Its been a long time coming but the grand final of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix is upon us, and what an interesting match it is. In the one corner, the PRIDE FC standout Josh Barnett, regarded as the best non-UFC heavyweight in America today. In the other, the relative newcomer Daniel Cormier, who was on the 2004 and 2008 Olympic team for the USA. He has a 9-0 professional record compared to Barnett’s 31-5.
The fight airs on SHOWTIME in the USA while in the UK fans can watch via PrimeTime - click here for details of how to get the event on your TV.
Editor, Fighters Only magazine
The best of the non-UFC heavyweight pile collide in the Strikeforce World Grand Prix final in San Jose, California on Saturday night, and when you look past all the failings of heavyweight the tournament – which has been spoilt in some part by postponed matches and fighter withdrawals – this remains a fascinating main event.
On paper this looks more like a WWE main card than MMA as former Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier, perhaps the newest and most destructive heavyweight in the world, faces off against the wily old veteran and former UFC, Pride and Pancrase champion Josh Barnett.
While the latter can call upon 36 MMA fights and hundreds of pro wrestling matches spanning a 15-year career, Cormier (who is actually only 16 months younger) has only had nine MMA bouts, yet has a freestyle wrestling background that includes two Olympic games, World Championships bronze and Pan American gold. He was also the champion of the now defunct Real Pro Wrestling League.
Both these guys can punch, both can clearly wrestle and both are always in good shape, despite their size. On paper Barnett has to start as favourite, perhaps due to his more established ground game. But these tournament events always seem to produce an unlikely winner, and seeing as Cormier wasn’t even involved in the original line-up, I’m tipping him to come away with the victory – and then transition almost seamlessly into the UFC.
Associate Editor, Fighters Only magazine
There's an eerie balance between the abilities of the men contesting this weekend's Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix final, Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier, but it will be Barnett who takes the 'W'.
Cormier may have Olympic-calibre wrestling, fast-developing boxing and an innate athleticism, but Barnett's smothering and methodical catch grappling, willingness to stand with intimidating strikers ('Minotauro' Nogueira, Sergei Kharitonov) and all-round resilience means he has a parry for any of Cormier's attacks.
And while there's only a year between them in age (Cormier being Barnett's junior) there's 12 years' and 27 fights' worth of extra MMA experience in Barnett's corner. Of course Cormier has wrestled on the Olympic stage but surely the spotlight of primetime glares somewhat more intensely.
Cormier can certainly play spoiler on Saturday night, and nobody should be surprised if he manages it, but his confidence in a long-troublesome and previously broken, but essential, right hand could be pivotal. The result of this bout will be extremely telling for both men.
Fighters Only Website Editor
Similar ages, vastly different amounts of experience. Some say they have similar skills too, but I don’t think that’s the case. Barnett’s much-vaunted catch-wrestling, being submission-oriented rather than takedown-oriented, isn’t really anything akin to the Olympian-level freestyle wrestling of Cormier’s, which has an inverse focus to Barnett’s style.
Barnett has a rock-solid submission game which makes him extremely dangerous on the floor; while catch-wrestling isn’t a common style these days you can broadly equate Barnett’s submission skill to a high-level competition black belt in BJJ, which more people are familiar with. Leglocks, toe-holds and ankle-locks are a speciality, and their comparative rarity benefits Barnett in the same way that Rousimar Palhares benefits from the lack of leglock experience among many of his middleweight peers.
The thing is, he will have to get the fight to the floor to get his submission game going and I think he can do that if Cormier doesn’t want the fight there. I would be amazed if Barnett can get Cormier to the floor against his will; there is absolutely no chance he is going to hit a shot from the outside and I suppose he could hit a trip or single from the clinch, set up by strikes, but that’s about the only chance he has and relies more on Cormier making an error than anything.
Cormier will be able to take Barnett down at will - even CroCop was able to take Barnett down, and pass his guard - but why would he want to? If you watched Cormier against Jeff Monson you would have noticed that his striking looked very, very polished for such a latecomer to the fighting arts and that’s largely down to his total confidence in his wrestling. He can let his hands go without worrying about being taken down.
Barnett’s striking isn’t much to write home about and while I think he is capable of making a serious mark on the UFC heavyweight division I think Cormier is even more so; the only thing against Cormier is his being 33 years old and thus of relatively advanced age for a fighter. If Cormier was even five years younger I would be predicting the UFC heavyweight title and years of dominance for him.
As it is, I think he wins the Strikeforce Grand Prix and a pyrrhic victory with it, for the loser is likely to be ported over to the UFC quicker than the winner (apparently the winner is contracted to one more Strikeforce fight). It goes down tomorrow night - look for Cormier to out-strike Barnett and earn a comfortable decision as he did over Monson.
Fighters Only Guest Writer
Cormier has been on an amazing run, but I think it's going to stop here against such an experienced and dangerous opponent. Cormier looked very impressive taking out Antonio Siva with crisp boxing, and he has a chance to do that in this fight too, as he's certainly lighter on his feet than Barnett, but Josh has been in there with some of the best heavyweight strikers ever and come out on top. Also, he's a pretty underrated boxer himself.
It's a cliché, but Barnett should be too much of a crafty veteran. It will be difficult because of Cormier's wrestling pedigree, but Barnett can use his size advantage to get the fight to the mat where he is at his most dangerous. This is where the difference in experience will show.
He passes guard as well as anyone in the heavyweight division and if he can get to mount or side-control, Cormier will have his work cut out to escape. And 260lb is a lot for any man to carry. Josh never gives up position and he should be able to slowly break Cormier down with punches, and finish him off with with a submission.