This Saturday night (June 18, 2011) at the Strikeforce: "Overeem vs. Werdum" event, two of the world's most dangerous heavyweights will clash in the opening round of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix as Josh Barnett makes his U.S. return against former division number one contender Brett Rogers.
Barnett has made more press for his three positive steroid tests than for his fighting ability, but he's defeated some of the best in the world throughout his 14-year fight career. At 33 years old, he's still got plenty of fight left in him and he wants to prove it.
Brett Rogers was a former wrecking machine, laying waste to everything in his path in the heavyweight division. He fell short in back-to-back efforts against two of the best heavyweights in the world and hasn't looked like the same fighter since. He's out to exorcise his demons on Saturday night.
Will Barnett finally win over some fans now that he's (hopefully) put his steroids behind him? Will Rogers snap out of it and return to form? Who will advance to face Sergei Kharitonov in the semifinals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix?
Our fight preview gives you all the information you need to know after the jump:
Record: 29-5 overall, 0-0 in Strikeforce
Key Wins: Aleksander Emelianenko (Pride Total Elimination Absolute), Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pride Final Conflict Absolute)
How he got here: Josh Barnett has been on quite a kooky career path, and a lot of it was his own doing. Some may not be old enough to remember this but back in 2002, he defeated Randy Couture at UFC 36 for the UFC heavyweight title but would be stripped of his belt after testing positive for a banned substance.
Barnett would never return to the UFC and would instead spend much of the remainder of his career fighting in Japan in Pride where he was a talented fighter but could never reach the pinnacle of the promotion, thrice getting stopped by Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic while trying to rise to the top of the promotion.
After Pride was bought out by Zuffa, Barnett would fight for World Victory Road's Sengoku Raiden Championships and he then teamed up with the upstart Affliction promotion in the United States, fighting there for only the second time since being stripped of his UFC title. He won his first two fights and was all set up for a "mega-fight" with superstar Fedor Emelianenko before again testing positive for steroids while applying for his license to fight in California. This final steroid test would force him to back out of his fight with "The Last Emperor" and it crippled Affliction, causing the cancellation of its third event and forcing head honcho Tom Atencio to give up on his promotional dreams and go back to selling t-shirts.
He next signed a deal with Strikeforce to participate in the Heavyweight Grand Prix and was grandfathered in when Zuffa purchased the promotion, where he would make peace with Dana White.
How he gets it done: "The Baby-Faced Assassin" is a terrific catch wrestler with adequate to above-average striking. He'll want to stand with Rogers long enough to get "The Grim" to lower his defenses and allow him to get the fight to the ground.
Depending on if Brett Rogers shows up aggressive or not, Barnett could even win this fight standing. If he can take command of the center of the cage and push the pace, his opponent will likely leave openings in the stand-up that Barnett can capitalize on.
That being said, the ground is where Barnett gets it done. His top control is some of the best in the heavyweight division and he possesses a wide array of submissions that he's honed and developed while fighting in Japan all these years. His joint locks are especially nasty, having won several fights throughout his career with armbars, Kimuras and leg locks.
If Rogers goes to the ground with Barnett, he'd better pray he's on top because if the Pankration fighter sees an opportunity to manipulate a joint, he's going to take it and torque on that thing until it snaps.
Record: 11-2 overall, 2-2 in Strikeforce
Key Wins: Andrei Arlovski (Strikeforce: Lawler vs. Shields), Abongo Humphrey (Shamrock vs. Diaz)
Key Losses: Fedor Emelianenko (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers) , Alistair Overeem (Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery)
How he got here: Many have heard this story already but Brett Rogers used to work at a tire shop before hitting it big. After getting his start on the local Minnesota circuit with five consecutive knockouts, he got his opportunity to fight for EliteXC in late 2007. He would impress the big wigs by winning all three of his fights via first round knockout in just five minutes combined.
When EliteXC went under, his contract was purchased by Strikeforce and he would make the biggest statement of his career by blasting former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski in just 22 seconds, completely overwhelming "The Pitbull" with a huge flurry of aggressive strikes.
With the victory, Rogers was given the opportunity of a lifetime to go out and compete against the consensus number one heavyweight in the world, Fedor Emelianenko in a nationally televised event on CBS. Rogers would thrash the Russian in the first round, nearly finishing the fight with ground and pound but once the Sambo champion survived to to the final horn, he came out and smashed Rogers with a huge looping right hook to hand the American the first loss of his career.
When negotiations fell through for Emelianenko to fight Alistair Overeem for the heavyweight title, Rogers was slated in due to his incredible first round performance against "The Last Emperor." This time wouldn't be so pretty as Overeem completely manhandled Rogers with a dominant first round TKO. After Rogers got slightly back on track with a win outside the promotion, he was given an invite to the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.
How he gets it done: Brett Rogers is capable of being an absolute ferocious monster in the cage. Somewhere inside him is the man who smashed Andrei Arlovski and nearly finished Fedor Emelianenko. He just needs to find it.
Brett has some seriously heavy hands and honestly, the smartest thing he could do would be to bullrush Barnett and completely overwhelm the former professional wrestler with a huge devastating flurry of strikes. Rogers could also possibly pin him against the fence and unload on the exiled UFC champ with everything he's got.
He's not as technical as Barnett and he's especially not as well-versed as "The Baby-Faced Assassin" is on the ground so Rogers' primary goal will be to force his opponent into a brawl and make this bout an all-out war. If he does this, Barnett could make a mistake and give Rogers the opening he needs to capitalize with his power.
Fight "X-Factor:" The "X-Factor" for this fight has to be Brett Rogers' mind-set coming into this bout. When he was undefeated, he didn't think anyone could touch him. He didn't care who they were, he was going to go out there and punch them in the face and knock them out. He didn't care that Arlovski was one of the most popular fighters of all time or that Emelianenko had an aura of invincibility about him, he was going to go out there and obliterate them because they stood in his way.
That all changed after getting knocked out in the second round against Emelianenko. Rogers showed up to the Overeem fight as a shell of his former self and was made to look like he didn't even belong in the same arena as the Strikeforce champ. He followed up that loss by earning a completely lackluster decision against Ruben Villareal, a man who currently possesses a 19-21-3 record. He should have smashed "Warpath" but he's still shell-shocked from Fedor and Overeem. Will he be able to snap out of it or will Barnett have his way with him?
Bottom line: If Rogers can get that "killer" mentality back, this fight has potential to be a very entertaining brawl. If not, he could show up incredibly passive and get completely worked by the more technical Barnett. The entertainment factor for this match lies entirely in the hands of Brett Rogers.
Who will come out on top at Strikeforce: "Overeem vs. Werdum?" Let us know in the comments section below!