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Strikeforce – Fedor vs. Silva Preview

Tonight marks the start of Strikeforce’s Heavyweight Grand Prix, featuring five big heavyweight contests.  Along with two tournament matches, we’ll also see the three reserve matches on the broadcast.  Four MMA veterans will be competing to advance to the semifinals to this tournament, while we have some interesting reserve bouts scheduled.

Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva will air live on Showtime at 10:00 PM EST/9:00 PM CST, with the prelim fights airing live on HDNet at 8:00 PM EST/7:00 PM CST

Heavyweight: Fedor Emelianenko (31-2, No. 5 HW) vs. Antonio Silva (15-2, No. 10 HW)

Fedor Emelianenko will look to start a new winning streak and advance in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix as he takes on Antonio “Big Foot” Silva.  Fedor is coming off his loss to Fabricio Werdum last summer, while Silva has wins over Andrei Arlovski and Mike Kyle in his last two fights.  It’s true that Mike Kyle isn’t exactly a true heavyweight, but I’m not sure that fight would have been any different with Valentijn Overeem.

Fedor has proven to be one of the most skilled fighters in MMA history.  Fedor is one of the greatest sambo practitioners in the world, while his judo is very strong.  He’s got very good power and his submission skills are remarkable.  More than anything, Fedor’s resiliency and calmness are what define him.  Fedor has taken punishment in fights with Brett Rogers, Kevin Randleman, and Mirko Filipovic, but he always finds a way to win fights.  The Werdum fight seems to be more of an anomaly, since his hasty attempt to finish the fight is very much unlike what we normally see from Fedor.

Antonio Silva is remarkable in size alone, standing at 6’4” and regularly weighing in at the heavyweight maximum of 265 lbs.  His head is also gigantic, though I don’t have a specific size to cite.  Just look at that thing!  Like Fedor, Silva is very skilled in judo, but he also has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  Silva prefers to fight on his feet, winning 10 of 15 fights by knockout.  He displayed frightening ground and pound work against Mike Kyle and definitely uses his size to his advantage.

Fedor has faced large fighters before, but never a fighter with such a combination of size and skill.  Silva will be a dangerous opponent for Fedor, as he can compete with Fedor however the fight goes.  Fedor has never been knocked out and I think that will continue in this fight.  I also have a hard time seeing Fedor getting submitted by “Big Foot”.  I think this will be a competitive fight that will end up going to a decision in Fedor’s favor.  I feel like Fedor will conservatively approach this fight so he doesn’t end up getting caught by Silva’s power.  Fedor could pull off a submission win, but I think Silva is capable enough to defend any attempts by his Russian opponent.  This will be close, but I give the nod to Fedor.

Heavyweight: Andrei Arlovski (15-8, No. 22 HW) vs. Sergei Kharitonov (17-4)

This second tournament matchup should be very interesting, as Sergei Kharitonov will make his American debut against former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski.  Kharitonov has won four of five fights with big wins over Alistair Overeem and current UFC fighter Mike Russow.  Arlovski has been on a bit of a skid with losses to Fedor, Antonio Silva, and Brett Rogers.  Arlovski looked to be back on track with a five fight winning streak from 2006 through 2008, with wins over Roy Nelson and Fabricio Werdum, but Arlovski has yet to recover from his devastating knockout loss to Fedor.

These are two similar fighters with backgrounds in boxing and sambo.  Kharitonov has been competing in boxing for about a decade and is fairly accomplished in Russian boxing circuits.  Arlovski is an extremely decorated sambo practitioner, winning or medaling in numerous competitions throughout the world.  Kharitonov also has won numerous sambo competitions, while Arlovski has wanted to try his hand in boxing.  Arlovski prefers to keep a fight standing while Kharitonov will gladly go for submissions, winning 8 fights by submission in his career.  Skill wise, I’m not sure that these two are very different.

The main difference will be in the mental condition of these fighters, Arlovski specifically.  Arlovski has lost three straight and has recently looked listless.  He’s been very vocal about his struggles with suicidal thoughts in the past, so mentally, he might not be all there.  Arlovski’s career will really be in question with a loss to Kharitonov, though he might see this tournament as an opportunity to revive his once great career.

Has Andrei Arlovski lost a step, or has he just been up against superior competition recently?  Arlovski, to me, is the biggest question mark of this tournament.  I could see him making the finals just as easily as I could see him losing to Kharitonov in this opening contest.  I’ll still give the nod to the “Pit Bull”, since I think he’s got a little ways to go before we can count him out.  Kharitonov will be a great challenge and it would be significant for Arlovski to win this fight.  I think he can pull off the victory here, but he’ll really need to find the old Arlovski: the aggressive, dangerous fighter who captured the UFC Heavyweight Title six years ago.

Heavyweight: Shane del Rosario (10-0) vs. Lavar Johnson (15-3)

As great as the two Grand Prix matches will be, this is the one I’m looking forward to most.  Johnson and del Rosario have a combined 28 fights, with only one of those fights ever going past the second round.  Both men are undefeated in Strikeforce with mutual wins over Lolohea Mahe and are two of the rising heavyweight stars in Strikeforce.

Johnson trains out of the American Kickboxing Academy and has shown fantastic striking, winning 13 of 15 fights by way of knockout.  Shane del Rodario is similarly powerful, winning 8 of 10 by knockout while going 7-1 in kickboxing competition.  This fight should not spend much time on the mat, so expect to see some fireworks here.

These are two evenly matched opponents and it’s disappointing that one of them has to lose.  Johnson was more active in 2010, even after recovering from gunshot wounds, and this will only be del Rosario’s third fight since November 2009.  I’ll give the nod to del Rosario, but this fight could go either way.  I expect a big knockout finish here, but I’m not confident about who the winner will be.  Either way, I’m hoping for a great fight.  The winner will be the first alternate for the Grand Prix, but both men have a bright future in the heavyweight division.

Heavyweight: Valentijn Overeem (28-25) vs. Ray Sefo (2-0)

This should be a very interesting contest between two kickboxers, though Overeem’s skills extend a bit beyond that.  Valentijn Overeem, the brother of Strikeforce and DREAM Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem, has not had similar success to his brother in MMA.  Overeem has won just over half of his 53 MMA fights but has had recent success, defeating Georgian wrestler Tengiz Tedoradze in April 2010.  Sefo’s Muay Thai is very good, with a 56-21-1 record in kickboxing.  He holds kickboxing wins over Melvin Manhoef and Peter Aerts, but is just 2-0 in his MMA career.

Both men are very capable kickboxers, but Overeem is a far more experienced mixed martial artist.  Overeem has proven to be a good submission artist, notching 16 submission victories in his career.  Sefo will surely look to keep this fight standing, but I’ll be curious to see Overeem’s approach.  I feel like Overeem would have no problem scoring a takedown and submitting Sefo, but I guess the question is whether or not that will be his strategy.

I feel like Sefo does have the striking advantage here, so I’ll look for Overeem to try and take Sefo down and submit him.  Overeem would be foolish to try and trade with such an experienced Muay Thai practitioner, even with his Golden Glory training.  Overeem knows he’ll have a bit advantage if this fight moves to the mat, so I think we’ll see a submission victory from Overeem.

Heavyweight: Chad Griggs (9-1) vs. Gian Villante (7-1)

Chad Griggs is known for only two things: ugly sideburns and defeating Bobby Lashley.  The 9-1 Griggs ruined Strikeforce’s plans for Lashley, defeating and exposing the former professional wrestler in August 2010.  Gian Villante will be making his Strikeforce debut after spending time fighting for Ring of Combat.  Villante is a former NFL prospect and decorated NCAA Division 1-AA linebacker.

Griggs didn’t show a lot in his fight against Lashley, since the fight mostly consisted of Lashley dominating position and completely gassing.  Griggs proved that he’s a tough guy and withstood Lashley’s offense, however weak it might have been.  Griggs will want to keep this fight standing, having won eight of nine fights with strikes and showing decent power against Lashley.  Villante is a BJJ blue belt and a great athlete, given his NFL past.  He’s flashed power and some good submission skills in Ring of Combat, and he certainly won’t gas against Griggs like Lashley did.  His wrestling is good and his kickboxing is improving under the guidance of the Bellmore Kickboxing Academy.

I feel like Villante is a far more polished MMA product than Chad Griggs, who was basically brought into Strikeforce to lose to Griggs.  This fight should be far different than Griggs’ last, as he has an opponent who is more focused on fighting than being a celebrity.  Villante is a capable fighter and I see him getting the win here, but Chad Griggs is certainly capable of ending this fight.

Lightweight: Marc Stevens (12-5) vs. John Cholish (5-1)

John Cholish, trained by Renzo Gracie, will look to defeat Ultimate Fighter Season 12 fighter Marc Stevens.  Stevens floundered on the show after being the first overall pick of Josh Koscheck, who he wrestled under at Buffalo, and hasn’t had a sanctioned fight since 2009.  Cholish enters with a five fight winning streak.

Stevens’ wrestling is good and he has shown some power, but he’s also had difficulty defending against submissions.  Cholish is a strong wrestler himself, competing at Cornell, and his training from Renzo Gracie is top notch.  Cholish should have no problem controlling the fight and could possibly pull off a submission victory here.

Welterweight: Igor Gracie (2-2) vs. John Salgado (4-4-1)

Igor Gracie will look for his third MMA win in this fight, having won his last fight in December 2009, more than a year ago.  John Salgado is coming off two straight losses and will look to get back to his winning ways.

Igor Gracie is another student of Renzo Gracie, who also happens to be his cousin.  He’s a 2nd degree BJJ black belt, but has had some difficulties kick starting his MMA career.  Not a whole lot is known about Salgado, who has also had a somewhat rocky career thus far.  Given his credentials, Gracie should be able to submit fellow Ring of Combat figher Salgado in this fight.

Welterweight: Sam Oropeza (4-1) vs. Don Carlo-Clauss (6-3)

Featherweight: Anthony Leone (8-2) vs. Josh LaBerge (7-4)

Featherweight: Kevin Roddy (9-11-1, 1 NC) vs. Jason McLean (5-3)

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