The other promotion owned by Zuffa (Strikeforce) brings an end to the event that was supposed to be a landmark for the company. When Scott Coker and company decided to roll out the Heavyweight World Grand Prix the idea, was great on paper. Featuring the eight best Heavyweights in the world that resided outside the UFC, it was supposed to be a tournament that would bring Strikeforce to another level, one where they could finally compete with the UFC.
Here we are nearly 20 months later and the Grand Prix is finally coming to a close. The overwhelming favorites at the beginning of the Grand Prix; Fedor Emelianenko – eliminated in the opening round and off to greener pastures in Russia, Alistair Overeem – one time UFC contender, now serving a 9-month suspension for a failed blood test, Antonio Silva or Fabricio Werdum – both preparing to make their UFC debuts within the next month or so.
Strikeforce now belongs to Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC. So instead of bringing them to the same level as the UFC, they ended up being purchased by the UFC. Many people have complained that the UFC has stripped Strikeforce of its parts and has left it to die, (which is hard to argue, since they literally eliminated the Heavyweight division.) But, Strikeforce still soldiers on, with several big names, perhaps the biggest of which Gilbert Melendez who fights in the night’s co-main event. Strikeforce is hoping to have their Heavyweight Grand Prix go out with a bang, hoping a strong finish makes everyone forget just how brutal the rest of it has been.
Preliminary Card (Showtime Extreme): Lightweight Bout: James Terry vs. Bobby Green
Preliminary Card (Showtime Extreme): Welterweight Bout: Quinn Mulhern vs. Yuri Villefort
Quinn “Campamocha” Mulhern is an American fighter from Santa Cruz, California. At 6’3” with extremely long limbs, Mulhern is an extremely dangerous Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter with 11 submission wins on his resume. Mulhern holds an MMA record of 17-2. Yuri Villefort is a Brazilian fighter, who is an undefeated prospect. Villefort trains with the Blackzillians at Imperial Athletics and is the younger brother of former UFC fighter Danillo Villefort. Villefort has a career record of 6-0. Yuri Villefort via TKO in Round Three
Preliminary Card (Showtime Extreme): Light Heavyweight Bout: Gian Villante vs. Derrick Mehmen
Gian Villante is a 26-year-old from Wantagh, New York. Villante trains out of the Long Island MMA Academy in Bellmore, New York. Villante before beginning his fighting career was a top prospect for the NFL at the position of Linebacker. He holds a professional record of 9-3. Derrick “Caveman” Mehmen is an American fighter who trains with the American Top Team. Mehmen is mostly a brawler with heavy hands who owns most of his career victories by KO or TKO. Mehmen holds a career record of 12-4. Gian Villante via TKO in Round Two
Preliminary Card (Showtime Extreme): Light Heavyweight Bout: Virgil Zwicker vs. Carlos Augusto Filho
Virgil “Rezdog” Zwicker is an American fighter from San Diego, California. He is a former Heavyweight fighter who is making his Light Heavyweight debut. Zwicker is most notable for his troubled childhood and past, where he has been incarcerated in the prison system several times, but seems to have righted the ship with the help of MMA. Zwicker holds a career record of 10-2. Carlos Augusto “Guto Inocente” Filho is a Brazilian fighter. He is a member of the Blackzillians training out of Imperial Athletics in Florida. Filho is an undefeated, highly touted prospect with a record of 5-0. Carlos Augusto Filho via TKO in Round One
Preliminary Card (Showtime Extreme): Lightweight Bout: Gesias Cavalcante vs. Isaac Vallie-Flagg
Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante is a Brazilian fighter and formerly one of the top Lightweight prospects outside of the UFC. Despite his recent struggles, he remains a tough challenge for anyone at Lightweight, as he possesses a strong combination of power punching, solid boxing and strong Brazilian Jiu Jitsu skills. The Imperial Athletics representative has a career record of 16-4-1 with 2 No Contests. Isaac Vallie-Flagg is an American fighter who is a member of Greg Jackson’s camp in New Mexico. He is a former Welterweight fighter who is dropping to Lightweight for the first time. He has gone undefeated in his last ten bouts and holds a career record of 12-3-1. Gesias Cavalcante via Unanimous Decision
Main Card (Showtime): Welterweight Bout: Nah-Shon Burrell vs. Chris Spang
Nah-Shon “The Rock-n-Rolla” Burrell is an American fighter from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is a 22-year-old member of the Fight Firm Gym in his hometown. Burrell is a strong striker who can fight well at range or from in close, although he has struggled throughout his career on the ground. Burrell is more of a straight boxer than a kick boxer, who prefers to use his jab to set up the majority of his offensive combinations. Burrell holds a career record of 8-1.
Chris “The Kiss” Spang is a Swedish fighter from Vaxjo, Sweden. He is the younger brother of Andreas Spang who happens to be fighting the night before for Bellator’s Middleweight Tournament crown. Since beginning his MMA career, Spang has transplanted himself to Las Vegas, Nevada where he trains at the J-Sect/One-Kick MMA Gym. He is a former professional boxer who has adapted kicks well to his MMA game, but has somewhat struggled on the ground. Spang holds a career record of 4-1.
Analysis and Prediction: Burrell is a talented boxer who struggles on the ground, but his opponent is unlikely to force him there since Spang too would prefer to stand and trade. Burrell is also the more experienced of the two. With both fighters at such a young age 22 and 24, the amount they can improve from fight to fight is astounding, so each may show us something we haven’t seen from them before. But as it is, I think Burrell has a better and more complete MMA game and he should be able to outwork Spang en-route to a decision win. Nah-Shon Burrell via Unanimous Decision
Main Card (Showtime): Light Heavyweight Bout: Rafael Cavalcante vs. Mike Kyle
Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante is a Brazilian fighter from Sao Paulo, Brazil. A former Heavyweight fighter, Cavalcante is a member of the Black House and is a training partner of Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida and the Nogueira brothers. He is a former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion who is best known for his Muay Thai skills. He is an aggressive striker with explosive power, who is a constant threat to any opponent as all of his career victories have come from stoppages due to strikes. He owns a pro record of 11-3.
Mike “MAK” Kyle is an American fighter from Boise, Idaho. He has spent most of his career bouncing back and forth between the Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight divisions, but has had considerably more success at Light Heavyweight, especially under the Strikeforce banner where he is undefeated as a Light Heavyweight. Kyle is mostly a striker who trains at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California. Kyle actually holds a previous career victory over Cavalcante, when the Brazilian made his Strikeforce debut. He holds a career record of 19-8-1 with 1 No Contest.
Analysis and Prediction: Despite his previous loss to Kyle, Cavalcante should have the edge in this bout. In fact he was winning their first meeting, before gassing out and being tagged with big shots. That’s been a constant problem for Cavalcante who also slowed considerable against Dan Henderson before being knocked unconscious. However, provided he enters the bout in good shape, he should be able to outwork Kyle on the feet and considerably out work him on the ground en-route to a TKO in Round Three. But beware, if he begins to slow or gets sloppy Mike Kyle has the kind of one-punch power that can end his night quickly. Still I favor the Brazilian. Rafael Cavalcante via TKO in Round Three
Main Card (Showtime): Lightweight Championship Bout: Gilbert Melendez vs. Josh Thomson
Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez is the reigning and defending Strikeforce Lightweight Champion. The 30-year-old from Santa Ana, California is a member of the Cesar Gracie Fight Team where he trains regularly with Jake Shields and the Diaz brothers. As acknowledged most recently by Nate Diaz after his UFC on Fox win, many consider Melendez to be the top 155-pound fighter in the world. Melendez is a wrestler and grappler who uses an excellent top game and ground and pound to wear out his opponents. He also has strong boxing skills, although he prefers to outwork his opponents on the ground. He holds a career record of 20-2, but has avenged both of his career defeats.
Josh “The Punk” Thomson is a 33-year-old fighter from San Jose, California. Thomson is a very well-rounded fighter with strong wrestling skills, solid wrestling and black belt level Brazilian Jiu Jitsu skills. Thomson actually holds a career victory over Melendez from their title fight in 2008. In that bout Thomson was able to out-strike Melendez on the feet and use excellent takedown defense to prevent the bout from hitting the floor. (He has since however lost a rematch to Melendez, making this the trilogy fight for these two.) Thomson is an extremely tough and durable fighter, who has been stopped only once in his career and that was all the way back in 2004. Thomson has also been bothered by a number of injuries over the past couple of years including broken ribs, a broken leg and a broken hand. Thomson owns a career record of 19-4 with 1 No Contest.
Analysis and Prediction: Thomson was able to find success in their first bout by focusing on two things. He outworked Melendez on the feet, throwing more punches, landing more punches and keeping the champion off balance. He also managed to win every scramble and used excellent sprawl and brawl to batter Melendez every time he shot in for a takedown. Since that bout, everything has changed. Melendez is a significantly better striker since that bout, and in the rematch actually out struck Thomson decisively. Melendez now throws better combinations and controls the distance much better than he has before, it’s also notable that he looks much more comfortable boxing than he has in the past.
Secondly Thomson’s timing and sprawl did not look nearly as good in the rematch with Melendez as Melendez was able to dump him to the ground a number of times and fended off almost all of Thomson’s takedown attempts himself. Both men have tremendous gas tanks, so it’s likely that this bout will be an intense Fight of the Night type of high-octane bout, but Thomson simply doesn’t have the same advantages that he used to have. I am one of the growing number of people who believe that Melendez is the top Lightweight fighter in the world and I think he puts on a showcase performance in this bout, eventually stopping the ultra tough Thomson in the latter rounds. Gilbert Melendez via TKO in Round Four
Main Card (Showtime): Heavyweight Grand Prix Final Bout: Josh Barnett vs. Daniel Cormier
Josh “The Warmaster/The Baby-Faced Assassin” Barnett is a 34-year-old fighter from Seattle, Washington. Barnett is an MMA veteran who has fought all over the world, for a number of notable MMA promotions including Pancrase, PRIDE, UFC, Affliction and Sengoku. Barnett is notable for his past endeavors in professional wrestling, mostly in Japan but is probably most notable for being a former UFC Heavyweight Champion by defeating Randy Couture via TKO (he was subsequently stripped of the title and ousted from the promotion for failing a drug test.) Barnett is a catch-wrestler who has complimented his ground game well based on his experience over the years. He is a crafty grappler with a number of unique submissions and the ability to smother fighters with pure strength alone. Barnett is also an extremely tough and durable fighter who has only been knocked out once in over 35 career bouts. Barnett holds a professional record of 31-5 with bouts against some of the legends of the sport including Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Hunt, Randy Couture and Pedro Rizzo.
Daniel “DC” Cormier is a 33-year-old fighter from Lafayette, Louisiana. He is a former NCAA Division 1 and Olympic Freestyle Wrestler. Standing only 5’11” and rarely weight north of 240-pounds, many people consider Cormier to be too small for Heavyweight, but he has proved doubters wrong consistently as he owns a perfect professional record. Now training out of the American Kickboxing Academy, he has improved his striking skills considerably to compliment his wrestling. He now throws excellent combinations with speed and power and has excellent footwork, which he can use to keep the bout at a comfortable range, or to switch levels and shoot for a takedown. His quickness on his feet also allows him to throw his larger and often slower opponents off of their games, as they don’t know if he is lunging in with punches or for a takedown attempt. When this tournament began, Cormier wasn’t even in the opening 8. But after winning a reserve bout by out-boxing and battering Jeff Monson for three rounds he was given a spot when Alistair Overeem left for the bright lights of the UFC. He made the most of his opportunity and put the rest of the tournament on notice when he blasted Antonio Silva and knocked him out cold with an uppercut in the first round. Cormier owns an undefeated professional record of 9-0.
Analysis and Prediction: Although only a year separates these two in age, over a decade and twenty fights separates them in experience. Barnett is an extremely intelligent fighter who always fights smart and always attacks his opponents’ weaknesses. For this bout, that’s likely going to be Cormier’s ground game. Although Cormier is a standout wrestler, most wrestlers are nearly useless on their backs when taken down. If Barnett can earn a takedown against Cormier, he has a wealth of experience and knowledge of catch-wrestling submission holds that he can likely find an opportunity to pull off a submission.
Barnett isn’t Antonio Silva either, he knows his striking isn’t elite but won’t leave his chin hanging out there as a target. He is also more durable than Silva as he walked through a number of big punches from Sergei Kharitonov who is definitely a knockout artist, before dragging the Russian to the ground in their semi-final bout. This one likely comes down to who can control the pacing and the placement of the bout. Cormier is a legit prospect that has looked impressive so far, but Barnett is extremely tough and extremely crafty. I have a hard time seeing him unable to find an opening somewhere in this five round bout. Cormier makes it close, but he eventually leaves himself open to the submission skills of Barnett. Josh Barnett via Submission in Round Three