What can be said of a Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix without Alistair Overeem?
Truth is, we never got a really good answer from Strikeforce brass about what the tournament meant even with the organization's heavyweight champion still in the draw. After some brief confusion at the start, the promotion has always been up front about the fact the title wouldn't be on the line in the grand prix, but instead said it hoped to establish a No. 1 contender for the Dutch striker. Unless of course, Overeem himself won the tournament. In that case, we're not sure what the point would have been, exactly.
There have been those who've alleged the winner of the Strikeforce tourney would have a legitimate claim to being the world's No. 1-ranked heavyweight, though that assertion seemed dubious even before Overeem's injured toe forced him out of the running. Clearly though, there are still some things at stake for the remaining participants.
The sudden absence of Overeem may well make Josh Barnett the favorite to win it all. Obviously, this tournament is pretty important to Barnett's career, after spending the last few years fighting overseas and on the independent circuit. Winning the grand prix likely makes Barnett a Top 5 heavyweight again - a turn of events some thought they'd never see - possibly nets him a title bout against a healed-up Overeem and would make it more difficult for the brass at Zuffa, LLC. (who he's long clashed with) to get rid of him. At this stage in the game, a little bit of job security could be very important for the 33-year-old Barnett.
For Antonio Silva, a win means a chance to prove he belongs among MMA's elite heavyweights. As the former EliteXC champion, with a 16-2 overall record, "Bigfoot" is a pretty unanimous choice as a Top 10 265-pounder at this point, but he's seldom mentioned in the same breath as guys like Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos or even Overeem. A win in the grand prix would change all that, though it admittedly would've been more impressive when Silva was poised to take on Fedor Emelianenko, Overeem and then possibly Barnett over the course of the tournament.
Perhaps blue chip prospect Daniel Cormier has the most to gain, as the man who will step in for Overeem. Cormier is undefeated and, as a former Olympic wrestler, certainly has the resume to become a top contender. At just 5-foot-10, 240-pounds however, the biggest knock against Cormier thus far has been his size and whether or not he can hang with the true giants of the heavyweight division. He cracked some Top 10 lists last month with his dominant victory over Jeff Monson, but his newly-booked semifinal fight against Silva constitutes a huge step up in competition. If he can win it, there'll be no denying Cormier as the real deal any longer.
And what of Sergei Kharitonov? Certainly the least talked about, least marketable fighter in the final four, it will be sort of sadly predicable if Kharitonov manages to catch lightning in a bottle and win the grand prix. I mean, if we told you at the start we were going to hold one of the greatest heavyweight tournaments in MMA history, but that Sergei Kharitononv was going to win, would you still watch? Yeah, I don't know if I would, either.
Even if Strikeforce can still dress this tournament up as an attempt to find a No. 1 contender for Overeem, reports indicate the champ only has one fight left on his contract. Does the company really want to take the risk of holding a tournament, seeing the tournament winner defeated by Overeem and then having Overeem depart the promotion for greener pastures. That doesn't seem like a great option, does it?
Truth is, Strikeforce might be out of great options at this point. From here out, it might be enough just to see this thing through to the end.