We are now just hours away from the beginning of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand-Prix, one of the major highlights of the 2011 MMA calender, and so it’s time for us to look into our crystal ball and make a prediction for who’s going to win the tournament outright.

In the article Below we’ll discuss the chances of the fighters involved, and rank them from 8 through to 1 (8 being the least likely to win the tournament, 1 being the most likely).

Before we begin though, here’s a look at the tournament brackets, as each fighters route to the final has a significant bearing on their chances of success.

8. Brett Rogers:

Rogers is the least experienced of the eight competitors in the tournament, and is perhaps also the least well rounded.

What he does have is big power in his hands, as was demonstrated when he KO’d Arlovski in just 22 seconds in 2009, but holes in his game have been exposed since by two other fighters in the GP, Fedor and Overeem who both TKO’d him.

It looks like being a tough task for Rogers to make headway here, but he’ll always have the proverbial ‘punchers chance.’ That’s unlikely to take him all the way to the final though, particularly after being lined up with a tough quarter-final against Josh Barnett.

7. Andrei Arlovski:

Once a major force in the heavyweight division, Arlovski’s form has nosedived over the past couple of years, suffering three losses in a row, but he’ll see this event as the perfect opportunity to repair the damage done to his reputation and get his career back on track.

Ironically all three fighters who defeated him are in this very tournament – Fedor, Silva and Rogers. It’ll be interesting to see how that affects him psychologically. He appears to have regrouped and re-focused since then and is saying all the right things pre-fight but we’ll only know for sure once he steps into the cage.

It would be great to see the Arlovski of old turn up here with sound technical striking and a real sense of menace and aggression to his output. That version of ‘The Pitbull’ could certainly shake things up in this tournament, but with a weak chin, a questionable mental game and the fact he’s undersized compared to some of the others he’ll be facing, the odds appear stacked against him.

6. Antonio Silva:

One of the biggest competitors in the tournament, and being fairly well rounded for his size with both good striking and Jiu-Jitsu, ‘Big Foot’ could be seen as one of the sleepers in this tournament.

For my money he’s a solid fighter but not an outstanding one. That’s been shown with his fights thus far in Strikeforce which have all been close except for his last outing against Mike Kyle who was at a massive size disadvantage yet still troubled him in the early stages of their fight.

He’ll be hard to beat, but I think he’ll struggle to find that extra gear needed to get past the top names in the tournament.

5. Serghei Kharitonov:

Despite being the least active of the tournament fighters in MMA competition recently, barely scraping together a fight per year, Kharitonov remains a dangerous fighter who no one can afford to take lightly.

That’s proven by the fact he already holds wins over two of the top contenders, Overeem and Werdum. Like Overeem, Kharitanov has been distracted by his desire to fight in K-1 lately, but it hasn’t worked out as for him as it did for ‘The Reem’ and he’s suffered two TKO’s in his first three kickboxing bouts.

The Russian is then an interesting underdog here, but I question his commitment to really making an impact here, and I don’t feel he has the kind of momentum that suggest he’s going to be the last man standing in the GP.

4. Fabricio Werdum

Prior to beating Fedor, Werdum was just another solid heavyweight in the mix, but that famous victory has catapulted him into the spotlight, making him a more significant presence in this tournament than he may otherwise have been.

Interestingly, Werdum has previous history with many of the participants in the GP. Along with beating Fedor he’s also defeated Antonio Silva recently, and holds a 2006 submission win over Alistair Overeem.

That has to be tempered however by the fact he also carries prior losses to both Andrei Arlovski and Sergei Kharitonov.

Personally I think the win over Fedor flatters him a little, but with his dangerous ground game he certainly shouldn’t be underestimated in this tournament. He’s got a tough route to the final though, and I think his average striking could be a weakness that some of the heavy-hitters he’s likely to face can exploit.

3. Fedor Emelianenko

Naturally Fedor Emelianenko is many people’s early favorite, and with just one defeat in ten years it’s not hard to see why.

If the winner was going to be picked purely based on skill and experience then the Russian superstar would certainly be hard to beat, but as I’ve talked about before in a separate article on this site, a big problem with Fedor in this tournament format is the risk of him getting injured.

He has been plagued with repeated broken hands for a number of years now, and I fear there’s a good chance he could do so again during this Grand-Prix and be forced to pull out.

With even Fedor himself admitting he could retire in a years time I can’t shake the feeling that he’s no longer the fighter he once was. Even so, if he can stay healthy I still believe he’s one of the top contenders to win, but he’s not my favorite to take the title.

2. Josh Barnett:

One of the most experienced campaigners in the tournament, Barnett’s career has been hampered to an extent by persistent steroid abuse problems which have forced him out of action for significant periods of time, and damaged his reputation.

He’s still a very talented fighter though, and has one of the most well-rounded skill-sets in the grand-prix with good stand-up and wrestling, plus a tried and tested submission game.

Barnett also has the benefit of having been placed in the easier side of the tournament bracket, meaning he’ll avoid the likes of Overeem, Fedor and Werdum until the final.

Lately Barnett has been fighting decent competition rather than top level fighters, so it’s difficult to assess exactly how he’s going to perform and how committed he is to this, but given the favorable draw he’s been handed I’d be surprised if he doesn’t make it to the final, and for that reason he’s my dark horse to win the Grand-Prix outright.

1. Alistair Overeem

Overeem comes into this tournament full of confidence having successfully defended his Strikeforce belt last year, and picked up the K-1 2010 HW GP title and DREAM Heavyweight Interim title too.

He will hope to keep that momentum going, and with the best striking in the competition, together with being physically imposing and possessing under-rated wrestling, he’s certainly in a position to do just that.

He does have prior losses to both Kharitonov and Werdum, but it should be pointed out they came several years ago and Overeem is now much bigger and has improved his striking in particular significantly since then.

With that in mind I’ve installed Overeem as my favorite to win the GP.

So that’s my thoughts, but of course the beauty of a tournament is that anything can, and more than often does, happen.