Strikeforce Grand Prix: Epic or Epic Fail?

Fedor Emelianenko

Fedor Emelianenko

Strikeforce’s World Grand Prix could be a huge success or a giant failure

This thing is either going to be the biggest event of the mixed martial arts year or the butt of all jokes; there doesn’t seem like there can be an in between.

Saturday night in New Jersey, Strikeforce kicks off their ambitious Heavyweight Grand Prix with the first pair of opening round match-ups, and many in the MMA community are anxious to see what happens.

Having assembled eight of the top heavyweight competitors in the sport, including four fighters currently ranked in the top 10, the San Jose-based company has set-up an event that could captivate the MMA audience for the majority of the year. With heavyweight elites Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum involved, even the most staunch UFC supporters will be curious to see what transpires.

With the UFC heavyweight division currently in a holding pattern due to the injury hiatus of champion Cain Velasquez, this is a chance for the competitors in the field to stake their claim to the upper reaches of the division. While many have debated the position of Emelianenko and Overeem in the past, a win for either would cement their standing as a Top 3 heavyweight, and open up the debate at the head of the list. The same applies to Werdum, and while the other five competitors may not be able to stake a claim to top spot on the charts, success in Strikeforce’s Grand Prix would certainly give them greater traction than they have right now.

When the opening round pairings were initially announced, I bristled at the decision to pair Overeem with Werdum and Emelianenko with Silva, believing that the organization was wasting their best case scenario for the second round on first round match-ups. After a little more thought, I think I’ve figured out the logic.

Loading up one side of the bracket ensures that one of the Top 4 fighters in the organization moves through to the finals; either Overeem, Emelianenko, Werdum or Antonio Silva will advance and whoever emerges will have not only earned their place in the last pair, but become the man to beat in the process. At that point, fans are going to tune in anyway, having been drawn to the finals by the compelling bouts created on one side of the bracket.

If you were to break up the Big 4 and have them spread out facing the remaining four competitors – Andrei Arlovski, Josh Barnett, Brett Rogers and Sergei Kharitonov – you run the ever-so-slight risk that all four “underdogs” emerge victorious. This way, you’re assured that one of your more recognizable and elite fighters makes the finals, and you roll the dice with the other side of the bracket in hopes of a compelling opponent emerging along the way.

There are some definite marquee match-ups that could come together along the way; a second round meeting between Emelianenko and Overeem, with the winner meeting Barnett in the finals seems like the dream scenario, while a victory for Werdum would catapult “Vai Cavalo” into the discussion of the top heavyweights in the sport.

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