What: Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Semifinals: Barnett vs. Kharitonov
Where: U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati
When: Saturday, the HDNet undercard begins at 8 p.m. ET and the Showtime main card begins at 10.
Predictions on the five Showtime fights below.
Josh Barnett vs. Sergei Kharitonov
This is Barnett's biggest fight since losing to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at Pride Shockwave 2006, and maybe his last chance to return to relevance and get back some of the respect in the MMA world that he lost when his positive drug test caused his fight with Fedor Emelianenko to be canceled two years ago. It's huge for Barnett.
It's a big fight for Kharitonov, too: Although he's had a long and impressive fighting career, he's an unknown outside hard-core MMA fans in the United States. And given that Kharitonov's management in Golden Glory is butting heads with Strikeforce parent company Zuffa right now, Kharitonov needs to impress if he wants to stay in Zuffa going forward. Beating Barnett in the main event could set Kharitonov up for a lucrative fight in the Grand Prix finals, and potentially some very lucrative fights in the UFC after that.
Kharitonov is a better striker than Barnett, and Barnett has struggled at times with good strikers. But I don't think Kharitonov has good enough defensive wrestling to stay off his back in this fight, and on the ground I see Barnett as having a significant advantage. I like Barnett to win this fight from the top.
Antonio Silva vs. Daniel Cormier
Those Zuffa-Golden Glory problems cost us what should have been a great fight between Silva and Alistair Overeem. Instead we get Bigfoot against Cormier, who's a world-class wrestler and undefeated fighter but hasn't faced anything close to Top 10 competition until now.
So is Cormier ready for it? I don't think so. Cormier is such a good wrestler that he has a chance of getting Silva down and getting on top of him, but I think it's much more likely that the bigger, stronger Silva will batter Cormier with punches and end up finishing him with ground and pound.
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza vs. Luke Rockhold
As the Strikeforce middleweight champion, Jacare is in a tough position: He wants big fights that give him a chance to prove he's among the best in the world, but Strikeforce really doesn't have a middleweight division that can offer him that kind of competition. Rockhold is a 26-year-old who has shown some promise on his way to building up a 7-1 record, but he's never fought anyone whose skill even approaches that of Jacare. It'll be a big shock if Jacare doesn't win this fight by submission.
Muhammed Lawal vs. Roger Gracie
This is a fascinating stylistic matchup because King Mo's favorite tactic is to use his wrestling to take his opponents down and beat them from the top, while Gracie's world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills make him a threat to anyone off his back. King Mo has been out the last year with a knee injury he suffered when losing the Strikeforce light heavyweight title to Rafael Cavalcante, so we don't know what kind of shape he'll be in. But if Mo is healthy, I like him to show off good enough submission defense to handle Gracie on the ground and win by decision.
Pat Healy vs. Maximo Blanco
Healy took this fight on short notice after Josh Thomson dropped out with an injury, and that should make things easier on Blanco, a Venezuelan who has had a lot of success fighting in Japan and is now making his U.S. debut. Blanco is a very good wrestler and devastating striker, and he should put Healy away quickly.