It's fitting, too, that a name that barely resonated with fight fans when the tournament kicked off in Feb. 2011 and was a virtual unknown before it used the tournament to establish himself as a mixed martial arts (MMA) star.
Let's take a closer look and retrospective at the heavyweight grand prix report card -- remember, we are grading pre-tournament expectations to how each guy's effort, or lack thereof, panned out.
In we go:
Daniel Cormier: A+
Opportunity and circumstances go a long way toward making a star, and Cormier's Grand Prix performances will be used for years to come as an example of why you should always be ready to fight. Stepping in as a substitute for Overeem against Antonio Silva, Cormier destroyed Silva with a blitzing standup assault, then followed up with an impressive five-round mastery of Josh Barnett to win the tourney.
Plain and simple, two fights ago, Cormier was just another ex-wrestler, albeit a former two-time Olympic team member, moving up the ranks. Now, he's the next big potential heavyweight star. Cormier's headed for the UFC. It's really just a matter of when they decide to snap him up.
Josh Barnett: B+
Barnett showed why he's been one of the most consistent and talented fighters in the game, especially outside the UFC, for the last ten years. Two slick submission wins, and a gutty stand in losing to the super-talented Cormier made a strong case for why he deserves to return to the organization. He also looked in fantastic shape for the finals, weighing a solid 248, with muscle tone and definition he has rarely if ever had.
Barnett's blend of athleticism, experience and resilience make him a live wire for anybody in the UFC heavyweight division. He also brings personality and a core fan base. The tournament was definitely a big win for him, especially fans not familiar with his impressive work in his first UFC run.
Antonio Silva: B+
Despite his semifinal blowout KO defeat to Cormier, the massive Brazilian's battering of Emelianenko was a career-making fight, even if he did catch the all-time great on the obvious downside of a sparkling career. Silva, now slated to tangle with former champ Cain Velasquez next weekend in his UFC debut, made the most of his first-round match with Emelianenko, and in a way, he shaped much of the tournament. By beating Fedor, he went a long way toward hastening Overeem's exit (there were other reasons as well) and also by supplying Cormier with an eminently hittable opponent, he helped Strikeforce make a new star, even if that wasn't his intention.
Fabricio Werdum: C+
A dismal showing against Overeem in June 2011 quarterfinal bout was the epitome of fizzle, after Werdum's career-changing submission of Fedor nearly a year before. Werdum's exit from the first round was followed by a decision win over Roy Nelson as he returned to the UFC. It was probably better than getting blitzed by Overeem if he'd decided to stand and trade, but it's hard to beat back-to-back performances that have such a glaring contrast in marketability. It's almost Buster Douglas-like, as Douglas KO'd a then-unbeaten Mike Tyson in February 1990, only to show up listless and disinterested against Evander Holyfield 8 months later, getting taken out in three.
Despite rough loss to Barnett in semifinal, Kharitonov displayed his wicked striking and intense standing attack in taking out Andrei Arlovski. It was a nice showing for the talented Russian, whose crisp hands and boatloads of experience had him as a kind of dark horse entry in the original eight - that was a legit billing, as Serg is a dangerous guy on the feet.
Unbeaten in 28 fights over a 9-year span, Emelianenko entered the Grand Prix with a nice setup for redemption. With Antonio Silva lined up in the first round for him, "The Last Emperor" had a seemingly ideal opponent: big, plodding, hittable and available. After his submission defeat to Fabricio Werdum in June 2010, Fedor looked suddenly human, and he had the chance to fight the Werdum-Overeem winner in the semifinals. Either way, it was a showdown-style bout that many assumed would be the de facto finals of the tournament.
Instead, Silva battered Fedor, with Emelianenko kept on his stool after a brutal second round. Following the loss, Emelianenko took his third straight defeat via KO to Dan Henderson. We'll never really know precisely what the UFC offered Emelianenko during the much-talked-about dance between them and Fedor's management in 2009, but whatever it was, it's sure not on the table now, nor ever will be again.
Brett Rogers: F
A complete meltdown from Rogers, whose troubles outside the fight game have been as daunting as those in it. After giving Emelianenko a lively tussle in Nov. 2009, Rogers' stock shot sky-high; he was brutally dispatched by Overeem in his next bout, but the loss to Barnett in just over six minutes showed him badly outclassed. It was a quick entry and exit on the world-class stage for Rogers, who has since lost a decision to UFC veteran Eddie Sanchez in Titan Fighting Championships.
Andrei Arlovski: F
It's sobering to think that Arlovski was, during the peak of his UFC reign, considered perhaps the second-best heavyweight in the world. Chin troubles and a penchant for disastrous, shock-knockout losses caught up with him, as Kharitonov exploited him in the first round with a vicious KO. The defeat capped his fourth consecutive defeat, three by KO.
Alistair Overeem: Incomplete
Overeem, billed as the next big thing to invade America, didn't have a willing dance partner in Werdum, taking a boring split decision in a bout that resembled the early days of the Brazilian Butt Scoot (Murilio Bustamante-Tom Erikson, anyone?). "The Reem" subsequently split the tournament for the greener pastures of the UFC once his chance to fight Fedor was gone, ditching Antonio Silva and a semifinal bout.
Jason Probst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jasonprobst.