It’s the first major Strikeforce show in months and the continuation of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, which began in February. The fighters this weekend will have to bring it because they’ll be fighting in front of a Dallas crowd that is used to championship performances following Dirk Nowitzki’s heroics this summer. Even if the fights don’t live up to Mavericks standards, at least Dallas fans can look forward to seeing Kelli Hutcherson walking around.
Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Quarterfinal Fight: Fabricio Werdum vs. Alistair Overeem
Coming off his defeat of Fedor Emelianenko, Fabricio Werdum is back in action taking on Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem in a non-title match with the winner advancing in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.
Werdum Skill Assessment: When it comes to jiu-jitsu, Werdum is, as Joe Rogan likes to say, “top of the food chain.” But of course the fight starts on the feet. Werdum’s striking has improved over the years but he’s still not a great striker. He rushes in wildly with his strikes and ducks his head way too often, which leads to him getting hit with uppercuts. What I like about his striking though is his inside leg kick. It’s such a good strike because it’s quick, helps find the distance, and throws off the timing of his opponent. He also has good knees in the clinch, although trading knees with Overeem is a sure way to end up unconscious. Speaking of his clinch game, he’s very crafty in close quarters. He does a nice job digging for the underhooks, using short knees, changing levels, and looking for trips. Werdum’s problem on the feet is his chin. In his past four fights, he’s been dropped in the first round, including the brutal KO at the hands of Junior dos Santos. Despite getting dropped in his fights though, he’s still won three of those four fights because he has great survival instincts and his ground game is so good. He has an outstanding offensive and defensive guard. He has very good wrist control, does a nice job setting up his submissions, and is also great at switching from submission to submission if the first option isn’t there. He also has great sweeps from his back, especially from the half guard. On top, he has great head and arm control, which he uses to set up the majority of his passes, and also throws nice quick hammerfists to soften guys up. My concern with Werdum is the fact that he hasn’t fought in almost a year and was hurt towards the end of last year. I don’t think he’ll be out of shape or anything but his cardio could suffer and there’s also the worry of ring rust. That said, his cardio should still be better than Overeem’s, simply because of Overeem’s size and build.
Werdum Game Plan: Before he can even think about getting the fight to the ground, Werdum just needs to survive the initial flurry. Overeem is going to come out strong and it’s up to Werdum to hang tough and make Overeem doubt himself. After those first couple of minutes, that’s when Werdum can really start to take over. That’s when he can look for the takedown and work his ground game.
Overeem Skill Assessment: If Werdum is “top of the food chain” in jiu-jitsu, Overeem has “top of the food chain” in striking. He throws tight strikes and everything he throws is with power. He’s also an accurate puncher and doesn’t waste any energy getting into wild exchanges or overexerting himself. Overeem’s biggest weapon from a distance is leg kicks. Those could get him in trouble against Werdum though since they’ll allow for slightly easier takedown. Overall, Overeem’s biggest weapons are his knees. As mentioned, Werdum ducks his head when he strikes and in doing so, he’ll be bring his chin closer to the knees of Overeem. If Overeem can time when Werdum ducks under with a big knee, it’ll likely be lights out. Overeem has a solid jiu-jitsu game, especially his guillotine choke when fighters come in for takedowns, but it’s not on the level of Werdum. Throughout his career, Overeem’s biggest problems have been mental. He always gets off to a fast start but when his opponent is around past the three minute mark, he fades. A lot of that has to do with his size because he has so much muscle that it’s almost impossible to have great conditioning but it also speaks to his mental toughness because he had these same problems when he was fighting at light heavyweight. I think he’s a little afraid to get hit, because when he gets hit clean, that’s when he starts to shell up a bit. Just watch how he reacts when he gets it and you’ll see that he doesn’t like it. Also, even though Overeem has been staying active, both in MMA and K-1, he hasn’t fought the best of competition, especially in MMA and throughout his career, when he has faced the best competition, he’s lost. Again, that speaks to his mental toughness and a bit about his ability as a fighter.
Overeem Game Plan: As with all his fights, Overeem needs to start quick. He’s not going to win a cardio contest with Werdum, even if the layoff has affected Werdum’s conditioning. He needs to test Werdum’s chin early, look for an uppercut or knee when Werdum duck his head, and just pick him apart on the feet. Above all else, Overeem can’t get wild at any point in this fight and unnecessarily waste energy.
Fight Prediction: This may seem like your typical striker vs. grappler match up on paper, but the x-factors make this a much tougher fight to predict. In the end, I’m going with Overeem, mainly because I picked him to win the entire Grand Prix at the start and I won’t back off that. I think he gets to Werdum early and often and gets him out of there before anything bad can happen to him.
Official Prediction: Alistair Overeem to defeat Fabricio Werdum by TKO in Round One
Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Quarterfinal Fight: Brett Rogers vs. Josh Barnett
Josh Barnett returns to the US for the first time in two years to take on Brett Rogers, who is trying to snap a two-fight Strikeforce losing streak in a fight for a slot in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Semifinals.
Rogers Skill Assessment: Rogers is known for his heavy hands and not much else. He’s not a very technical striker, but he does have a stiff jab, although it’s kinda slow. He doesn’t really put combinations together and has a tendency to just load up on his right hand. He does have good leg kicks although he drops his hands when throwing him and they’re not very quick. Rogers has an underrated clinch game. It’s not great or anything but he is strong in the clinch and throws good knees both to the body and head. Rogers’ problem in the clinch is his balance. He doesn’t just get put down, he gets thrown to the ground like he’s the part of the Lonely Island song. On the ground, he’s hit and miss. Against Overeem, he turtled up and looked lost on the ground. But against Fedor, he was able to defend Fedor’s famed kimura and had a flash of ground and pound where people thought the fight might be stopped. Barnett is a better submission grappler than both Fedor and Overeem though, so Roger’s defense on the ground will need to be better than ever. Rogers’ problems go beyond his skillset. Against Fedor and Overeem, I think he really psyched himself out. He was way too tentative on the feet, especially when his biggest weapon is his power, and I believe that he was overwhelmed by the moment. Also, his cardio is pretty dreadful. Against Ruben Villarreal, he was dead tired by the second round and that fight was not a high-pace affair. Prior to that bout, he had never been past the seven minute mark so maybe he learned that his cardio isn’t good and he’ll correct it but no one can know for certain.
Rogers Game Plan: Rogers has to get to Barnett early. I don’t think his cardio will hold up and his ground game isn’t on the level of Barnett. He can’t be tentative on the feet and he can’t be overwhelmed by the moment. He has to be smartly aggressive. I think a jab-uppercut combo would serve Rogers well in this fight but I don’t know if that’s in his arsenal.
Barnett Skill Assessment: Barnett is the last remaining PRIDE heavyweight who hasn’t been written off, mainly because he hasn’t fought top competition since PRIDE. He’s a decent striker with a sneaky good jab, a good left hook, and solid leg kicks. He has a tendency to over extend himself on strikes but he mainly uses his strikes to get inside. He also does a nice job ducking under his opponents strikes and initiating a clinch on the feet. Barnett’s strength is his catch wrestling. He’s a good wrestler who gets the majority of his takedowns from the clinch with outside trips. He has good posture on the ground and uses head and arm control to set up his passes. He likes to attack his opponents arms and legs on the ground, always looking for kimuras and armbars as well as ankle and leg locks. Barnett isn’t known for having a dangerous guard, as he does his best grappling from the top position, but he does have good hips and strength so he can threaten with submissions when he needs to. Off his back he’ll likely just roll for a leg or try and get to his feet rather than trying to play a wrist control game with a very strong Rogers. There are question marks surrounding Barnett, mainly dealing with his lack of competition in recent years. It’s been years since Barnett has faced someone worth mentioning and it’s possible that he’s gotten a bit complacent in his training. Also, he hasn’t dominated the weaker competition the way you’d want a top fighter to do. He’s won, and he’s won rather convincingly, but it hasn’t been those dominating performances that you remember or talk about the next day.
Barnett Game Plan: Barnett just has to get this fight to the ground. Use his striking to get inside, clinch, look for the trip takedown, and then work from there. He’s a much better grappler than Rogers and he should be able to have his way with Rogers on the floor.
Fight Prediction: This is Barnett’s fight to lose. Even though he hasn’t faced great competition over the years, I’m not sure Rogers is great competition either. Unless he gets clipped early, Barnett should be able to get the fight to the ground and work from there. Since Barnett has trouble putting guys away, I think it’ll take him the majority of the first round, maybe into the second, to get Rogers out of the cage but eventually he’ll do it.
Official Prediction: Josh Barnett to defeat Brett Rogers by Submission in Round One
Lightweight Fight: Jorge Masvidal vs. KJ Noons
Back from his short stint in the welterweight division, KJ Noons battles Jorge Masvidal with the winner likely getting a shot at Gilbert Melendez and the Strikeforce lightweight title.
Masvidal Skill Assessment: Masvidal is one of the most underrated strikers in the sport, simply because when you think of the top strikers in MMA, his name doesn’t immediately jump to mind. He’s an excellent technical boxer though. He has a quick and accurate jab and a great straight right hand. He also has a very good clinch game. He likes to grab the plum clinch and throw knees to the body and head and tight elbows. Defensively is where Masvidal shines. He has very good movement, both with his feet and head, and he’s quick at getting in and out with his strikes before eating a counter punch. What I also like about Masvidal’s game is that he makes opponents pay for leg kicks. When his opponent throws a leg kick, he’ll immediately counter with a straight right or put them on their back, which makes them hesitant to throw leg kicks the rest of the fight. He has decent wrestling although it’s nothing great. He covers up with his hands and then shoots for takedown, which makes them a bit predictable, but he does a nice job driving through with his takedowns. He’s not the most active guy in the world on top but he does enough to get by. His submission game is also nothing to write home about. He’s no real threat off his back and should he find himself in that position, he’ll likely just look to use an underhook in order to stand up. His takedown defense is decent, although he concedes a lot of takedowns since he’s willing to grab a guillotine instead of defending.
Masvidal Game Plan: Masvidal will likely want to box with Noons, and he’ll have some success because he is a good boxer, but he’d be smart to get the fight to the ground. Noons’ takedown defense is good but not great and Masvidal is strong with his takedowns. Masvidal should also look to get the fight in the clinch. He has a better muay-thai game than Noons and he should look to use his skills and strength in the clinch.
Noons Skill Assessment: Likes Masvidal, Noons is an excellent technical boxer although his boxing doesn’t translate quite as well to MMA because MMA allows for kicks and knees. He has a good jab, which he’s able to use to set up his left hook, he likes to throw a right hook-right uppercut combo, and he does a good job of changing levels and attacking the body and then going upstairs. Where Noons gets in trouble is when he ducks his head. He ducks under way too often for my liking and if his opponent can time it with a knee or uppercut, he could go down. When he does duck under, he almost always pops up with a left hook or right uppercut. He throws leg kicks but they’re more feeler kicks than anything damaging. His takedown defense isn’t bad but he also hasn’t faced a really good wrestler really his entire career. Now Masvidal isn’t a high-level wrestler but he probably has the best takedowns of any opponent Noons has ever stepped in the cage with just because of his strength, speed, and his training at American Top Team. Noons has good submission defense on the ground but otherwise he’s no real threat unless he’s on top and ground and pounding away. My worry with Noons is his weight fluctuation. Two fights ago he was at 155, last fight he was at 170, and now he’s at 155 again. So he’s made the lightweight cut before but it’s never good to be constantly moving up and down in weight because chances are your cardio is going to suffer.
Noons Game Plan: Obviously Noons will want to keep the fight standing and at a distance. Even though Masvidal is a good striker, Noons is the more active striker and more importantly, he believes he’s the better striker and has never shown to have a plan b. He needs to use the inside leg kick a lot to throw off the rhythm of Masvidal, establish the jab, and mix up his strikes. I’m sure he’ll work the body of Masvidal a lot, which could be key, especially if the fight goes into the third round.
Fight Prediction: This is a very intriguing match up and how it plays out will be determined by Masvidal’s mindset. If he want to prove that he can box with Noons, he could easily lose. But if he decides to use his size and grappling, he could easily win. I think Masvidal will be smart enough to know that his best chance to win this fight is in the clinch and on the ground. It might not be the most exciting fight if Masvidal decides to play it safe, but it’ll be effective.
Official Prediction: Jorge Masvidal to defeat KJ Noons by Decision
Heavyweight Fight: Jeff Monson vs. Daniel Cormier
Jeff Monson is back on the big stage, looking to stop the momentum of rising star Daniel Cormier.
Monson Skill Assessment: Monson is a well-respected veteran and one of the top grapplers in the heavyweight division. His striking is very basic. He has a decent jab and throws an alright one-two but really his striking is slow and he’s just defensive oriented on the feet. He uses the jab to set up his takedown but otherwise he doesn’t do a good job of setting up his takedowns. He doesn’t have the quickest shot in the world but he’s relentless when he gets a hold of a leg. If he doesn’t get his opponent on their back, chances are he’s going to drive his opponent into the cage, soften him up with punches to the body, and then try again for the takedown. He’s also not afraid to pull guard in order to get things to the mat and in his world. On the ground is where Monson excels. He has great top control and grip strength. He uses good head and arm control to set up his passes and loves the side control position. From side control he does a nice job punching the body and kneeing the body, which is used to set up his pass to mount. He also loves to attack the arm from the side control position. Off his back, Monson isn’t really the submission threat that you may think he is but he does do a good job of getting to his feet by using an underhook or initiating scrambles by attacking a leg. This will be Monson’s third fight since April and he is taking this bout on relatively short notice, which means his cardio could be affected. Monson has never been known as a cardio freak but he could fade faster than he usually does in this fight because of those factors.
Monson Game Plan: Monson has to really test Cormier. Things have come easy for Cormier during his brief MMA career, so if Monson can get to him early and test his mindset, he could win this fight. He needs to get the fight to the ground and make Cormier work. If he can get Cormier on his back and keep him there, that would be huge Monson and a possible huge blow to the confidence of Cormier. The easiest way for Monson to get things on the mat, besides attempting to pull guard, would be to counter the kicks of Cormier with a strong takedown.
Cormier Skill Assessment: Cormier is one of the best freestyle wrestlers to ever enter MMA. His striking has looked improved in recent fights though. He has a decent jab and he really likes to throw the overhand right. He also throws a lot of leg kicks although he doesn’t set them up. Cormier’s clinch game is very underrated. He does a good job of roughing up opponents with dirty boxing and gets the majority of his takedowns from the clinch. He has heavy and quick hips along with great balance, which allows him to not only get trip takedowns but also hit some very beautiful throws from the clinch. On top, Cormier is outstanding. Because of his wrestling background and quick hips, he’s able to maneuver and control his opponents like few others. He’s always one step ahead of his opponents on the ground. Now he’s never faced a grappler the caliber of Monson but he’ll still have the speed and wrestling advantage over Monson on the ground. Cormier can’t be on his back against Monson because Monson’s top control is very good. Cormier has to use an underhook to get to his feet and not play around with Monson on the ground. What worries me about Cormier is that he failed to put away Devin Cole. Granted he dominated the fight and really proved that he was the better fighter but when you’re as hyped as Cormier has been, you’ve got to put away a mid-level fighter like Cole. Where I think Cormier has a huge advantage is in the conditioning department. Training at American Kickboxing Academy, those guys are known for their relentless pace and conditioning and Cormier has that attribute as well.
Cormier Game Plan: I think Cormier will want to keep this fight standing for the most part because he’s a more diverse striker and will also have a speed advantage. I expect him to throw a lot of leg kicks because Monson doesn’t really check them and they’ll also take away the takedown ability of Monson. Even though Cormier can probably hold his own against Monson on the ground, there’s just no point in risking it.
Fight Prediction: Even though Cormier couldn’t put Cole away, I just haven’t liked what I’ve seen from Monson in recent fights and Cormier isn’t a great match up for him. Monson is always a game fighter but Cormier is younger, faster, and hungrier at heavyweight than Monson is. I think Cormier batters Monson on the feet, avoids getting into grappling exchanges with Monson, and wins a comfortable decision.
Prediction: Daniel Cormier to defeat Jeff Monson by Decision
Heavyweight Fight: Valentijn Overeem vs. Chad Griggs
Chad Griggs and Valentijn Overeem look to entertain the crowd in a heavyweight showdown between strikers.
Overeem Skill Assessment: Valentijn is the lesser known and less accomplished of the Overeem brothers but in many ways he’s similar to Alistar. He’s mainly a striker but he’s not as technical as his brother. He has a tendency to get sloppy with his striking, is a little too willing to brawl, and over commits on some of his strikes. He likes to throw head kicks early and loads up on his right hand. Overeem’s takedowns aren’t very good as they’re telegraphed and have no set up. He doesn’t have a bad ground game, especially on top. He has a good side choke and kimura to go along with some heavy ground and pound. Off his back he’s not much of a threat outside of a guillotine choke and leg locks. Overeem’s problem throughout his career has been his cardio. In 54 career fights, he’s only been out of the first round three times. That tells you right there that it’s all or nothing for him in the first round and really, in the first couple of minutes. If he doesn’t get guys out of there early, he fades and then gets finished. He also hasn’t faced great competition, especially in recent years.
Overeem Game Plan: Overeem needs to stay technical in this fight. He’s a better technical striker than Griggs and he’s going to land his fair share of strikes. And of course Overeem needs to end things quickly because Griggs has solid cardio and he won’t fade like Overeem likely will.
Griggs Skill Assessment: Griggs has come out of nowhere in recent fights and I’m still not sure how good he is. He’s a wild striker who loads up on his right hand but always seems to find a home for it. His best weapon on the feet is his uppercut though. He has an accurate and powerful uppercut and he likes to get inside in the clinch and really unleash with it. Griggs gets hit a fair share on the feet but he seems to have a solid chin. His takedown defense is better than he’s given credit for and a lot of that has to do with his ability to time his uppercut. On the ground, he’s a survivor. His one career loss has come via kimura so it’s fair to question his submission defense but I would hope that his defense has improved since his 2007 loss. Griggs should have a big cardio advantage in this fight. He’s gone into the third round before and his body type just allows for better conditioning than Overeem’s does.
Griggs Game Plan: Griggs either needs to weather the early flurry and then take over or become the storm before Overeem does. Griggs needs to make this a brawl and either get Overeem to tire himself out or tire him out with his pace. He’d also be wise to look for a takedown but he needs to make sure that Overeem is gassed and he needs to protect his neck when shooting in.
Fight Prediction: As with any Overeem fight, I don’t expect this one to go long. I think Griggs will be able to get past the opening moments and then take over, finishing an exhausted Overeem in the first.
Official Prediction: Chad Griggs to defeat Valentijn Overeem by TKO in Round One
Quick Preliminary Predictions
*JZ Cavalcante to defeat Justin Wilcox by Decision
*Connor Heun to defeat Magno Almeida by TKO in Round Two
*Nah-Shon Burrell to defeat Joe Ray by TKO in Round One
*Mike Bronzoulis to defeat Todd Moore by TKO in Round One
*Isaac Vallie-Flagg to defeat Brian Melancon by TKO in Round Two
PHOTO CREDIT – STRIKEFORCE