The Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix kicks off this weekend at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey with Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva. "The Last Emperor" Fedor Emelianenko will face American Top Team star Antonio Silva ("Bigfoot) in quarterfinal action. Former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski is also participating as he is set to face Sergei Kharitonov, a respected PRIDE, DREAM and K-1 veteran.
Outside of these two bouts, the card itself is very much so-so. The other fights are tournament reserve bouts and while they hold intrigue as heavyweight contenders can assert themselves with strong performances, none register much if at all with casual fans.
So, who's going to win? Here's my take.
It's hard to not like Fedor here and for reasons that cover a wide swathe of territory. He's significantly smaller, but many expect Emelinanko's speed and positional transitions to give Bigfoot all sorts of problems. Beyond that, though, he's capable off of his back provided he is taken down, is exceedingly patient often carefully selecting his moments to attack with explosive strikes or mobile hips and generally exhibits unreal perseverance. Even when put in difficult situations or perilous moments, Fedor's got a long history of extracting himself from the jaws of defeat. Fabricio Werdum, notwithstanding. Fedor by TKO, round 2.
It's just so hard to know what to expect. A properly prepped Arlovski should be able to use superior power, dynamic angles, trunk and head movement and athleticism to put Kharitonov away over the course of three rounds. Kharitonov is possessive of good hand combinations, but lacks more refined defensive essentials of boxing footwork and movement relative to Arlovski. But does he have the power to tag and KO an overly aggressive or impatient Arlovski? Yes, and that's no small consideration. Ultimately, though, Arlovski is simply a better fighter and striker. Combine that with Kharitonov's virtually meaningless win over Tatsuya Mizuno and the KO loss to Singh Jaideep in K-1 and you've got to give Arlovski - technically the betting underdog - the nod. Arlovski by decision.
Lavar Johnson is possessive of credible power and certainly durability, but loses bearing in the hunt. I would not be surprised to see him hurt Shane del Rosario, but I'd be very surprised to see him finish the superior fighter. Del Rosario is smaller than "Big" Johnson and can be muscled early, but Johnson's reliance on big power to put away opposition in the early rounds will cost him here. Del Rosario will wait until Johnson gasses or makes a technical mistake and can finish him standing or on the ground thereafter. Del Rosario by submission.
Both men are small for this weight class and don't stand much of a chance in the full arc of the tournament, but Gian Villante is a serious prospect. Chad Griggs looked good against Bobbly Lashley, but that tells us next to nothing. Villante will win this however he pleases. I suspect that will be standing with a Griggs who will look to avoid a ground battle. Villante by submission.
I wouldn't put it past Valentijn Overeem to not follow in his brother Alistair Overeem's footsteps by being careless enough to be put to sleep by Ray Sefo, a former kickboxing great who still have old man's punching power. But short of that, this is Overeem's fight to lose. "Sugar" Ray Sefo is not one to be discounted, but he's also not one to be counted on in a young man's game of well-roundedness. I suppose Overeem isn't either, but more so in this case. Overeem by submission.