Five Reasons to Watch Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov

Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva

This weekend’s event might be the best of the month

To be perfectly honest, I could probably give you seven or eight solid reasons to tune into this event on Saturday night and that’s without going to the “it doesn’t cost you $50” well either.

While a Showtime (Super Channel in Canada) subscription is an additional charge on your monthly cable bill, the other Zuffa-operated organization has been rolling out enough quality cards in recent months to easily justify the expenditure.

This one might be their best to date, and is certainly a show you do not want to miss.

1. Josh Barnett – The Best Heavyweight No One Really Talks About

I know all the reasons to dislike (or potentially despise) Barnett: the failed drug tests, the constant denials of said failed drug tests, bringing Affliction to its knees because of the one of those drug tests.

But here’s the thing: his freakish frequency for testing positive aside, Barnett is really a damn good fighter, and no one ever really mentions that anymore.

I know he’s been beating up less than stellar competition as of late, but the fact of the matter is that he’s 12-2 in his last 14 fights dating back to his Pride 31 win over Kazuhiro Nakamura.

He is a dominant force on the ground with his catch wrestling acumen, and can be pretty entertaining with a mic in his hands. I understand why so many people give Barnett no love and have no interest in seeing “The Baby-faced Assassin” succeed, but on talent alone, he’s definitely deserving of your attention when he’s in the cage.

2. Antonio Silva’s Encore

Last time out, “Bigfoot” beat the bejesus out of Fedor Emelianenko.

Size certainly had a lot to do with — as it does in every contest involving the mammoth Brazilian — but it wasn’t the only factor. Silva is steadily improving every time he steps into the cage, and might be the best heavyweight competing outside of the UFC right now.

Yes — I’m including Alistair Overeem when I say that.

While dispatching Daniel Cormier won’t be as unexpected and newsworthy as when he dismantled Fedor, seeing what Silva does for an encore after the Emelianenko win will go a long way to show what kind of impact he could have in the division in the long run, regardless of where he competes.

Does he come in over-confident and get beaten or will he make even quicker work of the unbeaten former Olympian with just eight fights to his name?

3. There’s a Title Fight on Here Too?

Tucked away behind the two semifinal fights of the good intentioned, badly executed Heavyweight Grand Prix is a middleweight title fight between Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Luke Rockhold.

Souza is unbeaten in the Strikeforce cage. The scored a closer-than-the-scorecards-show decision over Tim Kennedy to claim the title last August, and dominated Robbie Lawler last time out in his first defense of the belt.

What’s scary is that he looks better and better each time he fights. A highly decorated grappler, “Jacare” has shown progress with his hands too, and is a very good all-around athlete too. As he keeps putting rounds under the belt, he’s only going to continue to improve.

After rattling off six consecutive first round finishes to climb into contention, Rockhold has faded into the background due to injuries. The AKA product hasn’t fought since February 2010, a fact that made him a surprise choice as a title challenger.

That being said, he’s highly athletic, well-rounded and finally healthy. When you combine those three elements with his penchant for finishing fights in the first round, you have the makings of a dangerous challenger and a potentially explosive title bout in the middle of the card.

4. Roger Gracie’s First True Test

One of the most accomplished grapplers in the world, Gracie enters the Strikeforce cage for the third time, once again stepping up in competition. After dispatching Kevin Randleman and Trevor Prangley, Gracie gets his first truly legitimate challenge in the form of former light heavyweight champion Muhammed Lawal.

In addition to having a slight experience edge over the Brazilian submission wizard, Lawal’s outstanding wrestling base creates an interesting stylistic match-up should this fight make it to the mat.

The jury is still out on Gracie at this point. He’s looked good in both his Strikeforce appearances to date — and showed better stand-up in his bout with Prangley — but those victories were expected. Now he must prove that he truly is dedicated to MMA and capable of doing more than forcing fading veterans to submit.

5. The Grizzled Veteran vs. The Unproven Prospect

I love fights like the one between Pat Healy and Maximo Blanco.

On one side of the cage you have Blanco, a former lightweight King of Pancrase who won a bronze medal in freestyle wrestling at the Pan Am Games in 2007. Having won six straight, he’s one of those intriguing prospects who comes in with a lot of hype due to his exploits overseas.

On the other side, you have Healy, a battle-tested competitor stepping in on short notice to fill the void left by former Strikeforce champ Josh Thomson. Though he boasts an impressive resume with wins over Dan Hardy, Paul Daley and Carlos Condit, Healy never seems to get any credit or attention in the lightweight ranks.

This is one of those fights where a lot of questions get answered.

On paper, Healy has the experience and wrestling acumen to test Blanco, and a victory would have to insert him into the thick of the lightweight title chase. Conversely, because Healy is a proven commodity, a victory for Blanco lessens the questions about his skill level and gives him a good win that should help him move forward quickly.

I’m never completely sold on fighter who come in short on experience but heavy with hype like Blanco. I just don’t trust that beating a bunch of guys that only the hardest of hardcore fans have heard of is a true measure of someone’s potential.

Things are different in North America, and this is a great way to find out where “Maxi” stacks up.