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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Strikeforce Heavy Weight Tournament bio ....

Fedor Emelianenko of Stary Oskol, Russia, was regarded as the best fighter in mixed martial arts. It was a title that he earned during the heyday of the PRIDE Fighting Championship, when he reigned as heavyweight champ for four years until the company folded. Back then, PRIDE unquestionably housed the best heavyweight fighters in the world.

The most ambitious undertaking in the heavyweight division since Emelianenko’s and PRIDE’s prime kicks off this Saturday when Strikeforce’s year-long tournament begins at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J.

Emelianenko, retuning after his first legitimate loss in nearly a decade, is on Saturday’s card, which features the first two of four single-elimination quarterfinal matches.

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The legendary Fedor Emelianenko highlights an all-star field in Strikeforce's Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament, which kicks off Saturday.

(Getty Images)

Emelianenko (32-2, 1 no contest) vs. former Elite XC champion Antonio Silva (15-2) and former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski (15-8) vs. Sergei Kharitonov (17-4) make up the all-heavyweight Showtime event, along with a pair of alternate matches in Shane Del Rosario (10-0) vs. Lavar “Big” Johnson (15-3) and Ray Sefo (2-0) vs. Valentijn Overeem (28-25).

The two other first-round matches – former UFC champion Josh Barnett (26-5) vs. Brett Rogers (11-2) and Alistair Overeem (34-11, 1 no contest) vs. Fabricio Werdum (14-4-1) – will take place April 9 on Showtime. The location is still to be determined. Recent industry talk points to Tokyo. If all goes well, the semifinals would be held over the summer and the championship match in the fall.

Here’s a look at the tournament’s eight fighters:

Bracket A

Fedor Emelianenko: Long considered the best heavyweight in the sport, Emelianenko is still ranked No. 8 in the Yahoo! Sports poll even though his last win was in November 2009 vs. Rogers. Perhaps this will show if Emelianenko’s June 29 loss to Werdum via triangle armbar in 69 seconds was a mental lapse or a sign that the 34-year-old Russian has finally started to slip. Emelianenko is an experienced tournament hand, winning two in the Japanese RINGS promotion in 2001 and 2002, a PRIDE tournament in 2004, as well as 12 other national and international competitions in his original sport of sambo. Although he’s the smallest man in the tournament – he’s listed as 6 feet tall and is probably slightly shorter than that, usually fighting at around 235 pounds – he possesses the most high-level experience and has the best reflexes. While unorthodox in style, he has devastating knockout power and few weaknesses. One thing that should be noted is that because of how hard he punches, Emelianenko has broken his hand on multiple occasions, which could be key in a tournament where you must survive three fights in a year.

Antonio Silva: Known as “Bigfoot,” Silva possesses unique looks due to the effects of acromegaly, a chronic disease of adults marked by enlargement of the bones of the extremities, face and jaw that is caused by an overactive pituitary gland. The condition is most associated with the legendary pro-wrestler Andre the Giant. Silva, 31, is 6-foot-4, but his hands, feet and head are gigantic, and he’s got long arms as well. Silva cuts weight to make 265 and likely will have 30-40 pounds on Emelianenko in the cage. He’s very strong, and when he gets an opponent down, he’s very good at keeping him there. But he does not have the reflexes of most of his opponents, and certainly not that of Emelianenko.

Silva was knocked down and almost finished by light heavyweight Mike Kyle in his last fight on Dec. 4, although he did come back to win.

Alistair Overeem: At 30, Overeem is the most physically impressive fighter of the bunch. With his aggressive attacks or punches and devastating knees, Overeem has been blowing people out in two sports. His cardio stamina, long a question, held up in December’s K-1 Grand Prix. He’s proven himself a finisher, with 14 knockouts and 19 submissions in his 34 wins, and went to the second round only once in his last 10 fights. But he was just 25-11 three and a half years ago, before gaining 35 pounds of pure muscle. Although he’s never failed a steroid test – something that can’t be said about everyone in the tournament – Overeem has been the most-accused man in the tournament, including frequent insinuations made by the Emelianenko camp. Overeem was tested for steroids after running through Rogers last year, his lone U.S. fight of the past three years, and will be tested throughout the tournament.

Fabricio Werdum: Coming off the most shocking and monumental moment of 2010 when he submitted Emelianenko, 33-year-old Werdum has the best ground game in the tournament. The two-time world champion in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a two-time Abu Dhabi world submission champion has MMA wins over three men in the tournament: Silva, Emelianenko and Overeem, the latter two by submission. Overeem specifically asked to fight Werdum first in hopes of avenging his 2006 loss, making it the most-anticipated match of the first round. Werdum has to get his fights to the ground because he does not have the striking ability of the big boys here.

Bracket B

Josh Barnett: Barnett was the UFC heavyweight champion at 24 in 2002 – still the youngest ever to hold that title – but hasn’t been in with top-level competition since a New Year’s Eve 2006 decision loss to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder’s fiercest opponent in recent years has been the California State Athletic Commission after testing positive for steroids in the summer of 2009, right before his scheduled showdown with Emelianenko. He’s still not licensed in the state, and unless he takes care of that problem, his matches will be limited to non-commission jurisdictions. The 2009 test was his third failed steroid test. The second came after his UFC title win over Randy Couture, and he was subsequently stripped of the title. He’s fought six times in four years against second- and third-tier fighters, while also performing as a pro wrestler in Japan. Clearly a top-level heavyweight in the mid-’00s, it’s complete conjecture as to where Barnett stands today. Barnett is good at every aspect, particularly a submission game that comes from old-school wrestling “hook” submissions as opposed to jiu-jitsu. And he can take a good punch. Barnett also is on the easy side of the brackets and thus comes in as a favorite to reach the finals.

Andrei Arlovski: Another former UFC champion, Arlovski comes into this fight having lost three in a row, all to people in the tournament: knockouts to Emelianenko and Rogers, and a decision to Silva. Now 31, the Belarus native has the best boxing technique in the tournament, very good takedown defense, a solid ground game, and great movement and agility for a man who is 6-4 and 240 pounds. He’s never been submitted, but he’s got the single most glaring weakness of anyone in the tournament: his chin. Six of his eight losses have been from knockouts, and there is some question as to where he is from a confidence standpoint after showing little fight against Silva. Aside from a 2008 win over Ben Rothwell, Arlovski hasn’t looked like the fighter many remember him to be since 2005, when he was running roughshod over the then-weak UFC heavyweight competition.

Brett Rogers: The youngest and least experienced fighter in the tournament, Rogers is best known for his fight with Emelianenko, where at one point in the first round he had the Russian on the ground and hurt. At 6-4 and 265, a weight he needs to cut to make, the 29-year-old is only a couple of years removed from working as a tire-changer at Sam’s Club in his native Minnesota. In terms of pure skill, he does not match up well with the rest of the tournament, but he’s got a hard punch, as shown by a 22-second knockout of Arlovski. But his last fight on Oct. 23 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was a split-decision against the lightly regarded Ruben Villareal – not a good sign coming into a tournament against this level of competition.

Sergei Kharitonov: The 30-year-old Russian was another star of the PRIDE era. He’s the last person to beat Overeem (a first-round knockout in 2007), and also holds a 2005 decision win over Werdum. But he’s only fought three times in MMA over the last three years, and once was a quick submission loss to Jeff Monson. He’s also 1-2 in kickboxing over that period. With a background in sambo and boxing, Kharitonov is a finisher. Of his 17 wins, eight have been by submission and eight by knockout. Being on the easy side of the bracket makes him a possibility to make the finals. by:

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