Daniel Cormier emerged as a new star this evening as he convincingly outpointed Josh Barnett to become the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand-Prix champion.
Unlike Barnett’s first two fights in this tournament, Cormier’s wrestling based meant that he was forced to fight the first round entirely on his feet.
Barnett’s no slouch on his feet, but despite having the height and reach advantage Cormier looked the more comfortable fighter in the exchanges and was landing the harder blows with more frequency and was showing good speed in his strikes too for a big man.
Towards the end of the round Barnett had his best spell so far, landing a hard right hand and a knee to the face which left Cormier wincing and having to push him up against the cage to give himself a chance to recover, but aside from that it was his round.
Onto round two and Cormier again looked to have the edge in the striking department, but the real key to this round came in the second half as Cormier scored his first takedown of the evening off a single leg.
He was working methodically from inside Barnett’s guard and found success with a few heavy elbow strikes which opened up a big cut on Barnett’s face that left him streaked with blood. In response he looked to secure a leg lock, but Cormier was able to move out of danger and then come back to resume his control on top for the remainder of the round.
There were some big moments for Cormier in the third, the first being a huge slam coming from the high crotch position which was set up by a nice two-piece punch combination that landed clean.
The second was more unexpected, with Cormier showing off his evolving striking game by landing a head kick which left Barnett dazed on his feet. Up against the cage Cormier looked to capitalize by unleashing a barrage of strikes to the head and body, but just as Barnett looked to be wilting he suddenly regained his senses and fired back with a right hook that helped buy him some time.
Cormier then moved to his back and it looked as if another powerful throw was coming, but luckily for Barnett it never materialized and he made it to the next round.
It’s impressive to see how far Cormier’s striking game has come in just 10 pro fights and in the fourth he was continuing to show it off, at one stage throwing a swift left head kick followed up shortly thereafter by a right. It was still his punches that were his best offense however, while Barnett wasn’t able to really get his own striking going, aside from a few solid knees.
Barnett was pressing forward trying to get into range, but truth be told he didn’t look to hungry to get into too many more toe-to-toe exchanges with his opponent and so was being a little gun-shy.
Trying to change things up he attempted a spinning backfist, but Cormier neatly ducked underneath and secured a brief takedown.
Quickly getting back up to his feet Barnett didn’t have long to wait until his back was on the mat again, but this time he went down hunting for another leg lock and this time he managed to get a good hold of his limb.
Cormier tried to scramble free, but at first he wasn’t able to as Barnett continued to try to lock it in. The two fighters were sweaty and bloodied by this stage though and so it was a tough task for Barnett to hold on and eventually Cormier was able so slip out and get back on top.
In the final round Cormier, surely knowing that he was comfortably ahead at this stage, took things down a notch and concentrated more on his footwork to keep a safe distance from his opponent and attack only in short bursts.
Barnett was striding forward purposefully, but was unable to corner him and found himself briefly taken down, but got back up and then stuffed a powerful slam attempt.
Keeping on his bike and out of danger for the remainder of the five minute spell, Cormier cruised to the final bell before raising his hands aloft.
There was to be no controversy in the judges scorecards here with all seeing Cormier a decisive winner and declaring him the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand-Prix tournament winner (49-46, 50-45 x2).
He may not have even been a part of the original line-up for the grand-prix, but Cormier has emerged as a worthy winner, firstly with a shock KO win over Antonio ‘Big Foot’ Silva, but even more so in handling a vastly more experienced and well-rounded fighter like Barnett.
It’s now only a matter of time before he moves to the UFC’s heavyweight ranks, and he’ll certainly be an interesting and welcome addition to the upper reaches of their division when he does so.