Remember when Strikeforce first unveiled their plans for the World Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament and it seemed like such a potentially awesome series of events? Yeah, that lasted about three weeks, right up until the point where Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva smashed Fedor Emelianenko and four months elapsed between the first leg of the opening round taking place and the second coming to pass.
There was also the minor development of Zuffa buying the organization.
Now that the dust has finally settled – and Josh Barnett has officially been licensed in the great state of Texas – the opening round action resumes this weekend with a pair of intriguing match-ups. While the preliminary portion of the event hasn’t yet reach the same level of interest as UFC events, there are two lightweight bouts that hold some value, and the rest of the main card offerings should deliver some excitement as well.
Don’t look now, but Strikeforce is starting to step it up and show there might be some value in keeping the brand alive moving forward.
Conor Heun (8-4) vs. Magno Almeida (11-1)
This one is getting a mention because we’re constantly on the lookout for emerging, young talents who could make a splash, and Almeida is one of them.
A BJJ black belt who trains on both coasts with King’s MMA in California and Fenix Fight Club in Woburn, Massachusetts, Almeida brings a five fight winning streak of all stoppages into his Strikeforce debut. Last time out, he stopped WEC vet Mike Campbell, and steps up to face his toughest test to date in this one.
Heun is the perfect fit opposite the promising 26-year-old; a veteran with a solid all-around arsenal who has been in the trenches with quality opponents in the past. Though he’s lost back-to-back fights, Heun is tough to put away and will help give us a to measure of where Almeida stacks up as a prospect in this one.
Gesias Cavalcante (15-3-1) vs. Justin Wilcox (11-3)
Personally, I think this fight is much more deserving of a place on the main card than Chad Griggs and Valentijn Overeem, but what are you going to do?
Wilcox comes in on six-fight winning streak that includes victories over TUF 13 contestant Shamar Bailey and veteran lightweights Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro and Rodrigo Damm. The compact wrestler from the American Kickboxing Academy camp has brought himself to the brink of contention, and a win here could put him in line for another step up the ladder.
After storming the lightweight top 10 back in 2006 and 2007, Cavalcante has fallen off the radar. A 1-3 record with one No Contest over his last five fights, a handful of injuries and a general lack of opportunity has made him a forgotten man with the fans. That can all change with a quality performance against Wilcox.
He’s still just 27-years-old, and while it’s possible that he peaked early and will never reach his full potential, I’m not ready to write him off just yet. Cavalcante was too electric earlier in this career for me to believe he’s nothing more than an average fighter at this point, so I’ll be watching this one intently to see with of these two potential contenders takes the next step forward on Saturday night.
Valentijn Overeem (29-25) vs. Chad Griggs (10-1)
As mentioned above, I’d much rather watch Cavalcante and Wilcox do battle on Showtime than give either of these two more television time, but I’m not the one making those decisions.
Griggs has made the most of what was supposed to be a bad opportunity. He upset Bobby Lashley in his organizational debut last August, parlaying that into a reserve bout for the Heavyweight Grand Prix. Back in February, he defeated Gian Villante in an exciting, albeit sloppy, slugfest. Now he returns for a third prime time fight.
Not bad for a guy who was supposed to be a patsy.
The older brother of the Strikeforce heavyweight champion is in a similar position as Griggs; being given another shot on Showtime because he won a reserve bout back in February.
Overeem submitted overmatched kickboxer Ray Sefo in just over 90 seconds, giving him three consecutive wins. By no means is he a contender, but then again, neither is Griggs.
I foresee this fight being where I stop and reload on snacks.
Daniel Cormier (7-0) vs. Jeff Monson (42-11)
This heavyweight tilt, however, has a little meaning to it and is one I’m really looking forward to.
After years of fighting around the globe in smaller promotions, Monson returns to a major North American organization for the first time since challenging Tim Sylvia for the UFC heavyweight title in November 2006. He’s one of the most interesting fighters in the sport and had built up a solid record over that time, riding an eight-fight winning streak into Saturday night. That being said, Cormier is the toughest challenge he’s face in recent years, so it will be interesting to see if “The Snowman” still has what it takes to compete with the bigger boys.
Cormier is a two-time Olympian who has quickly climbed the ranks since making the move to MMA. He’s earned seven wins in under two years, and has been steadily facing better competition as he goes. Getting by a proven veteran like Monson who has the skills to hang with the wrestler on the ground will determine if Cormier is ready to take the next step.
The winner becomes a dark horse contender; a guy who could potentially get a shot down the road with another win and some reshuffling at the top of the division.