown an intelligent and ever-improving striking game that will serve him well against Kharitonov.
Mark: This fight isn’t quite as simple as striker vs. grappler, since both men have threatening all-around skill sets. I think he’ll have a harder time than he did against Rogers, but I expect The War Master to take this one by virtue of being stronger in his weakest area than Kharitonov is in his. Barnett via second-round sumbission.
Dana: Barnett is quickly becoming a household name again, as he continues to be the brightest star left in the tournament. Plus, he has the most experience in big fights, so the bright lights of the semifinals shouldn’t cause him any problems. Kharitonov is an equally imposing figure, so Barnett will not be able to bully him in the pre-fight staredown. I think Barnett will be able to utilize his slick wrestling and push through with some ground-and-pound before finishing off the surprise of the field with a submission. Barnett via second-round submission (rear-naked choke).
Antonio Silva vs. Daniel Cormier
After conquering The Last Emperor, Fedor Emelianenko, to move on to the semi-finals, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva expected to face off against then-Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem in his next fight. The Reem jumped ship for the UFC though and now Bigfoot is on deck to face tournament alternate Daniel Cormier, an Olympic-caliber wrestler.
Cormier is young in the sport, having only eight professional bouts to his name, but he’s done things right by aligning himself with the American Kickboxing Academy, home to UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez. His hard work and good choice in training camp have paid off, as he’s managed to stay undefeated so far in his career. Silva is a big step up in competition for Cormier, but many expect his top-flight wrestling to give his much bigger and more experienced opponent fits.
Antonio Silva defied the odds to finish Fedor Emelianenko for only the second time in his storied career, dramatically announcing his presence in the tournament by taking a TKO over the highly-regarded Russian. Bigfoot has recently taken to training with the Team Nogueira crew and it will be interesting to see what improvements mat time with the likes of Big Nog and Junior dos Santos will make to his game. Silva is a powerful fighter who knows how to throw his weight around and can finish a fight with strikes or submissions and he assures that he’s been preparing for Cormier’s grappling by shoring up his jiu-jitsu.
Mark: Picking Cormier in this fight isn’t going out on a limb; he can hang with Bigfoot on the feet and he’ll likely be able to put him on his back during the fight, a position from which we rarely see Bigfoot work. I think Silva will utilize his reach and size though to seriously test Cormier’s chin for the first time in his career; I don’t see him finishing things, but I think he takes it in the end. Antonio Silva via unanimous decision.
Dana: Can Cormier, the Olympic wrestler, take the giant “Bigfoot” down? That is the ultimate question. I believe that Cormier can find a way to get Silva to the mat, but I don’t think he can do much when he gets him there, which will be the main problem. Silva has submission skills, though, which could be trouble for Cormier. If Cormier can survive the early onslaught of punches that Silva is sure to throw at him, I think he has a chance to wear him out with takedowns. Cormier via split decision.