Strikeforce MMA makes its return to Showtime this weekend with another great card, this time live from the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Of course with Fedor on the card, Strikeforce is once again co-promoting the card with the Dana White coined “Mad Russians” at M-1 Global. This event kicks off the start of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament, and the main card features two Grand Prix Quarterfinal fights and three tournament reserve bouts.
That’s five fights, all Heavyweight tilts. That’s going to be a lot of weight throughout the whole main card, so we’ll see if the cage can stand up to all of those massive fighters. Let’s take a look at the card from a gambling perspective. As always, all betting lines are current from the time of writing on Bookmaker.com
Tournament Reserve Bout – Heavyweight Fight – Chad Griggs vs. Gian Villante
Current Betting Line: Chad Griggs (+190) vs. Gian Villante (-235)
Chad “The Gravedigger” Griggs is a part-time fighter who is also a Firefighter and Paramedic with the Tucson Fire Department. The 32 year old Arizona native has been fighting since 2005. He currently trains out of the Apex MMA/Fight Legion Gym in Arizona. Griggs is a relatively smaller Heavyweight standing 6’3″ tall and weighing in around 230 pounds. He owns a career record of 9-1, with 8 wins via (T)KO and 1 via Submission. In Griggs’ last fight he scored a huge upset, and possibly the biggest win of his career with a victory over former WWE-Star Bobby Lashley, a bout in which he was a +600 underdog.
Griggs is mainly a stand up fighter. A solid brawler with decent boxing skills. In the fight against Lashley he was overmatched on the ground, but managed to hold his own fairly well in a fight against an NCAA Division 1 Wrestler in Lashley. However, without a standing restart by the referee, I’m not sure that Griggs would have gotten that fight back to standing. That said, despite not defeating anyone of note, he has shown an impressive ability to finish with 8 (T)KO’s. In this fight, he’s going to want to keep the fight standing as long as possible to work his good boxing skills and try to outbox his opponent.
Gianpiero Villante is an American fighter and a former Linebacker prospect in the NFL. He is the current Heavyweight Champion in the Ring of Combat promotion and is making his Strikeforce debut. Villante is also a small Heavyweight and has fought as a Light Heavyweight, he usually weighs in for Heavyweight fights around the 225 pound mark. The 25 year old prospect from New York trains at the Bellmore Kickboxing Academy for his stand up training and D’Arce BJJ for his grappling. He currently holds a Blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He also has a strong background in wrestling, as in college in addition to being a touted linebacker, he was also a member of the wrestling team.
Villante uses his wrestling extensively in his fights, as well as having a lot of knockout power in his hands. He holds a career record of 7-1, with all seven fights won by either TKO or Submission. It’s also an important note that his lone loss was by TKO Injury, as he broke his arm 3 minutes into a fight he was doing well in. Villante has not fought any big names in his career, and his competition has been quite mediocre. However, he does have a solid path to victory with the use of his wrestling to win rounds on the judge’s scorecards. Villante has seen the second round of a fight only once, so it might be interesting to see how he is tested if this fight moves into the later rounds.
Betting Analysis: This is probably going to turn into a classic Striker vs. Wrestler kind of fight. Villante is going to look to use takedowns and ground and pound to control the action. Griggs managed to survive the onslaught from Bobby Lashley on the ground and did okay, but he received a standing restart from the referee that helped him turn the tide of the fight. Villante will likely be much more aggressive at passing guard and more active with ground and pound, so Griggs will be unlikely to get any favours from the referees in this one.
For Griggs to win he’s going to need to keep the fight standing as long as possible. Villante is still a largely unproven prospect who hasn’t fought any significant competition in his career. We don’t know how he’ll react if things get bad, or if he takes a big punch and gets stunned in the fight. But one would have to think that the longer this fight stays standing the more it benefits Griggs, and the quicker this fight hits the ground the more it benefits Villante.
My Pick: Almost overnight a ton of money has poured in on Villante. At previous odds I would pick Villante to win, because I think he has a clear path to victory. But at -235 he’s being given a 70% percent chance to win by the bookies and I think that’s about right. I don’t see a whole lot of value in a bet, but if the odds got better I might lay some money on Villante. For a pick though, I’ll take the favorite. Gian Villante via TKO in the Second Round.
Tournament Reserve Bout – Heavyweight Fight – Valentijn Overeem vs. Ray Sefo
Current Betting Line: Valentijn Overeem (-150) vs. Ray Sefo (+120)
Valentijn “The Python” Overeem is the older brother of current Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem. The Dutch fighter is a veteran of the sport of MMA, active as a professional since 1996. He trains with his brother at the Golden Glory Gym in the Netherlands. The 34 year old fighter holds career victories over Renato Sobral and Randy Couture. He is a fairly large Heavyweight, standing 6’3″ tall and weighing over 240 pounds. He is a well-rounded fighter with the majority of his wins coming via (T)KO or Submission, in fact, in 53 career fights, he has been to a decision only twice.
Overeem is currently on a two fight winning streak but most of his competition these days has been subpar. In fact, you have to go back several years to find a win over a “big name” opponent. He is making his Strikeforce debut in this fight and will face another strong stand up fighter. Overeem will likely be looking to get this fight to the ground where he can exploit his grappling advantage. With a career record 28-25, it’s obvious that Overeem is mostly a journeyman fighter nowadays, but with 16 career Submission victories, he’s going to need to exploit his grappling edge in this fight.
Ray “Sugarfoot” Sefo is a newcomer to MMA, with only a 2-0 record. But he does have a career spent in combat sports as a professional Kickboxer and Boxer. Sefo has excellent stand up abilities as he is a five time Muay Thai World Champion and an eight time K-1 World Grand Prix Finals participant. He currently lives and trains in Las Vegas with the Xtreme Couture camp. Sefo stands 6’0″ even and weighs 240 pounds, so he will be at a slight disadvantage in height and reach, but as a professional Boxer and Kickboxer, that will be nothing new to him.
One thing going against Sefo is his age, the New Zealander is 39 years old, and turns 40 next month. He may train with Randy Couture, but Randy he is not and not many athletes can stay in their athletic primes at 40 years old, especially after a career filled with being punched and kicked. This will be only his third MMA fight since 2005, and his first since September of 2009. Sefo does have big power in his stand up game, as he holds a K-1 record for being one of only two men to ever knockdown Semmy Schilt (K-1 World Grand Prix four time champion) in a Kickboxing bout.
Betting Analysis: Overeem is probably the more well-rounded fighter in this fight, which is probably what has contributed to him being the favorite in this fight. A bit of public money has come in on Overeem which is likely due to his MMA experience advantage and the fact that Sefo is fairly one-dimensional. Standing Sefo is going to have the striking advantage, but he’s an aging fighter and his speed is likely on the decline.
My Pick: At -150 Overeem is only a slight favorite being given a 60% chance to win the fight. That’s probably a little bit less than he should be getting, I think his MMA experience and grappling advantages give him a slightly larger edge than that against someone who’s 40 years old and only has two professional MMA fights. Like I said Overeem has been KO’ed before, so if he takes a clean shot, there might be an upset, but I think the line should be closer to -200 for Overeem so I like a small bet on him at these odds. Valentijn Overeem via Submission in the First Round.
Tournament Reserve Bout – Heavyweight Fight – Shane Del Rosario vs. Lavar Johnson
Current Betting Line: Shane del Rosario (-175) vs. Lavar Johnson (+145)
Shane del Rosario is an undefeated MMA prospect fighting out of Irvine, California. He is a former professional Muay Thai Kickboxer, a sport where he held a record of 7-1, with 7 Knockouts. As a professional Mixed Martial Artist he holds a career record of 10-0, with 8 wins by (T)KO and 2 via Submission. At 6’3″ and 245 pounds, he is undersized against most of the bigger heavyweights in the tournament, but is well sized to compete against Johnson. Like a lot of prospects, del Rosario has been to the second round only once, and has never been to a decision.
Obviously del Rosario prefers to stand up in his fights and exploit his significant Muay Thai skills. He trains out of the DeathClutch gym, headed by former UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar. The camp is meant for Heavyweights only and often features a lot of focus on grappling and wrestling. In a 2009 fight del Rosario showed off his improving Jiu Jitsu skills with a Submission victory via Omaplata over Brandon Cash. However, his strength still lies in his Muay Thai.
Lavar “Big” Johnson is an American fighter with a career record of 15-3. He fights out of the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California. He is a freestyle fighter with a background in Muay Thai. Lavar lives up to his nickname as he stands 6’4″ tall and weighs upwards of 250 pounds. A big advantage that Johnson possesses over most fighters is his extremely long reach, which is 82 inches. He is currently riding an eight fight winning streak.
Johnson prefers to stand and bang it out with his opponents and owns 13 career victories by (T)KO and 2 by Submission. Also one of those submissions was due to strikes, so basically it should be 14 and 1. Johnson has never fought a full three rounds and gone to a judge’s decision. In July of 2009, Johnson was actually shot twice in a random shooting, but has since recovered. Despite the shooting he remained fairly busy throughout 2009 and 2010, fighting four times over the two year span.
Betting Analysis: This one should prove to be a pretty exciting fight as both fighters prefer to stand and trade. Both guys have significant backgrounds in kickboxing and Muay Thai so they are likely to spend a bit of time standing. Come fight night del Rosario will probably have the faster hands, but it’s likely with the extra weight that Johnson will hit harder. On the ground del Rosario should have the grappling edge from his time spent at the DeathClutch gym with Brock Lesnar and co.
Standing I think del Rosario can use his pin point striking and superior speed to baffle his opponent. It might take him a bit to figure out his range against the extremely long reach of Johnson. He should be able to use better footwork as well, as Johnson sometimes gets himself caught flat-footed in fights. On the ground, I think del Rosario has a significant advantage, something that he showed in his UFC debut with a victory via Omoplata submission. Whether or not he decides to go for a takedown to work that advantage is something we’ll have to wait and see.
My Pick: The public money has been coming in on del Rosario and I’m with the public in this fight. I think del Rosario is a faster striker with better footwork. Like I mentioned he’s going to have to figure out his range against the 82 inch reach of Johnson, but I think once he figures that out, he’ll win most of the exchanges. On the ground, if he decides to shoot for a takedown, something that would surely surprise Johnson he has a real advantage there. I think the line of -175 (64 % chance of winning) is a little shy, so a small bet for value is good for me. Shane del Rosario via Submission in the Third Round.
Tournament Quarterfinals – Heavyweight Fight – Andrei Arlovski vs. Sergei Kharitonov
Current Betting Line: Andrei Arlovski (-110) vs. Sergei Kharitonov (-110)
Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski is a Belarusian fighter from Minsk, Belarus. He trains mostly with Greg Jackson MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He has also received professional boxing training under world renowned boxing trainer Freddie Roach. Arlovski has a significant background in the Russian sport of Sambo. He is an MMA veteran, who has been competing as a professional since 1999. The 32 year old fighter, stands 6’4″ tall and weighs in just over 240 pounds. He also has a reach advantage of 77 inches.
Arlovski owns a career record of 15-8, with 11 wins via (T)KO and 3 via Submission. He has great technical boxing ability and Freddie Roach has actually said that he might be competitive in a boxing match against top Heavyweight boxers due to his speed and footwork. However, one major downfall for Arlovski is his notorious glass chin. Of his 8 losses, 6 are by KO or TKO. Despite having an underrated grappling game, striking is the method of choice. He prefers to live by his boxing and die by his boxing. He is entering this fight on a three fight losing skid, having not won a fight since October 2008.
Sergei “The Russian Mercenary” Kharitonov is a Russian fighter who trains at the Golden Glory gym in Amsterdam with the Overeem brothers. The 30 year old Russian is a professional Kickboxer as well as Mixed Martial Artist. He has fought in a number of notable organizations including PRIDE, DREAM and K-1. Kharitonov is 6’4″ tall and usually weighs anywhere from 220-250 pounds depending on his conditioning. As well as being a former pro Boxer and pro Kickboxer, he is also a former member of the Russian Military.
Kharitonov holds a career record of 17-4, with 8 wins via (T)KO and 8 via Submission. Like Arlovski, he also has a wealth of experience in the Russian Combat sport of Sambo. Kharitonov has had up and down performances throughout his career, mostly attributed to a life spent in combat sports leading to a degrading body. He has slowed significantly since the beginning of his career and hasn’t been fighting in MMA competition as actively as others in the tournament.
Betting Analysis: This fight is currently a true pick ‘em with the bookies. Because of the nature of sports betting, you need to lay money with both fighters, which is never really a great situation to be in. Come fight night I think Arlovski will probably have the better technical boxing skills, but Kharitonov will likely be more aggressive with leg kicks. On the ground, both are experts in Sport and Combat Sambo, so I think it’s basically a wash in a grappling match, with the advantage to whoever is on top.
I want to like Arlovski in this fight, but I just can’t pull the trigger. Kharitonov can throw with big power from outside and from in the clinch up close. Arlovski’s chin is notoriously soft, although he did manage to go the distance against hard-hitting Antonio Silva in his last fight. If he has managed to improve his durability as a fighter, I think he has the technical ability to outbox Kharitonov en-route to a unanimous decision.
My Pick: I’ll start out by saying I’m not betting on this fight. I think laying money with either of these guys isn’t something I’m overly interested in. But I think Arlovski takes this one. I keep trying to talk myself out of it because of that chin of his, but he does have the stand up skills to win this fight. Andrei Arlovski via Unanimous Decision.
MAIN EVENT: Tournament Quarterfinals – Heavyweight Fight – Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio Silva
Current Betting Line: Fedor Emelianenko (-400) vs. Antonio Silva (+300)
Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko is a Russian fighter and is widely regarded as one of the best Heavyweight fighters on the planet. Fedor is a member of one of the largest MMA Gyms in Russia; the Red Devil Sports Club. He is actually relatively small for a modern Heavyweight fighter, as he stands only 6’0″ tall and weighs around 230 pounds. Many pundits have called for Fedor to cut to Light Heavyweight in the past, but his renowned success at Heavyweight has made that unnecessary. He has been criticized lately for failing to fight the best Heavyweight talent in the world, and has been accused of taking “easy” fights. His entering this tournament should prove those doubters wrong.
Fedor has a career MMA record of 31-2. However, one of those losses was a bogus loss via Cuts in a fight that he was handily winning and the cut was caused by an illegal blow, so his true record should really be 31-1. In his last fight, he received the first real blemish of his record, as he was shocked by Fabricio Werdum and submitted with a Triangle in the first round. Fedor like other Russian fighters in the tournament has a lot of experience in Sambo. His experience in Sambo has given him a grappling edge over a lot of the fighters that he’s faced which has led to his plethora of Submission wins. Standing Fedor has an unorthodox style of striking, which doesn’t look pretty but he packs one hell of a right hand, and that’s been enough to get him through his career so far. Despite the loss in his last outing, it should be noted that he rocked Werdum standing and charged in for a finish but ended up getting caught in a desperation Triangle Choke attempt.
Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva is a Brazilian and a former Super-Heavyweight who has dropped to the 265 pound limit for recent fights. In previous fights he has weighed anywhere up to 300 pounds, so he lives up to his nickname as he is a large Heavyweight. Silva is 6’4″ tall and has a long reach of 82 inches. Silva has a competent stand up game with a lot of power, as well as a solid training team with the guys at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. Silva has Black belts in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Judo and Karate. Because of his strong stand up skills, people often overlook his grappling abilities on the mat.
Betting Analysis: Fedor as is standard for most of his fights is a significant favorite in this fight. With his impressive record and resume, he definitely should be the favorite, but I don’t think he should be quite so large of a favorite. People have made a big deal about his loss to Werdum, but honestly he knocked Werdum down with a punch and made a mistake charging in. The guy’s first mistake in 33 fights and people think he’s lost a step.
At -400 though Fedor is being given an 80% chance of winning this fight, and I think he has probably more like a 70-75% chance of winning. Silva in his last fight was rocked by an overhand right from Mike Kyle, which is a punch that Fedor has knocked several fighters out with. Silva was able to weather the storm and recover, but he’ll need to watch out for that punch since Fedor is able to finish fighters that are rocked. Fedor is also notoriously hard to Knockout, so I think Silva is probably going to have to really pour on the heat with ground and pound, or find a submission on the mat.
Standing Fedor has unorthodox and non-traditional boxing, so Silva will need to use his more crisp and technical boxing skills to out strike Fedor standing and stay away from those big power kill shots. After earning points on the scorecards, he should look for some late round takedowns to tire Fedor and pour on the ground and pound to look for a stoppage. Fedor is notoriously hard to finish, so the ground and pound will need to be relentless or a submission will need to be very tight.
My Pick: Fedor has something to prove in this fight a first for him in a long time. Silva is supremely confident heading into this fight, and although I think he’s a legitimate underdog, I think he stands a slightly better chance than the odds makers are giving him. So I’ll be placing a small wager on the underdog in this fight. Antonio Silva by Unanimous Decision.
My Wagers on Strikeforce Fedor vs. Silva
Just to track the actual wagers I’m placing on this card as opposed to my fight picks, here they are.
1 unit on Antonio Silva (+300) to win 3 units.
0.5 unit on Shane del Rosario (-175) to win 0.2857 units
0.5 unit on Valentijn Overeem (-150) to win 0.3333 units
Lee McGregor is a fan of all combat sports including both Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts. When not catching fights or watching hockey, he can be found as an Author and Editor at his own website MyManCave.ca
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