Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Over a year after its inception, the end is in sight for Strikeforce's heavyweight grand prix.
Strikeforce's eight-man tournament debuted to heavy fanfare last February, drawing record ratings with a field that included Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum and Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva.
However, the competition ultimately lost steam after Emelianenko's stunning loss and the removal of Overeem. Mired by an underwhelming promotional push and wavering contract negotiations, the semifinals aired seven months later to Strikeforce's lowest ratings of the year.
Considered by many to be the tourney's premier dark horse, the 34-year-old Barnett (31-5) strolled in on a six-fight win streak and wasted little time making his presence felt. "The Warmaster" opened festivities by storming through Brett Rogers en route to a second-round submission victory, before one-upping the performance with a dominant first-round submission of Sergei Kharitonov.
A perennial top-ten heavyweight throughout his career, Barnett's last loss came over half-a-decade ago at PRIDE Shockwave 2006, where he dropped a unanimous decision to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Across the cage, surprise challenger Cormier (9-0) traversed a far different road to reach the tournament finals. The 32-year-old former Olympian initially found himself on the outside looking in, before besting former UFC contender Jeff Monson in a tourney-reserve match.
Upon Overeem's controversial exit, Cormier jumped at his opportunity and shocked a heavily-favored Silva, catching the vertically-gifted Brazilian with an overhand shot to the jaw early in the opening round. A pair of hammer-fists later and "DC" had punched his ticket to the finals, but not before breaking his hand on Silva's skull.
Cormier's injury was originally expected to heal quickly, however several complications have risen to delay his match-up with Barnett.
In the meantime, Strikeforce dissolved the rest of their heavyweight division and announced that the grand-prix winner will fight one as-of-yet unnamed top opponent to determine the final Strikeforce heavyweight champion. Following the bout, Strikeforce plans to disband the division completely.
Showtime's official trailer for Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier can be viewed below.
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