Given the chaos that plagued the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, the tournament finale that took place last night (Sat., May 19, 2012) in San Jose, California, featuring Daniel Cormier vs. Josh Barnett was a pleasantly entertaining capper, if for no other reason than there were so many distracting chapters outside the cage preceding it.
With its kickoff in Feb. 2011, the grand prix marked a kind of all-in move for Strikeforce, which, at the time, was clearly losing the marginal ground it was holding against the overwhelming onslaught of success of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Market share being what it is -- an eminently finite commodity not earned easily, nor yielded without a fight -- Strikeforce assembled what was, given the available resources, the most potent programming move they or anyone else could have imagined.
With a lineup of eight heavyweights, including Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem, the grand prix was scheduled to unfold across 2011 and take Strikeforce to the next level as a promotion. It was the kind of move that even the biggest UFC shills -- both in and out of the press -- openly praised.
That was the plan, at least, until it all went to hell, helped in no small part by the UFC's shocking and out-of-the-blue acquisition of Strikeforce back in March 2011, which scuttled any sense of long-term stability the promotion was hoping to build, at least independent of the UFC.
But it would recover.
The February kickoff card saw Emelianenko -- fresh off his shocking submission loss to Fabricio Werdum the summer previous -- get pounded, dominated and stopped by Antonio Silva. This scuttled the hoped-for showdown of Emelianenko vs. Overeem, as well as the backup plan of Emelianenko taking on Werdum if he managed to best Overeem in their first round match. Overeem vs. Werdum, held in June, was a dreadful affair, punctuated by Werdum's endless guard-flopping and Overeem's woeful inability to land a strike of significance against an opponent who refused to engage. It hardly endeared stateside fans to "The Reem," now the tournament's biggest attraction with Fedor's exit.
Then, Overeem bolted the grand prix after his dubious showing, obviously for the greener pastures of the UFC, which were noticeably so now that Fedor was no longer available.
With Daniel Cormier filling in for him as a semifinalist against Silva last September, Cormier's broken hand put a damper on an otherwise outstanding performance as he battered the massive Brazilian in a rousing knockout victory. Barnett, meanwhile, cruised through Brett Rogers and Sergei Kharitonov in workmanlike fashion. The injury delayed the finals until May.
All said and done, the Strikeforce grand prix ended on a positive note. Cormier's impressive work over five rounds showed the beginnings of what should be a top-flight heavyweight in the years ahead. Given the twists, turns, and chaos that marked the 15-month journey of the tournament, fans took a lot of lumps waiting for the conclusive end.
It was a pretty good one, though, even if it was nowhere near what anyone predicted would happen.