When the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix was first announced at the beginning of this year, a strong case could be made that the tournament winner would not just be the MMA lineal heavyweight champion, but also the very best heavyweight fighter in the world. Now that the first round is complete, fans can rest easy in the knowledge that the best heavyweights in the world are fighting in the UFC octagon, not on Showtime for Strikeforce.
The four first round winners -- Alistair Overeem, Josh Barnett, Antonio Silva, and Sergei Kharitonov -- are a formidable crew indeed, but there's little reason to believe any of them would present an insurmountable obstacle to Cain Velasquez or Junior dos Santos, the UFC's top two heavyweights.
Overeem brought the most hype into the tournament after winning kickboxing's most prestigious title, the K-1 heavyweight tournament, in 2010. He bragged before his tournament bout with Fabricio Werdum that the difference between the Overeem that lost to Werdum in 2007 and the Overeem of today was "40 pounds of kick ass muscle". For all his talk, the extra bulk only seemed to slow him down. By the third round, a gassed Overeem was content to lie in the guard of a gassed Werdum, leaving fans who wanted a dramatic knock out frustrated and disappointed.
Against the likes of Velasquez or dos Santos, Overeem would need the cardio to go at least three hard rounds both standing and grappling. Overeem may have added a lot of raw power, but that kind of muscle burns oxygen like Charlie Sheen burns bridges. It's pretty easy to imagine either Cain or dos Santos dragging him into deep water and picking him apart in the later rounds.
Barnett won his opening round bout against Brett Rogers in decisive fashion via second round submission, but still drew boos from the crowd for his methodical approach. Barnett looked competent on his feet and is, without doubt, a master of the grappling arts but either Velasquez or JDS could outstrike him and prevent the fight from going to the floor.
Antonio Silva and Sergei Kharitonov, the two men who've been awaiting Overeem and Barnett since February, aren't giving the UFC heavyweights nightmares either. Silva looked impressive battering and beating down the vaunted Fedor Emelianenko, but it hasn't been that long since he got beat up by tournament loser Fabricio Werdum. Both Velasquez and dos Santos would have significant speed advantages over the Brazilian giant and neither should have problems keeping the fight on the feet.
For his part, Kharitonov looked excellent in brutally dismantling former UFC champ Andrei Arlovski, but Arlovski has been undone by a weak chin and bad mechanics for a long time. Should he manage to take the tournament title, Kharitonov would present an interesting set of challenges to the UFC champ. His striking could give dos Santos fits but I doubt that he could keep the fight standing against Cain Velasquez.
Due to scheduling difficulties, Strikeforce won't finish its heavyweight tournament until early 2012. In the mean time there's little reason to think that the best heavyweight in MMA is fighting anywhere but inside the UFC Octagon.