The Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix enters its semifinals this Saturday night (September 10, 2011) as former EliteXC heavyweight champion Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva takes on former wrestling Olympian and current tournament alternate Daniel Cormier in the co-main event of Strikeforce Grand Prix: "Barnett vs. Kharitonov".
Antonio Silva enters this fight riding a huge career defining victory over Fedor Emelianenko, a fight in which he smashed the former Pride heavyweight champion with some brutal ground and pound that closed the Russian's eye. "Bigfoot" wants to keep the momentum train rolling with a victory over the untested Cormier.
Daniel Cormier earned a trip to the semifinals by completely outclassing veteran heavyweight Jeff Monson this past June. He stepped up to the challenge when Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem dropped out of the tournament and signed with UFC.
Will Silva's tremendous size be too much for Cormier to handle? Can Cormier utilize his Olympic wrestling credentials and ride out a victory? How will Daniel Cormier respond to what is by far the biggest test of his burgeoning mixed martial arts career?
Record: 16-2 overall, 3-1 in Strikeforce
Key Losses: Fabricio Werdum (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers)
How he got here: Of all places, Antonio Silva actually began his MMA career in the United Kingdom. "Bigfoot" began his training at the Wolfslair academy in the UK. After destroying everyone in his path in England, Silva branched out, losing to Eric Pele at Bodog Fight before settling at EliteXC.
He would shine in EliteXC, winning four straight over the likes of UFC veterans Wesley Correira and Ricco Rodriguez before winning the promotion's heavyweight title against Justin Eilers. He would be popped for steroids after the victory and never got a chance to explain himself or defend his belt before the promotion folded with the Kimbo Slice debacle.
After a couple easy wins in Japan, Silva signed with Strikeforce to compete against its stocked heavyweight division. Silva would drop a decision to Fabricio Werdum in his promotional debut.
"Bigfoot" has since found his stride, defeating the likes of Andrei Arlovski, Mike Kyle and most impressively of all, ground and pounding Fedor Emelianenko to oblivion this past February in the first round of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix in a career-defining victory.
How he gets it done: While Daniel Cormier has showcased his striking in his last two fights, that would be a poor decision against Silva. Antonio Silva is an incredibly large man, having to cut a significant amount of weight just to make the heavyweight limit.
"Bigfoot" also has a huge reach advantage over Cormier which could give the American wrestler some serious fits in the stand-up department. Look for the Brazilian fighter to try and utilize that reach over and over again in the stand-up, peppering Cormier with jabs and straight punches and making things very difficult for him.
Cormier is a terrific wrestler but Silva should welcome the ground as well as he is a highly decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. "Bigfoot" has the capability of throwing up multiple submissions, going to leg locks and with his size he could sweep Cormier and put him in a really bad spot.
Scrambling against Cormier on the ground would not be a horrible decision and it would provide an opportunity for Silva to allow his size and strength advantage to take over. If "Bigfoot" can get on top and have the slightest opening to rain down punches from above, he'll have a terrific chance of finishing the fight.
Record: 8-0 overall, 5-0 in Strikeforce
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Daniel Cormier was an incredibly accomplished American wrestler. He was a high school All-American, a junior college national champion and after transferring to Oklahoma State, he was also a national runner-up.
Daniel took his wrestling to the international stage, competing on the United States' world team five separate times including twice in the Olympics. He just missed medaling at the 2004 Olympics and after becoming captain of the team in 2008, was forced out of the competition with kidney problems due to cutting weight.
To avoid any further issues with weight cutting, Cormier decided to transition to MMA as a heavyweight. He made his professional fighting debut less than two years ago in Strikeforce, smashing Gary Frazier via TKO. Cormier would fight a very hectic schedule, competing in multiple Strikeforce events and also mixing in fights with other promotions to stay busy.
On the side of Strikeforce, the American Kickboxing Academy wrestling coach acquired the XMMA and King of the Cage heavyweight titles and finished all of those fights in the first round.
Upon returning to Strikeforce, he would begin to utilize his striking, outlanding Devin Cole over the course of three rounds to take a decision. He would face his first test in former UFC title challenger Jeff Monson this past June and would pass with flying colors, defeating "The Snowman" primarily with his much-improved kickboxing attack.
How he gets it done: Cormier's striking is improved, but he's not on "Bigfoot's" level just yet and he doesn't have Silva's range or power in the stand-up.
If he wants to win this fight, he needs to go to his bread and butter which is wrestling. Daniel Cormier is one of the best wrestlers competing in mixed martial arts right now. You'd have to be pretty damn good to be the coach of Muhammed Lawal, Cain Velasquez, Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck over at AKA.
Look for Cormier to stand only long enough to let Silva get comfortable before he dives forward with a deep single or double-leg takedown. Once on the ground, he'll have to be careful as his Brazilian foe is incredibly strong and could use his Brazilian jiu-jitsu not only to submit but also to sweep him.
Expect Cormier to really have a strong base on the ground and not take too many risks unless he sees a huge opening to posture up and rain down some punches or elbows. He can't afford to let Silva get comfortable on the canvas or he could pay for it.
Fight "X-Factor:" The X-Factor for this bout has to be size. Daniel Cormier competed at 96 kilograms in international wrestling and while he weighs more than that now at heavyweight, most of it is not muscle. Cormier is going to be giving up seven inches in height, about 40 pounds in weight and over 10 inches in reach.
That is about as large of a size disadvantage as you'll ever see in the sport. How he handles getting inside Silva's range and if he's able to outmuscle the giant will be the deciding factor in this bout. There's a saying, "you're both the same height once the fight goes to the ground," and Cormier will absolutely need to take it there if he's going to overcome the size disparity.
Bottom Line: This is a battle of David vs. Goliath. Daniel Cormier is embracing the role of the underdog and that should add an extra layer of excitement to this bout. If Cormier chooses to stand, this could get ugly as his reach disadvantage appears to be too much. The most interesting battle will be whether Cormier can not only put Silva on his back but if he can keep "Bigfoot" there for an extended period of time and wear the Brazilian down. There's a lot on the line with a trip to the finals of the Grand Prix at stake so expect both men to bring it.
Who will come out on top at Strikeforce: "Barnett vs. Kharitonov" on Saturday night? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!