Alistair Overeem vs. Fabricio Werdum (Heavyweight Quarterfinal Bout)
They say revenge is a dish best served cold. In Alistair Overeem's case, it may be a dish best served cold by a bigger, more technical, and more experienced fighter. That is what will be standing in front of Fabricio Werdum on Saturday night, as Overeem looks to win a rematch against the man who submitted him via Kimura five years ago in the opening round of the 2006 PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix.
Striking: Overeem is not only one of the best MMA heavyweights in the world; he is also one of the best K-1 heavyweights in the world. He is fresh off of winning the K-1 World Grand Prix 2010 Final last December. In winning the world's most prestigious striking crown, he defeated five men in the tournament, including Tyrone Spong, Gokhan Saki, and Peter Aerts in the same night. Overeem has been making everything in the world of striking look easy lately and will have a substantial advantage on the feet. (Advantage: Overeem).
Grappling: While every ying has its yang, every dominant striker will meet an equally dominant grappler. As dominant as Overeem is in the striking realm, Werdum is equally impressive in the world of grappling. Werdum is a 2004 Mundials (World) champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and three time veteran of ADCC, which is the highest level submission grappling tournament in the world. After placing in the top three in the 2003 and 2005 editions of the biennial tournament, Werdum won the +99 kg division of the 2007 and 2009 ADCC tournaments. Overeem is no slouch himself on the ground, having won the European trials for ADCC in 2005, but the gap between Overeem and Wedum's grappling skill sets is about the same as the advantage Overeem will have standing. (Advantage: Werdum).
Clinch: This will be the most interesting and critical aspect of this fight. Whoever can utilize the clinch more effectively will win this fight. Overeem will look to utilize a devastating tie-plum after fending off takedown attempts, while Werdum will look to set up takedown from inside the clinch early and often. Both men are used to winning this game, which determines the realm a fight will enter, so it will be interesting to see how much Overeem's size, strength, and experience from their first meeting five years ago will help. (Advantage: Even).
Conditioning: Part of the benefit of being so active in the sub-sports of MMA between their MMA fights, Overeem (K-1) and Werdum (ADCC) are always training and are quite accustomed to the world of tournaments, where they have to compete against several opponents in one day. While Overeem has gained tremendous size and strength, transforming himself from a solid light-heavyweight into a devastating heavyweight since first facing Werdum, both men have proven to have equally adequate gas tanks. (Advantage: Even).
Experience: Overeem and Werdum are very familiar with each other and each other's respective game plans having already faced each other. However, a lot has changed in the past five years in terms of size, strength, and experience. Overeem also began his MMA career about 3 years before Werdum, but has competed in more than twice the number of bouts (46 bouts to 19 bouts). Both men have remained competitively active in their core disciplines of striking (Overeem) and grappling (Werdum) in that time, but Overeem has far more fight experience, which includes participating in three PRIDE tournaments compared to Werdum's one. (Advantage: Overeem).
Prediction – Those who don't learn from their past mistakes are doomed to repeat it and Werdum has no problem reminding high-level fighters of this fact, as he has repeated a TKO victory over Gabriel Gonzaga in 2003 with another TKO victory over Gonzaga five years later in 2008. Overeem, however, has transformed his physical size and skill set, a lot more dramatically over the past five years since he last faced Werdum. If not, he could be looking at the same lesson of déjà vu that Werdum taught Gonzaga. Furthermore, Werdum is riding the momentum of one of the greatest submission victories the sport has ever seen, which happened last June when Werdum shocked the world by submitting Fedor Emelianenko via triangle choke. I'm looking at Werdum channeling that momentum into another stunning submission win over Overeem in the second round.
Josh Barnett vs. Brett Rogers (Heavyweight Quarterfinal Bout)
This bout is more interesting that it's happening under the Zuffa promotion, than the fact it's happening at all. After winning the UFC heavyweight championship in March 2002, Barnett was immediately stripped of his title and banished from the UFC for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Barnett would spend the next 9 years fighting for and promoting all of the UFC's biggest rivals, most notably PRIDE, Affliction, and Strikeforce. As fate would have it, Zuffa would buy all of those promotions and an unexpected old romance finds Barnett once again fighting for Dana White. This time he fights the heavy-hitting, upset minded, Mr. T lookalike of the heavyweight division, Brett Rogers. After knocking out Andrei Arlovski two years ago, Rogers found himself in the cage against heavyweight stalwarts Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem in his next two outings. He ended up suffering his first two losses to the hands of those legends and now looks to regroup and take aim at another legend and possibly add another former UFC champion to his list of victims.
Striking: This is the lone category where Rogers has a decisive advantage. He decimated his first ten opponents via KO or TKO before falling to Fedor. He still managed to break Fedor's nose and turn his face into a bloody mess in the process. After being brought back down to earth by Fedor and the K-1 level striking of Overeem, Rogers will look to regain his form against the grappling minded Barnett. (Advantage: Rogers).
Grappling: Just as clear of an advantage as Rogers has standing up, Barnett will enjoy an even bigger advantage on the ground. The catch wrestling guru and Erik Paulson black belt has won several grappling tournaments and is an ADCC veteran. More impressively is the fact that 59% of his 29 career wins have come via submission. While Rogers has never been submitted, he has also never fought a man his own size with the submission abilities of Barnett. (Advantage: Barnett).
Clinch: The clinch game of Rogers was first truly tested by the Fedor, This was a bout where the smaller Sambo practitioner was able to get the much larger Rogers to the ground where he looked for submission while landing lots of punishment. Barnett will have the size and strength that Fedor did not with comparable takedowns. While Rogers will be looking to utilize his takedown defense in the clinch, Barnett is way too crafty with his desire for a ground fight and he won't be denied for too long. (Advantage: Barnett).
Conditioning: While both men are true heavyweights, neither will have to worry about cutting weight to make the 265-pound limit. Barnett and Rogers both walk around at about the same weight they fight at and making weight will not be an issue. The only issue that has dogged Barnett throughout his career are his failed drug tests. After being given a second chance by Zuffa, Barnett should not be taking any chances with this again and should show up in naturally good shape. That combined with the fact that Rogers has only gone the distance once in his 13 career bouts (last October against “Warpath”), means Rogers' cardio is relatively untested. (Advantage: Barnett).
Experience: Barnett has nearly three times the number of career MMA fights and has been fighting 9 ½ years longer than Rogers. Barnett has fought for the UFC, PRIDE, and now Strikeforce making him one of the very few people in the sport that have fought under all three major promotions. Most impressively is the fact that he TKO'd Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight title and defeated Aleksander Emelianenko, Mark Hunt, and Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira before losing to a prime Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in the Finals of the 2006 PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix. That alone gives Barnett the clear edge. (Advantage: Barnett).
Prediction – It's true that anything can happen in a fight, but far too many things will have to happen in Rogers' favor in this fight for him to win. His huge disadvantages in grappling and experience will be incredibly difficult to overcome. Even his usual size advantage will be negated in this fight. Rogers' only chance at winning lies within his hands. Even though having a true puncher's chance at winning is something that any striker will take, Barnett is far too savvy of a veteran and will look to take that option away quickly. I see Rogers' once again proving his toughness, but succumbing to a submission in the later stages of Round 2.
K.J. Noons vs. Jorge Masvidal (Lightweight Bout)
Any scientist can tell you rain brings flowers. So when the rain cloud of an announcement hit last week, when Gina Camano's long-awaited return to the sport got put on the back-burner, Strikeforce quickly promoted Noons vs. Masvidal to main card status to fill the void. This turn of events now guarantees we will be able to see a title eliminator bout that may easily blossom into “Fight of the Night”.
Striking: Both men have a strike-first mentality, which is one of the main reasons this should be the “Fight of the Night”. Noons' professional boxing career has been well documented, but Masvidal also has one pro boxing fight to his credit which he won 6 years ago. However, Noons also has 14 pro kickboxing bouts (12-2, 9 KO's) to go along with his 13 pro boxing matches (11-2, 5 KO's). Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Noons also won the PRIDE Fighting Championships' “Best Striker” auditions in 2005, right around the time Masvidal one his lone boxing bout via majority decision over a guy who currently sports a pro boxing record of 1-18-2 with 2 no contests. (Advantage: Noons).
Grappling: Even though Noons and Masvidal are strikers by trade and win most of their bouts by throwing heavy leather, that doesn't make them completely inept on the ground. While neither possesses a talented submission game, both can hold their own defensively. Noons has only been submitted once and that was almost 9 years ago via heel hook in his second MMA fight against Royce Gracie protégé Buddy Clinton. Since then, Noons has shown tremendous poise on the ground, most notably with his submission defense in his last bout against Nick Diaz. Masvidal has only been submitted twice in 27 career bouts with his lone submission win coming during his 23rd bout nearly 2 years ago. (Advantage: Even).
Clinch: This is another area of the game that both men excel at. They use their clinch to dictate where the fight is going to go. Not surprisingly, both men have helped create some of the finest highlight reels on YouTube due to their handy clinch-work, where they have forced superior wrestlers and jiu-jitsu fighters into a not-so-friendly game of fisticuffs. Both prefer to box anyway, which should further negate the number of times we see either man go for a takedown or a Thai plum. (Advantage: Even).
Conditioning: Noons and Masvidal always show up ready to fight. More impressively is that they have been doing it anywhere at weights ranging from 155-pounds to 170-pounds throughout their careers. While Noons and Masvidal dropped hard-fought decisions to two of the welterweight division's biggest names last fall, Nick Diaz and Paul Daley respectively, both have also shown the ability that they can make weight and hang with the best in the world in both divisions. (Advantage: Even).
Experience: Noons clearly has more pure striking experience, having competed in roughly 27 combined boxing and kickboxing bouts. However, MMA is a different animal, which gives Masvidal the overall edge. Noons started his MMA seven months sooner, but he has had three lengthy waits between fights during his career. This has allowed Masvidal to accumulate over twice the number of fights than Noons (27 fights to 13 fights). He has fought big names all over the world for organizations such as AFC, BodogFight, World Victory Road, Bellator, and two separate stints with Strikeforce. (Advantage: Masvidal).
Prediction – In my mind, this bout, conveniently sandwiched in the middle of four heavyweight slobber knockers, will once again show why the lightweight division is one of the most exciting in MMA. While Noons and Masvidal both bring impressive credentials to the ring, they have both also shown susceptibility to major upsets. Noons was unsparingly KO'd by Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett in the first ever Showtime televised MMA event four years ago, while the heavily favored Masvidal was inexplicably submitted via reverse triangle choke by Toby Imada in the inaugural Bellator lightweight tournament two years ago. Both have learned valuable lessons in those defeats, which should make this more of a technical stand-up battle than an all out slug fest. Noons possesses the more polished stand-up and should win a great fight via Split Decision.
Daniel Cormier vs. Jeff Monson (Heavyweight Bout)
This is one of the more unexpected and intriguing bouts scheduled in the heavyweight division lately. Daniel Cormier is one of the hottest up-an-coming heavyweight prospects having been a NCAA Division I runner-up at Oklahoma State before being part of two U.S. Olympic wrestling teams in 2004 and 2008. On the other side of the cage will be Jeff Monson, the savvy MMA veteran and two-time ADCC champion, that challenged for the UFC heavyweight title in November 2006 and made his UFC debut 11 years ago at UFC 27 - Ultimate Bad Boyz in New Orleans, Louisiana. As the UFC looks to turn back the clock this September by returning to New Orleans for the first time, since Monson's debut, Monson himself will look to turn back the clock against the young, hungry, and undefeated AKA standout.
Striking: While both men are grapplers by trade, they both cross train at two of the best MMA gyms in the country. Cormier trains with top level strikers at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) in San Jose, California, while Monson trains with American Top Team (ATT) in Coconut Creek, Florida. Perhaps to many peoples surprise is that Monson also participated in three professional boxing matches in 2004, where he won two via TKO and had a draw in the other. That should give Monson the slight edge when the two engage on the feet. (Advantage: Monson).
Grappling: This aspect of the fight game will be the most interesting, as both Cormier and Monson are grapplers by trade. Cormier the world class wrestler vs. Monson the world class submission grappler. Cormier should have the clear advantage with takedowns, but what he does after that is unclear. Monson, who is known in the submission grappling world for his safe and methodical top game also has a highly-underrated half guard game, which should come in handy should he find himself on the wrong end of a Cormier takedown. The unknowns of what will happen on the ground are what make this fight so exciting. Will it be decided by Cormier's ability to takedown and ground-and-pound Monson or will Monson be able to reverse the position on the ground with a possible half guard sweep to put the wrestler on his back, where he can set up one of his patented north-south chokes that many are now calling “the Monson choke”. (Advantage: Even).
Clinch: This is the area of the fight where Monson is usually trying to take his opponents down. However, he is now paired up with a man with the wrestling pedigree not only to stuff his takedowns, but the ability to reverse or land a takedown himself. This is not a situation Monson has come across often over the course of his 14 year career, but his solid wrestling base and dirty boxing should help make things interesting. (Advantage: Cormier).
Conditioning: Considering that both Cormier and Monson are smaller heavyweights, usually fighting below 240-pounds, and the fact that both have substantial amateur grappling backgrounds having excelled at the highest level of wrestling and submission grappling respectively, conditioning should not play a major factor in this fight. While they usually both find themselves in better shape than their opponents, they will find equally ready opposition in the strength and conditioning department on Saturday night. (Advantage: Even).
Experience: The experience advantage goes to Monson in a landslide. Monson participated in his first MMA bout in 14 years ago, when Cormier was fresh out of high school. Monson would go on to fight for the UFC, PRIDE, World Victory Road, and a list of other organizations, which included a UFC title shot, before Cormier too his first step inside an MMA cage in September 2009. Cormier and Monson have comparable amateur grappling accolades in wrestling and submission grappling respectively, but Monson has faced some of the best in the world of MMA with almost 50 more fights to his credit. (Advantage: Monson).
Prediction – This is a classic battle of prospect vs. veteran, new vs. old, or wrestling vs. jiu-jitsu. It's the kind of fight that diehard fans live for and promoters cross their fingers during. The loyal fans of the sport will get to see youth vs. experience and wrestling vs. jiu-jitsu at possibly the highest level that MMA has to offer. The promoters will be hoping to see a bout displaying Cormier's potential and progression in the sport or the return of Monson, one of MMA's proven vets, as opposed to a possible slow, grinding, chess match that lulls the fans to sleep. I do see this fight going the distance with Cormier on top most of the match. His Olympic level wrestling base should keep him in the top position, after landing takedowns en route to a Unanimous Decision.
Valentijn Overeem vs. Chad Griggs (Heavyweight Alternate Bout)
Valentijn Overeem is the older brother of the more decorated Alistair Overeem, who will be headlining this event. Valentijn actually began his MMA career 3 ½ years before Alistair and despite being a kickboxer by trade, he has shown a penchant for submitting high-level grapplers during his career. Chad Griggs is an IFL veteran who likes playing the role of spoiler. He did just that, when he beat down and exposed the over-hyped Bobby Lashley last summer, forcing a TKO stoppage due to exhaustion after two rounds of action. The winner of this bout will earn a spot in the Semi-Finals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, should the winner of one of the Quarter-Finals find themselves not able to advance.
Striking: Overeem has found himself anchored in as one of the mainstays at the famed Dutch Muay Thai, kickboxing, and MMA camp Golden glory over the course of his career. Training with the likes of his brother Alistair, Gegard Mousasi, Semmy Schilt, Heath Herring, and Sergei Kharitonov, and many others has helped Overeem polish some formidable striking skills. While Overeem has won more of his fights via submission, he still holds 11 victories via KO or TKO. Meanwhile, all but one of Griggs' 11 career wins have come by way of KO or TKO, including his big win over Lashley last summer, which was more of a result of Griggs' overwhelming tenacity and power, than the level of his technique. (Advantage: Griggs).
Grappling: Overeem trains at one of the world's premier Muay Thai camps, but he has had more success with submitting his opponents over the course of his career. Impressively, he holds notable submission wins over grappling-oriented MMA stars and Randy Couture and Renato “Babalu” Sobral. He also submitted K-1 legend Ray Sefo in his last appearance in February, which was his debut for Strikeforce. Griggs, on the other hand, is a wrestler that likes to box people up and his lone submission win came by form of punches. (Advantage: Overeem).
Clinch: The clinch is where Muay Thai fighters like to unleash devastating knees a la Anderson Silva from inside their Muay Thai plum. It is also an area of the game, where submission-minded folks will look for chokes or other maneuvers once they get tangled up in a scramble and the fight hits the ground. These are areas that the elder Overeem excels in and will look to take advantage. Griggs, however, is a gritty never-say-quit kind of fighter that will look to use his takedown defense to slug his way to victory, as he did in his last two bouts against Gianpiero Villante and Lashley, which were his first two appearances in Strikeforce. (Advantage: Even).
Conditioning: Overeem comes into his fights well-prepared, usually due to the fact he is training with a top MMA camp. This fact will be even more evident, as he and his brother who is the Strikeforce heavyweight champion, will be pushing each other alongside stable mate Sergei Kharitonov who is also in this tournament. The addition of ADCC champion John Olav Einemo, who made his UFC debut last week, and DREAM light-heavyweight champion and Strikeforce women's welterweight champion, who defend their titles next month, have made this a tremendous training camp for the Valentijn. Griggs comes to ready to fight, but has never gone the distance in his 11 career bouts. He will weigh-in at an equal size to Overeem and shows tremendous guts when fights turn ugly, but he is still untested in the later stages of a fight. (Advantage: Overeem).
Experience: The experience advantage is the only glaringly big difference between these two fighters. Valentijn Overeem was mixing it up with K-1 legend Remy Bonjasky in a professional kickboxing match in 1995, when Griggs was still in high school a year away from his senior prom. Overeem would then compete in 46 professional MMA bouts before Griggs would make his MMA debut in December 2005. Overeem was a mainstay in RINGS and PRIDE and has fought all over the world and to date has 43 more bouts to his credit than Griggs. (Advantage: Overeem).
Prediction – Valentijn Overeem may not be a top-tier heavyweight wrecking ball like his younger brother Alistair, but the danger he possesses and fight experience are undeniable. Griggs has become respected among many fans for his workmanlike approach, fearless fighting style, and never-quit attitude. He embraces the role of underdog as motivation and throws everything he had at his opponents, even when he is the much smaller man against true heavyweights. Both fighters in this bout will weigh-in about the same, with the Dutchman having the slight 2-inch height advantage. Size and reach shouldn't play a factor in the outcome of this match, however, as I see Griggs again playing the role of underdog with Oscar-worthy precision by stopping Overeem via TKO in the second round.