Josh Barnett (31-5) vs. Daniel Cormier (9-0) (column I wrote for gerweck.net)
The tournament is an alluring beast that captures our imagination because it provides a sense of finality as to who is the best. The two fighters who remain have traveled down different avenues to reach the Strikeforce World Grand Prix’s finals. Barnett submitted Bret Rogers and Sergi Kharitonov by arm triangle, while Cormier was an alternate who replaced Alistair Overeem. He dominated the much larger Antonio Silva with fast and accurate punches en route to a 1st round knockout. Fun fact: both obtained their first big win in their ninth professional fight, with Cormier beating Silva and Barnett defeating Dan Severn.
The former King of Pancrase and UFC heavyweight champion will be the toughest and most experienced opponent in Cormier’s career. Barnett is super durable and is not afraid to take a punch to clinch and tie-up Cormier to set up the takedown. On the ground, Barnett is an assassin with considerable skill who craves making people submit with his catch wrestling appliance use even though he is effective with the ground and pound option. This is the third time Barnett has made it to the finals of a tournament as he won the Superbrawl 13 honors and lost to Mirko Cro Cop in the finals of the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix in 2006.
Cormier is a product of the American Kickboxing Academy, whose Olympic pedigree and rapidly improving stand-up has helped him remain undefeated. At 33 years old, he is one of the sport’s top prospects and is a year younger than the more experienced Barnett, who has been a top ten heavyweight for most of his career. While his wrestling credentials are in the freestyle variety, he is more than proficient in Greco-Roman wrestling as well. His ascension through the ranks is refreshing due to him perfecting his craft on the smaller shows with his debut bout in 2009 followed by five fights in 2010 and three in 2011. This is how you want to see a high-profile prospect develop instead of being pushed into the limelight like past prospects due to promoters looking for quick cash.
For Josh Barnett: can he take Cormier down? If so, can he hold him down? What if he can’t hold or take down the Olympic wrestler? Will he have the head movement to avoid Cormier’s punches? Will he work for the victory, or will he endlessly try to take him down to prove a point?
For Daniel Cormier: can he prevent the takedown? If he is taken down, can he get back to his feet? Does he have the skills to work off his back in the event he can’t get back to his feet? Can he withstand the onslaught of Barnett’s offense if he finds himself in trouble for the first time in his career?
Barnett has more tools, twice the experience, and he is comfortable wherever the fight goes. He is the favorite, and rightfully so. While he scores many of them, takedowns don’t come easy for the ‘Warmaster.’ He often struggles while having his opponent’s upper body tied up before getting the fight to the ground. That will prove ineffective over the course of the fight as Cormier’s Greco-Roman technique should negate upper body entanglements, and Barnett doesn’t have a shot to take Cormier down via a single leg.
It will all come down to the stand-up where Barnett is comfortable, has knockout power, and can take one hell of a punch. The problem is that his head movement is non-existent at times, and Cormier’s punches will be a lot faster and more frequent. Cormier also has an uncanny ability to listen to his corner. Sounds simple, but game plans tend to go out the window when pain enters the equation. There is something in my soul that is telling me that Cormier is going to pull this off even though logic says Barnett should win. I’m picturing a hard-fought five-round battle that ultimately ends with Cormier working, stopping the takedown, and picking him apart with punches similar to how Cro Cop beat him in 2006. Barnett could catch him coming in down the pipe with a solid punch, but Cormier’s time training in San Jose should have him ready for such an attack.
Prediction: Winner: Daniel Cormier via unanimous decision
Make sure you check out gerweck.net for live coverage of Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Finals: Barnett vs. Cormier tomorrow night, beginning at 10:00 pm EST.