It was 16 months ago when the Strikeforce Heavyweight World Grand Prix was first announced. The plan was essentially for the tournament, which was introduced to major fanfare, to usher in Strikeforce 2.0.
Nothing went to plan.
As it turns out, Strikeforce was bought by industry giant UFC's parent company, the tourney's top three seeds were all out by the second round, and within months, UFC had decided to absorb all of Strikeforce's big men into their organization.
While others have already made the move, Daniel Cormier and Josh Barnett are left to finish out the finals. Amazingly, this isn't such a bad thing for either of them. The winner will eventually be brought over to the UFC, where presumably, many fans will be clamoring for him to face the UFC champ.
So after all of the madness surrounding the tournament, it might still amount to something more than a ceremonial belt.
HP Pavilion - San Jose, California
Daniel Cormier (9-0) vs. Josh Barnett (31-5)
Cormier wasn't one of the tournaments. He was an alternate, and not even the first one. It took pre-tournament favorite Alistair Overeem getting shockingly cut, and No. 1 alternate Shane Del Rosario suffering an injury to due a car accident to get him in. But many felt Cormier was worthy for a spot from the get-go, and he only vindicated that belief with his semifinal knockout over Antonio Silva. A Cormier win would give the UFC another fresh new talent for its heavyweight division.
Forcing His Way Back In
Barnett was once persona non grata to the UFC, according to company president Dana White. But in recent months, the ice has thawed and now it seems he's likely to earn a return trip into the company win or lose. Obviously, he wants to ensure it by winning, but it's no lock either way. Strikeforce officials have said the Grand Prix winner will fight one more time before officially moving to the UFC, but Barnett says the future is no concern to him right now.
"A manager can go ahead and think about that all they want to, ad nauseum," he said. "Let themselves wrack their brains at night all about it. Fans, journalists, by all means. You know, throw it off each other as much as you want, get in arguments, start near riots, burn stuff, all good. Me? I do not care. It does not matter. I've got to beat Daniel Cormier and then after that I'm sure there will be somebody else, and whatever they're doing someplace else, more power to them."
The Trilogy You Never Knew You Wanted
After his last Strikeforce lightweight title defense, it seemed like something great was going to happen for Gilbert Melendez (20-2). Maybe he was going to be moved over to the UFC, or maybe the UFC would send a fighter to face him. Nope. Instead, he got tasked with facing Josh Thomson for a third time.
"For business moves, you try to fight guys who have big names," he said. "There's a lot of guys in the UFC that have bigger names than us just because they're in the UFC that have been there initially. But once that was over with and they knew that wasn't happening and I knew I had to fight Josh, I accepted it."
Not exactly a rousing endorsement of the matchup.
On the other hand, Thomson does own a win over Melendez, a unanimous decision back in June 2008. The objection to his elevation to the opportunity is that most observers simply didn't feel like his last two performances have made him worthy of a title shot. In December 2010, he lost a decision to Tatsuya Kawajiri, a man who Melendez crushed by first-round KO months later. In the other fight, he won a lackluster decision over KJ Noons, a performance Thomson himself characterized as "crap."
The third feature fight is a light-heavyweight bout pitting Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante against Mike Kyle. Kyle has beaten Cavalcante once before, and at a Thursday press conference, he was angered when Strikeforce executive Scott Coker couldn't confirm that the winner of the rematch would fight for the vacant divisional championship.
"I'm really upset by it," he told USA Today. "It makes me really not even want to fight. I don't feel like I'm getting nowhere in the sport. All the changes I've made in my life and the things I'm doing, there's no recognition for it."
That's about how things have gone for Strikeforce lately, where all you can do is sit around and hope for the best.