Wow! That’s not how it was supposed to go. Fedor Emelianenko was the guy most fans (and experts) looked at as one of the favorites to win the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Tournament. Instead, Emelianenko was beaten up and looked like a shell of the guy considered the best MMA fighter in the world for so many years losing by TKO to Antonio “Big Foot” Silva. I wasn’t in Japan for the glory days of Pride, but enough friends were to give me a clear idea how incredible the scene was any time Fedor fought.
When I finally did see him fight, Emelianenko carried a record of 30-1 into the ring against former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski. After a quick start by “The Pit Bull”, Fedor took full advantage of Arlovski’s fragile jaw ending the night with one monster shot. Rumors and stories flooded the internet that Emelianenko was headed to the UFC. It was easy to believe. Fedor was the #1 fighter, and the #1 promotion wanted him. I don’t know what happened in those negotiations, but instead of fighting Brock Lesnar in the bright lights of Las Vegas, Fedor found himself in Hoffman Estates IL matched up with Brett Rogers for Strikeforce.
On the surface it didn’t make sense, but Strikeforce offered something the UFC couldn’t… a live broadcast over CBS. Why CBS decided to give MMA another try after the Kimbo Slice/EliteXC disaster is anybody’s guess, but they did and Strikeforce used it to get Fedor.
The storylines written that night are pretty interesting in hindsight. Fedor knocked out Rogers in the second round. Gegard Mousasi also won by knockout, defeating Sokoudjou also in the 2nd rd. If we stop right there, it’s two good fights, but now look at the other fights broadcast that night. Jake Shields wins the Strikeforce Middleweight Championship by Unanimous Decision over Jason “Mayhem” Miller. Just five months later these two would be back on CBS as part of a post-fight melee that put a major dent in the relationship between CBS and Strikeforce.
It’s the last bout on this card that caught my attention and honestly I don’t even remember watching the fight. The opening fight on November 7th 2009 saw Fabricio Werdum defeat Antonio “Big Foot” Silva by unanimous decision. Who could have guessed the same night Fedor would be victorious for the final time, the two guys that sent him into retirement would fight on the undercard.
Looking ahead, with Fedor out, the question becomes who wins the Grand Prix. Sergei Kharitonov looked impressive, but I’m starting to think Jimmy Lennon could knock out Arlovski. Alistair Overeem is the current Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion, but has lost to Fabricio Werdum and Kharitonov. Werdum is riding a nice win streak with wins over Fedor, Mike Kyle, and Silva, but he also lost to Kharitonov.
My broadcast partner on Clinch Gear Radio Stephen Quadros picked Sergei Kharitonov as his sleeper in the tournament. Kharitonov has not been the most active fighter with just 6 matches in the last 4 years, but he is 5-1 during that time. Before you take this info to Vegas to load up on “The Paratrooper”, you need to know the loss came at the hands of Jeff Monson. Monson has fought a lot of tough guys, but isn’t somebody I think of when ranking the top Heavyweights in the game.
We are down to 6, and I think I have more questions now than ever. It was a good opening night, with a sad ending for a legend. If “The Fight Professor” is right, we still could have a Russian fighter standing alone at the end, I just wonder how many would have guessed which Russian fighter it would be. If I have to make a choice right now give me Fabricio Werdum. He has defeated two of the other five (Silva and Overeem) and lost a close split decision to Kharitonov. Confidence is a huge part of this sport, and talking to Werdum in San Jose that is something he has plenty of. Overall a big success for Strikeforce, I can’t believe we have to wait 54 days for Chapter 2.