Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov Preview & Predictions

Pat Healy (25-16) vs. Maximo Blanco (8-2-1)

Healy steps in for the injured Josh Thomson and serves as the welcome wagon for the lightweight King of Pancrase.

Blanco is an undeniable talent. A bronze medal winner in freestyle wrestling at the 2007 Pan Am Games, he’s won six straight coming into his Strikeforce debut.

But he’s not without question marks. Like many fighters coming over to North America from Japan, it’s hard to get an accurate measure of where Blanco stacks up against true competition. He boasts a solid win over Strikeforce vet Rodrigo Damm, but the verdict is still out on whether he has the potential to go far in North American MMA.

The opposite is true with Healy. You know you’re going to get a scrappy veteran with good wrestling. He’s the perfect kind of fringe contender to challenge the newcomer in his North American debut.

With the lack of depth at the top end of the division, it wouldn’t be hard to envision the winner climbing into title contention. Of course, it may be for nothing, as hardly anyone expects Strikeforce to be around at this point next year.

“King Mo” Lawal (7-1) vs. Roger Gracie (4-0)

This is an excellent test for both fighters.

Lawal returns for the first time in over a year, his first bout since losing the light heavyweight championship to “Feijao” last August in Houston. He’s had knee surgery since then, and after shuttling around the country sharpening his individual skills under various coaches, Lawal set up his training camp at AKA.

For Gracie, this is a step up in competition from the Trevor Prangleys of the world. While his grappling acumen is unquestioned, there are still questions about his striking, though it would be surprising to see these two spend a great deal of this fight on their feet.

Chances are this bout comes down to who controls things on the ground. Lawal has truly world-class wrestling and a solid top game, while Gracie is an elite jiu-jitsu player who will be fairly comfortable and dangerous off his back.

Dominant skill wins in this battle that could produce the next light heavyweight title contender.

Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (14-2) vs. Luke Rockhold (7-1)

It’s rare that you have a title bout in the middle of a main card, but such is the case here, as “Jacare” and Rockhold come in third behind the two Heavyweight Grand Prix semifinals.

Souza is a tremendous grappler who has shown steadily-improving striking in his last few outings. He’s highly athletic — the kind of guy who would have been good at any sport he dedicated himself to — and it could be argued that Rockhold is a step back in competition in comparison to a guy like Tim Kennedy.

Antonio Silva

Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva

Injuries have sidelined Rockhold since February 2010 and his momentum has stalled as a result. He’s won six straight, and finished all seven of his bouts inside the first round. He’s a very good athlete, and possesses a strong all-around game.

The question here will be how Rockhold responds to more than a year on the shelf and a significant jump up the competitive ladder.

Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva (16-2) vs. Daniel Cormier (8-0)

The former Olympian Cormier fills the void left by the removal and subsequent release of former heavyweight champ (and new UFC signee)  Alistair Overeem. While it is a golden opportunity for the unbeaten 32-year-old prospect, he’s stepping in against a man who has to be considered the favorite at this point.

Silva didn’t just beat Fedor Emelianenko last time out; he smashed “The Last Emperor,” dominating him on the ground with his size and pounding on him enough to force a doctor’s stoppage after the second round.

While Cormier has an outstanding wrestling pedigree and showed improved hands in his most recent victory, he’s at a significant disadvantage in terms of height, reach and overall size. He’ll need to overcome all those things in order to win this bout.

Josh Barnett (30-5) vs. Sergei Kharitonov (18-4)

Barnett is the most experienced and accomplished competitor left in the tournament. He’s a former PRIDE standout with an excellent ground game based in catch wrestling.

Considered the dark horse at the outset of the tournament, Kharitonov justified that billing in the opening round, weathering the early technical boxing of Andrei Arlovski before finding a hole and blasting the Belarusian.

Where this fight takes place will determine who has their hand raised at the end. Barnett is vastly superior on the ground, where his patience and technique bolster his submission game, while Kharitonov needs to keep it standing in order to win.

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