Strikeforce Grand Prix: Analyzing The First Round

Analyzing the first round of the big heavyweight tournament

Last week, Strikeforce announced that they will be kicking of 2011 with an eight-man heavyweight Grand Prix featuring the best talent in the division. The first round brackets are set; Andrei Arlovski will fight Sergei Kharitonov and Fedor Emelianenko will square off with Antonio Silva on February 12. The other two opening round matchups, Josh Barnett vs. Brett Rogers and Alistair Overeem vs. Fabricio Werdum will take place at a date that has yet to be announced.

Let’s take a look at an in depth breakdown of all eight competitors and their chances of success in the super-sized tournament.

Andrei Arlovski
MMA Record: 15-8
Age: 31
Height: 6’4

History: In 2005, Arlovski was the reigning UFC heavyweight champion and fresh off a quick submission victory over Tim Sylvia for the title. Nicknamed “The Pitbull” for his relentless offensive style, the Belarusian fighter was considered the most dangerous man in the entire organization.

What he’s done lately: Arlovski hasn’t been the same since a crushing knockout loss at the hands of Emelianenko. He’s lost his last three fights and not even the help of Greg Jackson was enough to get Arlovski back in the win column his last time out against Antonio Silva.

Chances of winning the tournament: Losing streak aside, Arlovski still has the speed and power to give any fighter a run for their money. The problem is that he seems to rely entirely on his striking ability and has become a very predictable fighter. Arlovski’s recent opponents haven’t had any trouble countering and timing his movements. In order to win this tournament, he has to mix things up and also utilize his underrated grappling base. If he does that then he should be able to get past Kharitonov but it’s hard to imagine that the former UFC champion would advance any further.

Sergei Kharitonov
MMA Record: 17-4
Age: 30
Height: 6’4

History: A member of the Russian Airborne Troops, Kharitonov has competed against and beaten some of the best heavyweights in the history of the sport. The Russian kickboxer holds previous victories over Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem in PRIDE and K-1. In fact, Kharitonov knocked Overeem completely unconscious in the first round at K-1 Hero’s-Tournament Final.

What he’s done lately: Injuries have kept Kharitonov from actively competing and, although he’s coming off an incredible knockout victory over Tatsuya Mizuno at DREAM Dynamite 2010, it’s still questionable if the Russian kickboxer is relevant in today’s heavyweight division.

Chances of winning the tournament: Many pundits believe Kharitonov is the dark horse of this tournament and it’s easy to understand why. If he is as close to 100% as possible, Kharitonov is an extremely dangerous fighter. Injuries derailed him in the past but he looked back to full form in his latest destruction of Mizuno in DREAM. Not only is Kharitonov a wrecking machine on the feet but he also comes from a solid Sambo background as well. He should be able to put Arlovski away—unless “The Pitbull” actually follows a Greg Jackson gameplan—but chances are the Russian will come up short in the semi-finals.

Strikeforce Heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko

The Legendary Fedor

Fedor Emelianenko
MMA Record: 32-2-1
Age: 34
Height: 6’0

History: For an entire decade, Emelianenko reigned over the heavyweight division like a true monarch. He dominated the PRIDE heavyweight division with wins over wins over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and many other notables. After PRIDE folded, Emelianenko scored huge stoppage wins over former UFC champions Tim Sylvia and Arlovski in the short-lived Affliction fight promotion.

What he’s done lately: Emelianenko knocked out Brett Rogers in his Strikeforce debut before tapping out to Werdum in the first round of their summer 2010 meeting.

Chances of winning the tournament: The bottom line is, Emelianenko looked great early on against Werdum before making a mistake and getting caught. He doesn’t have an easy draw against “Big Foot” Silva but he should be considered a favorite to win that fight. If that were the case, Emelianenko would meet either Werdum or Overeem in the semi finals. If he doesn’t make the same careless mistakes he made the first time, he can stop Werdum. Overeem might be a tougher matchup for him but also not an impossible obstacle either.

Antonio Silva
MMA Record: 15-2
Age: 31
Height: 6’4

History: Silva was the first and last heavyweight champion of the short-lived Elite XC promotion. An elite BJJ black belt, Silva is a monstrous power puncher that has only gone the distance twice in his entire career.

What he’s done lately: After losing a unanimous decision to Werdum in 2009, Silva has racked up consecutive victories over Arlovski and Mike Kyle.

Chances of winning the tournament: Silva has the boxing and BJJ abilities to give Emelianenko problems. Not to mention, Silva also has a thick skull and has never been finished before. That said, if Kyle was able to drop Silva with punches in their December 2010 bout, Emelianenko should be able to finish the job. Even if Silva gets past Emelianenko, he wouldn’t have much to offer Werdum or Overeem.