With the Fedor vs. Silva event taking place last weekend, and a Strikeforce Challengers event following it this week, Strikeforce has owned the MMA headlines over the last several days. Kicking all that off was a rare televised card of fights featuring only heavyweights, as two opening round heavyweight grand prix fights and three alternate bouts took place in New Jersey, or the “New York metropolitan area”, as it was self-consciously referred to throughout the night by Strikeforce’s elite announcing team of broadcast legends.
Can Silva win the tournament?
Now that Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva has cleared a huge hurdle in living legend Fedor Emelianenko, the talk naturally turns to how much farther he can go not just in the tournament, but in the Strikeforce heavyweight division.
After a nice run in EliteXC and Sengoku where Silva ranked up wins against so-so competition, a Strikeforce loss to Fabricio Werdum deflated the Bigfoot hype train…for the time being. Now, wins against Andrei Arlovski, Mike Kyle and Fedor himself have Silva not only in the top ten rankings mix, but in the semifinal round of the grand prix.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or even a science teacher to tell you that if Silva can win his next fight, he can win it all. After all, whoever advances from Silva’s side of the lopsided bracket is the de facto favorite to win the tournament, and has been since day one.
As mentioned previously, Silva’s already faced Werdum and lost. In their first fight, Silva got off to a good start and looked better standing than his opponent, but the transitions, wrestling and grappling on the mat were all Werdum. Silva seemed content to allow the pace to slow, which cost him a chance to steal what could have been a close second round, too. If he faces Werdum again, his takedown defense needs to have improved, along with his level of aggression when it comes to pacing his attacks.
I think Alistair Overeem is actually a more difficult matchup, simply because he’s better at just about everything than Silva is. Overeem would likely be able to overpower Silva, even though Silva is an extremely large heavyweight, and the striking would be Overeem’s, with no contest there.
Still, you can’t count Silva out. He’s very athletic for his size and has underrated striking fundamentals which can allow him to land regularly on wide, looping punchers like Fedor or others. He’s also very aggressive from the top when the fight hits the mat, but getting to that position against Werdum or Overeem is easier said than done.
Kharitonov puts himself on the map
Sergei Kharitonov was one of a few fighters that really was hurt by the closing of Pride’s doors (Ricardo Arona, anyone?). Although his momentum had stalled before Zuffa purchased the promotion (he ended his Pride career with losses in two of his last three fights), he was still regarded as a top fifteen heavyweight that could have been an asset to the UFC’s then-unimpressive heavyweight division.
Instead, he continued to toil in obscurity, at least in the eyes of North American fans. He didn’t really make a name for himself to much of the world until he vacated Andrei Arlovski from consciousness last Saturday night, actually. However, he should now be a solid favorite to advance to the finals on his side of the tournament bracket.
Kharitonov’s striking is clean, calculated and accurate. He also packs power that may not KO a lot of guys with one punch, but can be dangerous when they accumulate, as they did with Arlovski the other night. I think he’d be able to pull off the slight upset against Barnett if he could keep himself upright, and he’d be my favorite in a fight with the free-swinging Brett Rogers, as well.
What about Arlovski?
I’m not sure where Arlovski goes from here. It’s too bad, because I’ve always liked him as a fighter, and he seems like a good person. In his last few fights, he’s always optimistic and refreshed before bouts, as we hear a lot about a “new” Arlovski before he competes. However, he simply can’t overcome the relatively small weaknesses he has that become quite glaring against elite level competition.
I’m not going to sit here and say his chin is made of glass and he needs to retire. An accumulation of shots like he absorbed against Kharitonov in a short period of time would knock a lot of heavyweights out. Previous to the finish, I saw Arlovski absorb plenty of good shots (too many, in fact), just as he did in the Antonio Silva fight.
His career path is not looking good, though. Opportunities in boxing have likely dried up due to his recent run of losses. Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether Strikeforce would even retain him now that he’s got four straight losses. And honestly, whether his chin still has a little sturdiness or not, three knockout losses in four fights (and seven now over his career) is a troubling thing, indeed. I’d like to see Arlovski turn it around, but I don’t know that he can reach his old level of success against today’s crop of heavyweights, sadly enough.
–Out of the three alternate bout winners, I was impressed with a total of one: Shane del Rosario. Not only did del Rosario appear more polished than the others competing in the alternate bouts, but he has a high level area of expertise, which is important when facing elite competition. Being a jack of all trades is rarely enough.
–Chad Griggs benefited once again from a horrible refereeing gaffe on Saturday, marking the second straight fight in which that has happened. Now, who knows how hurt Griggs was (and like most fighters, he’d probably downplay the importance of this sequence of events), but when Gian Villante landed a head kick that made Griggs visibly wobbly, Yves Lavigne had no business pausing the fight to get Villante’s mouthpiece back in. Would the outcome have changed if Lavigne hadn’t made that poor choice? As with the Bobby Lashley bout (where an exhausted, but active Lashley was stood up from the mount with well under a minute to go before being overwhelmed by strikes from his fresher opponent), maybe things wouldn’t have changed, but it sucks for Griggs, his opponents and the fans to have this kind of unnecessary dark cloud surrounding his wins.
As far as his performance itself, it was good enough. He did what he had to do and overwhelmed Villante, who put on a rather disappointing performance. However, that’s far from convincing me that he can make an impact in either the current tournament (if given the chance) or in the Strikeforce heavyweight division, period.
–Ditto with Valentijn Overeem. What’s there to say? He’s a good enough fighter, but we’ve seen it all before; we know what he’s got: not enough. A quick win against Ray Sefo isn’t going to suddenly answer a career’s worth of questions, is it?
Tags: Alistair Overeem, Andrei Arlovski, Antonio Silva, Chad Griggs, Fabricio Werdum, Fedor Emelianenko, Gian Villante, Ray Sefo, Sergei Kharitonov, Shane del Rosario, Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva, Valentijn Overeem