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ProMMAnow.com “Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov” staff picks

Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov” takes place Saturday night at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio. The card features the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix semifinals with Josh Barnett vs. Sergei Kharitonov and Antonio Silva vs. Daniel Cormier.

Also included on the card is a middleweight title fight with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza defending his title against AKA’s Luke Rockhold, and former light heavyweight champ “King” Mo Lawal returns to take on BJJ master, undefeated in MMA, Roger Gracie.

Once again, the ProMMAnow.com (www.prommanow.com) staff has come together to give our thoughts, predictions and best guesses on the main card bouts. Here we go…

Josh Barnett (30-5) vs. Sergei Kharitonov (18-4)

Odds: Barnett -350, Kharitonov +250

KELVIN HUNT: I think Barnett will be able to take Kharitonov down and he should be fine from there…whether it’s ground and pound or him working that methodical ground game to get a dominant position and then submission. I like Barnett here.

JOSH CROSS: I think this fight will be determined by where it takes place. I think that Kharitonov is the superior striker whereas Barnett is the superior wrestler. If the majority of the fight takes place standing I think Kharitonov will win it. That being said though, I think that Barnett will be able to take Kharitonov down pretty quick and from there get the dominant position. I don’t think it will be quick, but I think Barnett finishes this fight and moves on to the finals. Pick: Barnett via Submission.

DENNY HODGE: Kharitonov will have the advantage on the feet in this one and is a very tough guy, but Barnett won’t stand in the pocket and oblige him in a slugfest. Barnett will clinch and use body-lock takedowns to put Kharitonov on the wrong end of a beat down. Barnett by TKO.

BRIAN FURBY: Josh Barnett

JOE GUGELMAN: Other than his brutal destruction of Glass Joe….err….Andre Arlovski in the Quarterfinals, I’d never seen Kharitonov in action before. I just watched his rematch with Overeem on YouTube. Wow. I understand THE REEM is a different fighter now than he was back then, but….damn that was medieval. Barnett certainly could get caught by something at the beginning of one of these rounds, but I think he’s too crafty for that, and his unorthodox grappling will give Sergei fits early and often. Pick: Barnett by Submission

RICHARD MANN: A lot of people seem to be really excited about Kharitonov, because he blasted a fighter who is known for having a suspect chin. It seems like that one fight made everyone forget that Jeff Monson made him tap in less than two minutes. Barnett is pretty good example of why the heavyweight division is weak. He has no outstanding skill set, but he is a reasonably good athlete and can flex some game on the ground. The “Baby-faced Assassin” will move on to the tournament finale. Barnett by submission.

JACK BRATCHER: I believe Barnett’s catch-wrestling style is going to be too much for Kharitonov. He will put the Russian on his back and either pound out a TKO, get a submission or get the decision. Kharitonov’s best bet is to rock Barnett with something big coming in, which is possible, but the odds favor Barnett in this one. He’s too big and his grappling is too strong. Barnett wins.

Antonio Silva (16-2) vs. Daniel Cormier (8-0)

Odds: Silva -175, Cormier +145

KELVIN HUNT: I think Cormier’s speed and wrestling will be able to overcome the power, size, and lack of cardio from Silva as the fight goes on. Cormier with the upset via decision.

JOSH CROSS: This fight should really be interesting to see how the size difference between these two plays out. In his win over Fedor, Silva showed that he knows how to use his size to his advantage on the ground. The thing about this fight though is that Cormier is a much better wrestler than Fedor, which could be his saving grace if and when this fight goes to the ground. It won’t be easy, but I think Cormier has the ability to use his size and speed to outmaneuver Silva on the ground and on the feet. Pick: Cormier via Decision.

DENNY HODGE: Cormier showed off his much improved stand up game against Monson, with nice crisp punches and very effective leg kicks that battered “The Snowman”, but he will be giving up a ton of size and reach against Silva in this one. Cormier will get his take downs but the question is going to be how much that game plan takes out of him against the much larger man. Silva is very dangerous off his back even if he gives up some take downs, but it’s his stifling and smothering top control that is going to be play a factor in this one. The fight will go back and forth in the momentum department, but in the end it will be Silva by decision.

BRIAN FURBY: “Bigfoot” Silva

JOE GUGELMAN: Silva is on a bit of a roll lately, winning 9 of his last 10. Of course, Cormier comes in undefeated at 8-0, but this will be a gigantic leap in competition for him. I think Silva is too big for him to wrestle down and outpoint for 3 rounds, and although his striking looked much improved in his last win over Jeff Monson, I think that told us more about where Monson’s at than Cormier. To have a chance, Cormier CANNOT be put on his back with this mountain on top of him. We saw how that ended up for Silva’s last two opponents (everyone focuses on Fedor, but those hammerstrikes he put on Mike Kyle were SICK), and I think the same might happen here after Cormier catches a hamhock to the side of the head in the first round. Pick: Silva by TKO.

RICHARD MANN: The winner of this fight will become evident extremely early in the fight. If Cormier is able to wrestle with the bigger Silva, than he should be able to grind out a three-round decision. However, Cormier really belongs at 205, since he wrestled internationally at 211.5 and in college at 107, so the size difference will be huge. I make it a rule of thumb to almost always pick the guy who could actually make light heavyweight when breaking down heavyweight MMA fights. Cormier by decision.

JACK BRATCHER: I always make my picks last when I assemble these staff picks articles and it’s interesting to see this one split down the middle; three of our guys for Cormier and three for Silva. I guess I’m the tie-breaker. The odds are interesting on this fight and a smart person would lay money on Cormier. Cormier looked like a kickboxer in his last fight, against Jeff Monson. That was the perfect fight for him to showcase his striking, but he could not put Monson away, so let me say this, he definitely will not put Silva away if he can’t put Monson away. The guy is so big, and he packs serious power, he just pounded out Fedor for god’s sake, and still it seems he does not get the respect he deserves. I really really like Cormier as a person and fighter and his speed could be the difference here. I really think he’s going to have to put Silva on his back if he’s going to win this fight and I’m just not sure how easy that will be. You have to imagine he’s drilled it thousands of times preparing for Silva. This one is a toss-up for me but I’m going to take Cormier via decision (I changed my mind like three times).

Ronaldo Souza (14-2, 1 NC) vs. Luke Rockhold (7-1)

Odds: Souza -450, Rockhold +325

KELVIN HUNT: Souza/Rockhold-Rockhold is solid…but the long long off will hurt him here…Souza via decision.

JOSH CROSS: Coming into this fight Rockhold looks unstoppable on paper plowing through and finishing all six of his last opponents in the first round. That being said, it has been nearly 19 months since his last fight and I think ring rust is likely to be an issue for Rockhold in this fight. He has won all but one of his fights via submission, but I don’t see him submitting Souza anytime soon. I think that the longer this fight goes the more tired Rockhold will become and that will give Souza the opportunity to finish the fight. Pick: Souza via Submission.

DENNY HODGE: Rockhold has been great, remaining unbeaten under the Strikeforce banner, but this is obviously his biggest fight of his career. Souza manhandled Robbie Lawler in his last outing, and he will continue that momentum here. His stand up is good enough to test the waters standing, and when he takes the fight to the ground, it’s pretty much over. It’s next to impossible for his opponents to find training partners that can simulate what they will see against “Jacare” on the ground in the cage. Souza by submission.

BRIAN FURBY: “Jacare” Souza

JOE GUGELMAN: I really enjoy watching Jacare fight. As one of the most accomplished BJJ practitioners over the last decade (with one of the others also on this card in Roger Gracie), he’s a danger to finish the fight at any moment on the ground. As we’ve seen in the past, the way to defeat such a dominant ground fighter is to have enough of a wrestling base to keep the fight standing and the striking skills to at least grab a decision. I think Rockhold (maybe) has the first half of the formula (big maybe), but not the second. As in the co-main event, we’re seeing someone get a giant opportunity early in their career against a much more accomplished opponent. Add in the ring-rust from an 18-month layoff for Rockhold, and I just can’t foresee any way he takes the strap from The Alligator. Pick: Souza by Unanimous Decision.

RICHARD MANN: Stewart makes his money in MMA by being a surprisingly good grappler. That is not going to really be an issue here. “Jacare” is one of the three best submission grapplers on the planet and it will show in this fight. These types of fights make me wish that Zuffa would merge Strikeforce with the UFC sooner rather than later. Souza by decision.

JACK BRATCHER: Wow, not one person picking Rockhold and the odds on this fight show a big discrepancy. Rockhold has been on the shelf since Feb. 2010 due to injuries and that probably has a lot to do with the odds. Without a doubt this is the biggest fight of his career; there’s not even a close second. As a brown belt under Dave Camarillo, Rockhold is damn good, but “Jacare” is on a different level. He probably won’t finish Luke but he should get the decision. Luke’s extremely talented but he’s still young in his career. Jacare via decision.

Muhammed Lawal (7-1) vs. Roger Gracie (4-0)

Odds: Lawal -160, Gracie +130

KELVIN HUNT: Lawal should keep the fight standing and win a decision or hurt Gracie and finish him via TKO.

JOSH CROSS: It will be really interesting to see how this fight between two grapplers goes down. I think King Mo will be able to defend against Gracie’s takedown attempts throughout the fight. It will be interesting to see just how healthy King Mo is, but I don’t see that being an issue for him in this fight. I’m sure these two will go to the ground at some point and as long as King Mo doesn’t get caught in a submission, which is very possible with a skilled grappler like Gracie, I think the King grinds out a win. Pick: Lawal via Decision.

DENNY HODGE: Gracie has shown that he has effective stand up, at least with his jab, and everybody knows his credentials on the ground. King Mo will be playing into that strength if he repetitively puts Gracie on his back. I believe that Mo will mix it up a lot more, working on Gracie with his boxing, and picking his spots to mix in his take downs. In the end Mo will wear out Gracie from the constant threats of the take down and win the decision.

BRIAN FURBY: King Mo

JOE GUGELMAN: Speaking of long layoffs, it’s been 13 months since Lawal stepped into the hexagon coming off of a knee injury, with his last fight being the loss to Feijão for the LHW title back in August 2010. His layoff has probably only been spent improving his game however, as he’s spent a majority of his time at American Kickboxing Academy as of late, and as we all know, they’re not too bad over there. I would love to see Lawal make good on his big pre-fight talk and try to engage Gracie on the ground, and that would honestly be foolish with his significant advantage in the standup. Which is exactly why I’m predicting that “King Mo” will do just that at least a few times throughout the fight. Will Gracie be able to overcome the wrestling of Lawal and pull off a sub? As a huge fan of Roger’s storied jiu-jitsu career, and his short, exciting MMA career to this point, it pains me to say….no he won’t. Pick: Lawal by Submission.*

*just kidding….decision. I really hope I’m wrong on this one though. Go Roger!

RICHARD MANN: Whenever wrestlers talk about how confident they are on the ground, I get a little bit nervous. One of the most obvious recent examples is Joe Warren’s rhetoric heading into his fight with Bibiano Fernandes. We all know how that turned out. With that being said, I do not think Lawal will have any trouble in this fight. Gracie will be forced to stand, and thus end up in trouble. “King Mo” has worked diligently on his striking and should have enough to get Gracie out of cage early. Lawal by TKO.

JACK BRATCHER: Lawal has put in a lot of training this year, from spending time in Amsterdam training with K-1 killers to moving his camp to AKA, he should be more than prepared for this fight. But Roger Gracie is an enigma. You have to imagine if he gets hold of a limb, you are in serious danger. But Mo’s wrestling and grappling experience should be enough to fend off the submission attacks. Mo for sure has the better stand-up and I think he’s going to hurt Roger with something big, probably a big punch, then finish him off via TKO. Probably quickly – first round TKO via King Mo.

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