Boy, was that worth the wait.
One hundred twenty-seven days after the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix began in February with two quarterfinal bouts, the tournament finally got around to holding the second set of quarters Saturday night. At least the TV listings said there was some fighting scheduled.
Whereas the fans who showed up at the New Jersey Meadowlands back in the winter were treated to a shocking upset of tournament favorite Fedor Emelianenko and a brutal KO of former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski, those who came to American Airlines Arena in Dallas for Saturday's fights got two somnolent crowd displeasers. LeBron James got more applause in this building than the four Grand Prix fighters.
Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem won a unanimous decision over Fabricio Werdum, who chose to lie on his back for much of the 15 minutes in a vain hope of luring Overeem into a grappling match, and Josh Barnett spent nearly as much time lying on top of Brett Rogers before finally, mercifully securing an arm triangle that induced a submission at 1:17 of the second.
Whatever little buzz was remaining after the long delay in completing the Grand Prix's first round was killed off during this evening of bouts.
Not that there was much buzz to kill. I mean, how does a promotion allow four months to pass between brackets in the same round of a tournament? Imagine what the fans in Big D would be saying if their Mavericks had just finished off the Thunder in the NBA's Western Conference finals but then had to wait 127 days before the Heat and Bulls got around to stepping on the court to determine who'll represent the East. And let's not even ponder how the combustible hockey fans of Vancouver might react if the Canucks had to deal with such a delay before getting their chance to take a bite out of the Bruins.
On Saturday night, there was Fedor slayer Antonio Silva sitting cageside, looking ready to go. But he'll have to wait while Overeem recovers from his tussle with Werdum.
And oh, what a tussle it was. (That's a joke, son.) More than a physical fight, it was a battle of wills. Werdum, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu virtuoso, continually flopped onto his back, waving Overeem toward him as the K-1 kickboxing champ backed off, waving at Werdum to get up. If CompuStrike kept stats on waving, the numbers would have been staggering. There hasn't been a heavyweight bout so action-packed since Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki "fought" 35 years ago.
In the end, Overeem (35-11, 1 NC) had his hand raised, but he was no winner. Granted, it takes two to tango, and Werdum (14-5-1) spent the first two rounds unwilling to engage in standup. But Overeem never committed to throwing the kind of punches that might put his opponent on his back unwillingly and dizzyingly. And in the third, when Werdum finally did come forward with punches and knees, Overeem was sucking wind. He continued to breathe heavily even after the final horn, through the couple of minutes it took for the scores to be tallied and read, and even throughout his post-fight interview in the cage. For a guy who did so little, he sure had very little left.
Between deep breaths Overeem said only, "Fabricio is one of the best grapplers in the world. I consider him the best grappler in MMA. And we don't want to be playing with him on the ground."
Barnett didn't mind playing on the ground. And afterward he had a lot more to say.
It took him all of 15 seconds to put Rogers in trouble. Countering a leg kick, Barnett grabbed a hold of the big striker and within another 20 seconds had lifted him into the air, slammed him to the mat and assumed side control. The fight was less than 40 seconds old, and it was all but over.
Rogers spent almost the entirety of the fight lying under Barnett, who assumed full mount with just under three minutes to go in the round. Rogers held on and survived, but less than 30 seconds into the second, he was mounted again. Both times Barnett (30-5) was in dominant position, though, he was either being patient and cautious or was showing ring rust. He didn't even try to finish Rogers (11-3) until he locked in the choke and quickly got the tap from a guy who simply looked tired of being on the bottom and had no way out.
You'd think we'd have gotten better performances out of the heavyweights on a day when the music world lost the Big Man, saxophonist Clarence Clemons.
Despite his dominance, Barnett showed respect -- to Rogers, not to Gus Johnson, as he ripped the microphone away from the post-fight interviewer, Lou Albano style, and addressed the fans directly. After praising Rogers as "a hoss, man," and saying he wants to see the big guy knocking people out in Strikeforce ("Just not me!"), he talked about the Grand Prix and the fighters who remain -- not just his next opponent, Sergei Kharitonov, but all of them.
"Bit by bit, inch by inch, one by one, I'm going to take them down, each one, one by one," Barnett said to a crowd he was doing his best to transform into Joshamaniacs. "One skull into the collection, to the next and to the next, until I'm standing on top of a pile of bodies with a pile of gold in my hand."
Nice try, Josh, but it's going to take more than a little pro wrasslin' trash talk to get people excited about the Strikeforce Grand Prix. But with no date having been set for the tournament's next round, there's plenty of time to drum up interest. Probably more time than we'd care to wait.