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Strikeforce Grand Prix: Barnett Vs. Kharitonov Preview & Picks

josh barnettOvershadowed this week by all of the UFC’s card shuffling and match-up changes is a very impressive Strikeforce card which has unfortunately flown largely under the radar. For those of you with access to Showtime and HDNet and with an appreciation for great fights I highly suggest that you tune in Saturday night.

As always I’m here to provide a look at this card from a gambler’s perspective, but since the card is tonight and you compulsive gamblers have very little time to hit up the local bookmakers for a bet or two, I’ll keep this short and sweet. I’ll provide you with a match-up preview and a quick look at each fighter’s path to victory. As always all of the betting lines are the current best available market lines from BestFightOdds (www.bestfightodds.com)

Preliminary Bout (HDNet): Women’s Bantamweight Bout: Alexis Davis (+250) vs. Amanda Nunes (-265)

Alexis Davis is a Canadian fighter from Port Colborne, Ontario. She is a black belt in Japanese Jujutsu and a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. She is a former Canadian open grappling champion. In her last fight she defeated Julie Kedzie by Unanimous Decision at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson. Her stand-up skills are fairly rudimentary and she instead prefers to rely on her wrestling and grappling skills to work over her opponents on the mat. Davis holds a career record of 10-4.

Amanda Nunes is a Brazilian fighter who has been training in combat sports since the age of sixteen. She is a member of the AMA Fight Club and has strong experience and skills in Muay Thai, Judo, Boxing and BJJ. She has a professional MMA record of 6-1 with 6 wins via TKO or KO. She has not lost since her professional debut and has never made it to the third round of the fight.

Betting Analysis and Predictions: Nunes is a strong boxer with solid ground skills to match. Davis is a strong fighter but lacks the necessary stand up skills to compete with Nunes on the feet. She will be likely pushing forward for takedowns as quickly as possible, however, Nunes is likely going to be too strong and even if Davis earns the takedown, she is still facing someone with equal grappling skills. Overall, Davis is likely outgunned anywhere that this fight goes. She has fared well recently, but Nunes is a serious competitor and a step up in competition. Amanda Nunes via TKO in Round Two.

Preliminary Bout (HDNet): Welterweight Bout: Evangelista Santos (+135) vs. Jordan Mein (-140)

Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos is a Brazilian fighter who is part of the Chute Boxe Academy. Santos is a former Middleweight who recently made the drop to Welterweight where he enjoyed some early success before falling short to Nick Diaz in his last fight. Despite the fact that he is a strong grappler with a black belt in BJJ he prefers to brawl in his fights. He has very heavy hands and feet and has earned 11 of 18 career victories by Knockout or TKO. Like most of his fights, Santos will likely try to brawl it out with the young Canadian in this fight. Santos is a very experienced fighter with 32 fights on his resume, but has had mixed results, owning a career record of 18-14.

Jordan “Young Gun” Mein is a Canadian fighter from Lethbridge, Alberta. Despite being only 21-years-old he is a very experienced and well-rounded fighter. His father ran local kickboxing and MMA promotions in Alberta and exposed Jordan to his first fight when he was only 11-years old. Mein has a strong background in kickboxing. He possesses heavy hands, thudding kicks and great footwork. He also has a lot of experience in defensive wrestling and grappling who is extremely strong in the clinch. Despite his age, Mein still owns a career record of 22-7.

Betting Analysis and Prediction: This fight opened a lot closer to a pick ‘em contest but money has steadily come in on the young Canadian. Santos is a brawler and will choose to engage Mein on the feet and Mein will be happy to oblige him. Santos moves forward with his head down behind looping punches. Mein’s strong kickboxing background and strong footwork will allow him to counter effectively and he will likely pick apart the Brazilian. If one of Santos’ bombs lands, this fight may end early, but it’s much more likely that he is on the receiving end of a knockout punch. The line has been bet down but I think Mein has value up until about -150, so I’m making a small bet on him. Jordan Mein via TKO in Round Two.

Preliminary Bout (HDNet): Light Heavyweight Bout: Rafael Cavalcante (-120) vs. Yoel Romero Palacio (+115)

Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante is a Brazilian fighter who is part of the famed Black House gym where he is a training partner of Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida and the Nogueira brothers. He is a former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion. He is a strong striker with an aggressive style and knockout power in both hands. He has finished all of his wins with strikes. He holds a career record of 10-3 and is making his return to the Strikeforce cage after losing his title to Dan Henderson in his last fight. Throughout his career Cavalcante has shown impressive takedown defense and an astounding ability to take advantage of his opponents’ mistakes.

Yoel Romero Palacio is a Cuban fighter who is making his Strikeforce debut. Despite being 34-years-old he is a relative newcomer to the sport of MMA. He owns a career record of 4-0 with all four of his wins coming by way of KO or TKO. He is an extremely impressive prospect due to his extensive wrestling background. He represented his home nation of Cuba in the 2000 Summer Olympics. There he won the Silver medal in the 85 kg Freestyle Wrestling event. He is a Southpaw fighter, who has shown impressive stand up skills for someone with only 4 fights on his record.

Betting Analysis and Prediction: Cavalcante is a very big step up in competition for Palacio. He is an extremely strong and durable fighter, who has shown an ability to withstand punishment and has defeated strong wrestlers in the past, most notably King Mo Lawal. However, Palacio is too strong of a wrestler to be denied in this one. He has shown very impressive stand-up skills and the ability to take down anyone he chooses. There will probably be some bumps along the way and danger will likely be looming at every turn, but Palacio is good enough to grind out a decision win here. He is a slight underdog, but I think this fight should basically be even. So I’ll be making another small bet on this fight taking Romero at plus money. Yoel Romero Palacio by Unanimous Decision

Main Card (Showtime): Lightweight Bout: Pat Healy (+110) vs. Maximo Blanco (-121)

Pat “Bam Bam” Healy is a 28-year old fighter from St. Louis, Missouri. The 28-year old is a wrestler and a member of Team Quest in Portland, Oregon. He is an experienced fighter with over 40 career bouts to his name. Despite his strong wrestling skills, he often struggles against fighters who are either stronger than himself, or are able to outwork him on the mats. However, one ability that cannot be overlooked is Healy’s ability to capitalize on even the smallest of mistakes. The smallest slip of the mind from his opponents and Healy can sink in a choke or slip a well-timed counter punch to capitalize and swing the momentum in his favor.

Maximo Blanco is a 27-year old fighter from Venezuela. He is a strong wrestler who is a former amateur freestyle wrestling champion. He is making his Strikeforce debut in this fight and is currently riding a six-fight winning streak, finishing all but one of his opponents. Blanco is extremely aggressive, sometimes wildly so. However, he should have the better stand up skills with better power and is likely going to be the better wrestler in the fight. He does need to make sure he avoids making any costly mistakes that could cost him the fight.

Betting Analysis and Prediction: This fight is likely to be a back and forth affair that will have action all over the place. Blanco is slightly better in all areas and is more well-rounded as a fighter, however he’s going to need to avoid any potential mistakes or any letdowns. Due to the likely volatility of this fight, I’m going to stay away from betting it, but for a prediction I’ll take Maximo Blanco. Maximo Blanco via Unanimous Decision

Main Card (Showtime): Light Heavyweight Bout: Muhammed Lawal (-150) vs. Roger Gracie (+140)

Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal is a former three-time US Senior National Wrestling Champion and a won the NCAA Division 2 National Wrestling Championship in 2002, while wrestling for the University of Central Oklahoma. He is a former Heavyweight fighter, who has enjoyed success at both Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight, winning the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight championship. He opened his career with seven straight wins, before dropping his last fight to Rafael Cavalcante via TKO. He is making his long-awaited return to the cage after 13-month layoff from fighting to surgically repair his knee. He is a member of the American Kickboxing Academy, where he trains daily with strong wrestlers like Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck.

Roger Gracie is a Brazilian fighter and a member of the famed Gracie family. As such he is an extremely strong Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner with a 2nd degree black belt. He has won several Grappling tournaments including the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships and Pan American Championships. Since becoming a professional mixed martial artist he has gone 4-0, winning all of his fights via Submission. He has shown rapidly improving stand up skills to compliment his strong grappling skills.

Betting Analysis and Prediction: This is a classic wrestler vs. BJJ artist. It often pays to take the wrestler in these kinds of fights. Lawal’s best chance of victory is to work his stand up skills and exploit what will likely be a speed advantage for himself to batter Gracie. From there, in the later rounds he can shoot for takedowns when fatigue and sweat will likely make it more difficult for Gracie to catch a submission. Its unlikely Gracie can take down Lawal, so he’s going to need to react to Lawal and will need to take advantage of any mistakes. I like Lawal in this fight, however, he has shown a propensity to gas in the later rounds of fights, which could prove very dangerous against a submission specialist like Gracie. That combined with the long layoff is enough for me to stay away from this fight. I’ll take Lawal in the fight, but wouldn’t be overly surprised to see Gracie catch a late submission in this one. In fact, if the odds continue to go up for Gracie, I may change my mind and take a small flyer bet on the Brazilian. Nonetheless, Muhammed Lawal via Unanimous Decision

Main Card (Showtime): Middleweight Title Bout: Ronaldo Souza (-400) vs. Luke Rockhold (+355)

Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza is a Brazilian fighter who is an extremely talented grappler who has added very strong stand up skills to his grappling skills. Also, somewhat surprisingly, Souza has shown strong offensive wrestling skills, earning takedowns relatively easily despite the fact that most of his fellow countrymen struggle for takedowns. This makes him a tough out for anyone, as his speed and rapidly improving stand up skills make him tough to defeat standing and he has the ability to dictate where the fight takes place against all but the most skilled wrestlers in the division. Souza holds a career MMA record of 14-2, with 1 No Contest and is currently riding a four-fight winning streak.

Luke Rockhold is an American fighter from Santa Cruz, California. Rockhold is a freestyle fighter with decent wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Rockhold is 7-1 as a professional and has never had a fight escape the first round. He often uses his strong wrestling to earn takedowns and uses ground and pound to set up submissions. However, against Souza it is unlikely that he will be able to implement his usual game plan, as grappling with Souza is a task that no one looks forward to.

Betting Analysis and Prediction: Rockhold is a talented prospect, but he is taking a huge step up in competition here, and is likely only getting the shot because of the shallow talent pool in Strikeforce’s Middleweight division. He has nothing to lose in this fight and if he has any chance of pulling off the upset, he’s going to need to fight like it. Souza’s stand up skills have been readily improving, but he is far from Mike Tyson standing. Rockhold should try to exploit this by countering Souza’s sometimes wild punches and throwing caution to the wind if he feels that he has the champion hurt. Overall though, this is too much, too soon for Rockhold. Ronaldo Souza via Submission in Round Two

Main Card (Showtime): Heavyweight Grand-Prix Semi-finals: Daniel Cormier (+145) vs. Antonio Silva (-155)

Daniel Cormier steps into the Grand Prix as a replacement for now UFC-bound Alistair Overeem. He is a former NCAA Division 1 runner up for Oklahoma State University. He was also a member of the 2004 American Olympic Wrestling team, where he finished in fourth place. He was also a member of the 2008 Olympic wrestling team and was named a team captain, although he did not compete due to kidney failure from trying to cut weight. He is a somewhat small Heavyweight, usually tipping the scales around 230 pounds, but he appears to have bulked up slightly for this fight and weighed over 240 pounds. He is a member of the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California and is a training partner of current UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez. He is 8-0 as a professional fighter and in his last fight, he earned an impressive Unanimous Decision over Jeff Monson in a fight that he dominated both standing and on the mat.

Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva earned his way into the second round of the Heavyweight Grand Prix with an upset win over Fedor Emalienenko. The Brazilian fighter is a former Super-Heavyweight, who routinely cuts weight to make the Heavyweight limit of 265 pounds. He has a strong background in Karate, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He has recently switched camps to join the famed Black House/X-Gym with the likes of the Nogueira brothers and Anderson Silva. He holds a career record of 16-2 with 14 wins via stoppage. Silva regularly exploits his size and strength advantages to earn takedowns and work his vicious ground and pound on his opponents, as well as searching for openings for submissions.

Betting Analysis and Predictions: At -155 Silva is being given a slightly above 60% chance of winning this fight. That’s probably about right, although there might be a bit more of a chance for Silva. Silva will likely be the harder puncher and will enjoy a significant reach advantage come fight night. Cormier should have the speed advantage and if he wants to pull off the upset he’s going to need to dart in and out as quickly as possible. He’ll need to use quick combinations inside and then step outside to avoid any damage. Also, despite being smaller, he is still the better technical wrestler of the two. If he can earn a couple of well-timed takedowns it may make the difference in this fight. However, I think Silva is simply too big and too strong for Cormier. He should be able to wear down Cormier throughout the whole fight and earn a late stoppage victory. However, I think the line is well set and I’ll be avoiding betting. Antonio Silva via TKO in Round Three

Main Card (Showtime): Main Event – Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Semi-finals: Josh Barnett (-295) vs. Sergei Kharitonov (+275)

Josh “The Warmaster” Barnett is a 33-year old fighter from Seattle, Washington. The former catch-wrestler and occasional professional wrestler is still a legitimate Heavyweight fighter despite being somewhat inactive over the past few years. He often uses his wrestling and takedowns to work ground and pound on his opponents. From there, he often continues to batter his opponents until the referee steps in, or until he opens up a place for a submission attempt. Despite a somewhat checkered past due to failed post-fight drug tests, he is one of the best Heavyweight fighters of all time, with an impressive record of 30-5, against a veritable who’s-who of the modern MMA world.

Sergei “The Russian Mercenary” Kharitonov is a Russian fighter and former professional kick boxer. He is a strong stand up fighter with knockout power in both of his hands as well as thudding kicks. He is a member of the famed Golden Glory Gym in Amsterdam. He has a background in the Russian Submission sport of Sambo, as well as background in Boxing, Kickboxing and Muay Thai. He owns a career record of 18-4, with a number of his fights coming in Japan. He owns an impressive 17 stoppage victories, and only two of his career fights have made it to a decision. If he wants to have success against Barnett he’s going to need to employ a steady stream of “Sprawl and Brawl.” Sprawling to avoid Barnett’s takedowns while throwing big power punches, with bad intentions to try and rock the wrestling stand out.

Betting Analysis and Predictions: I think this fight is fairly well set, so I won’t be betting on this one. Barnett has only ever been Knocked out once in his career, but he has been rocked before by big power punchers. Kharitonov does have a strong background in sport Sambo, so he isn’t completely useless on the ground, however it’s tough to work from underneath a savage like Barnett while he is raining down punches on you. Kharitonov is also very tough himself, being stopped by only the big punchers of the Heavyweight division. Barnett should be able to get over the rough patches and earn enough takedowns to control the pace of the fight. From there he should be able to wear down his Russian opponent and be able to earn a late stoppage. Josh Barnett via Third Round TKO

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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