Finally, the end is near.
At least, we hope it is.
With a date now officially set and Josh Barnett at least provisionally cleared to fight in California, it’s actually starting to look like the crazy pipe dream that was the Strikeforce heavyweight GP tournament might draw to an orderly conclusion two months from now.
May 19 is currently being targeted as the day Barnett will meet Daniel Cormier in the tournament final, at a venue in the Golden State to be determined later. You know, probably. Maybe. Barring any further setbacks.
Assuming it happens (fingers crossed), their proposed fight will jerk the curtain on more than a year of false starts, delays, chaotic lineup changes, untimely upsets, injuries and all other manner of misfortune that beset the Strikeforce grand prix and more or less proved the validity of Murphy’s Law.
Even then, we’ll have to use the term “conclusion” fairly loosely, as the terminal stage of this tournament only sort of, kind of resembles how it looked at the start.
But, hey, you know what? If Barnett and Cormier take to the cage as scheduled 73 days from now and engage in a sanctioned MMA fight that results in one man being crowned the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix tournament champion, well, that will have to be considered a success.
Somehow, against all odds, Strikeforce has lucked its way into an extremely interesting and potentially meaningful end to its ill-fated tournament, and that's something almost nobody expected.
After a few years of bouncing between second-tier promotions, fighting B-listers and nobodies, never seeming particularly interested in a future in MMA, Barnett has used this tourney to launch himself back into the thick of the 265-pound elite. Currently ranked No. 5 on ESPN.com’s heavyweight rankings, winning the GP would award Barnett a kind of relevance he hasn’t enjoyed since advancing to the final of Pride’s open weight draw in 2006. It could also set the stage for his return to the UFC for the first time since winning the heavyweight title from Randy Couture and testing positive for steroids in 2002.
At least for Barnett, the stakes in this tournament -- once so arbitrary (not to mention malleable) -- now seem very real. Unlike Cormier, who is probably UFC-bound no matter what, the veteran fighter with the longstanding grudge against Zuffa brass probably needs to win this one to be invited back to the Octagon.
If he pulls it off, it could signal a rebirth. If he loses, he'll just be the uninvited guest at the former Olympic wrestler's coming out party.
All in all, it's a surprisingly intriguing championship fight. Either way it goes, it'll make for a better ending than this flawed tournament rightfully deserves.
Critics unilaterally snorted at the prospect of a heavyweight grand prix featuring three participants as unreliable as Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem and Josh Barnett when the pairings were unveiled in the early part of last year.
An organization as hapless as Strikeforce could never traverse the mine field of working with all three of those guys simultaneously, right? Surely, Emelianenko’s people would decide to renegotiate his contract midstream. Surely, the notoriously flighty Overeem would get a better offer somewhere else. Surely, Barnett’s preexisting problems with various athletic commissions would make his involvement an enormous headache.
As it turned out, the critics weren’t wrong. Not exactly.
Strikeforce’s heavyweight GP did indeed play out as an epic cluster. As part of his historic tumbling act, Emelianenko got bounced in the first round by Antonio Silva. Overeem notched a single, tepid victory over Fabricio Werdum and then either withdrew or was withdrawn due to scheduling conflicts or an injury or a desire to hopscotch his way straight into the UFC, depending on who you ask.
There was a four-month break between the first leg of the opening round and the second and somewhere in the middle of all of it, Strikeforce sold out to the UFC, either dooming or saving the entire bracket, again, depending on who you ask.
Of the original participants, only Barnett successfully navigated through two fights -- wins over strikers Brett Rogers and Sergei Kharitonov -- to get to the final the old fashioned way. Amid all the surrounding chaos, Cormier was plucked from a field of eight reserves (despite the fact Chad Griggs had won two alternate bouts) and then defeated Silva in a makeshift semifinal to set up a May date with “The Warmaster.”
Yes, this tournament went on so long Barnett actually had time to change his nickname in the middle of it. And no, it probably didn’t go exactly how Strikeforce matchmakers drew it up on a chalkboard at the start.
Nonetheless, here we are. We’re two months out from the end and Strikeforce still lives. It’s managed to set up a solid fight, with better fighters, more relevant stakes and more momentum than anyone could’ve expected when it began this impossible mission.
That’s something, at least.
Now all we need to do is wrap it up, put it in the books. That should be academic at this point, though any time you’re dealing with all the things that could go wrong in a heavyweight tournament, 73 days might as well be an eternity.