Strikeforce’s heavyweight grand-prix semi-finals go down tomorrow night in Ohio, and you can check out our predictions for the full card below.
Josh Barnett vs . Sergei Kharitonov
These two heavyweights have clearly distinct skill-sets. Barnett is one of the division’s best ground fighters, possessing both good wrestling and strong submission skills, while Kharitonov prefers to keep the fight standing where he can make good use of his KO power, being equally deadly with his fists and knees in particular.
Barnett is no slouch on his feet though, and while I don’t think he can beat the Russian here, he will be relatively comfortable standing while he looks for openings to get this fight to the mat.
I do believe that this fight is destined to hit the canvas though with Barnett on top, and he has a very intelligent, methodical method of disecting his opponents from their that’s going to make it very difficult for Kharitonov to get back upright again.
I see Barnett gradually wearing down the Russian to begin with and then going for the late submission finish.
Prediction: Josh Barnett to win by submission in Rd3.
Daniel Cormier vs. Antonio Silva
While not the fight people had hoped to see, this is actually a pretty interesting heavyweight encounter. Silva will bring a major size advantage here – that is of course nothing new to ‘Bigfoot’, but the fact that Cormier is one of the smallest heavyweight’s around will make it even more noticeable.
Cormier showed in his last bout with Jeff Monson that his stand-up is coming along nicely, but the fact that he’ll give up a full 12 inches in reach to his opponent and 5 inches in height suggests he’s going to have major problems finding his chin.
Cormier has fought ‘giants’ of similar stature, if not skill-level, to Silva before, and he just happens to have a trick up his sleeve to counter-act them – the fact that he is an extremely talented and highly decorated wrestler. If he is able to close the distance on the Brazilian then he has a good chance of taking this fight onto the mat.
On the flip-side it’s unlikely that Silva will be able to get a wrestler of Cormier’s caliber down, so ideally he’ll be looking to keep his distance and force him to exchange. If he does get taken down he won’t be a fish out of water however as he does have very good BJJ skills and could catch Cormier, who’s still learning the fight game as he goes along, by surprise.
Overall Silva has a lot of advantages here – he’s bigger, he’s got more experience and he’s more well rounded. I’m going to stick my neck out though and suggest that Cormier can pull off an upset as I believe his world class wrestling could prove to be Silva’s achilles heel. He’s going to have to survive some scares in order to do it though.
Prediction: Daniel Cormier to win by decision.
Ronaldo Souza vs. Luke Rockhold
Beyond the heavyweight GP bouts we also have a five round middleweight title fight to look forward to between Souza and Rockhold.
It’s no secret that ‘Jacare’ is one of the world’s foremost BJJ proponents and he’s especially deadly when he’s on top, though he’s a fearsome prospect fighting from his back too. Meanwhile Rockhold has submission skills of his own, but can’t hold a candle to the Brazilian master. Rockhold is also a very good wrestling, but it will be risky to try to grind out a five round fight with Jacare lying in wait to seize one of his limbs at the slightest hint of an opportunity.
So it could be that Rockhold has to mix things up and spend a good portion of this fight on his feet, and that’s not beyond him. Jacare has shown an improved striking game of his own though in recent fights and looks comfortable in that regard.
With that in mind it’s hard to see how Rockhold actually gains the upperhand in this encounter. I expect Jacare to stand and trade with him for a while, but eventually use his good takedowns to get on top and give the young challenger more than he can handle in the grappling department.
Prediction: Ronald ‘Jacare’ Souza to win by submission in Rd2.
Roger Gracie vs. Muhammed Lawal
Hey, guess what? It’s another wrestler vs grappler match-up, although there’s more to each man’s game than just their core skill-set.
Like Jacare, Gracie is a BJJ superstar and has the medals to prove it. He’s now dedicated full time to MMA though and his striking is coming along nicely. He’s smartly using his height and reach to his advantage by working everything off a solid jab, something that will throw off a lot of MMA fighters, though Lawal is smart enough to know what’s coming his way.
Lawal’s own stand-up has it’s ups and downs. He certainly possesses good power, certainly more so than Gracie, and he’s a student of the boxing game. For me he overdoes it at times though, trying to mimic the stance and style of Roy Jones Jr for instance. I think he’d be better off toning that down a little for something less flashly but also less risky at the same time.
It’s hard to know what his stand-up will be like this time around though given that he’s spent the best part of a year out injured and has recently been spending time training with K-1 star Tyrone Spong. What we do know for sure is that Lawal is an excellent wrestler, and when neccessary, such as against Gegard Mousasi, he’s not afraid to avoid the striking game and simply stifle his opponent on the mat. Gracie is exceptional off his back though so the risk of being swept or submitted is high, but he’s confident enough in his abilities that it may not put him off trying.
I think this is one of the toughest fights on the card to predict. Lawal’s power up against Gracie’s untested chin give me food for thought, but you also have to weigh up the fact that ‘King Mo’s’ conditioning has been questionable in the past and a year out won’t have done anything to help that and invites ring rust into the equation. With that in mind I’m going for Gracie who has impressed me so far in his young MMA career and has the elite level BJJ that could counteract Lawal’s wrestling.
Prediction: Roger Gracie to win by submission in Rd3.
Maximo Blanco vs. Pat Healy
The opening bout on the main card sees new signing from Senguko, the Brazilian Maximo Blanco stepping in against late replacement Pat Healy.
Blanco has shown plenty of promise fighting in Japan, proving to be a dangerous muay thai striker while being able to back it up with solid wrestling as well. Healy on the other hand is a battle heartened veteran with the kind of well rounded abilities that will give Blanco a real challenge in his first outing.
I actually feel Healy could pull off an upset here as he always gives 110% and can be a real handful to deal with, but the fact that he only fought a month ago and is now climbing back into the cage on short notice puts me off committing to it. So I’m going with Blanco to find the going tough early, but ultimately come out on top thanks to his dynamic striking skills.
Prediction: Maximo Blanco to win by TKO in Rd2.
Prelims: (Predicted winners in bold)
Rafael Cavalcante vs. Yoel Romero
Mike Kyle vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima
Evangelista Santos vs. Jordan Mein
Alexis Davis vs . Amanda Nunes
Chris Mierzwiak vs. Dominique Steele