It was treated as a big upset but shouldn't have been. Daniel Cormier, subbing for the "injured" Alestair Overeem, knocked out Antonio Silva in the first round in the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament semifinals. As expected, Josh Barnett advanced after smothering Sergei Kharitonov in the other semi-final.
Cormier was only 8-0 but in all likelihood was the 2nd best heavyweight in the world coming into the bout. He trains with the probable #1, UFC champion Cain Velasquez. And just as Velasquez beat Brock Lesnar the way a prime Fedor Emelianenko would have, so did Cormier handle Silva. Of course, Fedor lost to Silva by fighting stupid—ignoring the man's fists and size.
Cormier, however, had respect for Silva's punching power and, when the fight went to the ground, he didn't try a lot from inside Silva's guard, instead deciding to let Silva up for more standup fighting. Cormier avoided Silva's rushes and punches early, unlike Fedor who basically tried to ignore them.
Now Cormier, an olympic caliber wrestler, is nearly as good at standup fighting. In other words he's a lot like Velasquez, another superb wrestler who has great standup skills. Both men have incredible speed, and that speed was the difference against Silva. Silva's punches are big but slow and telegraphed, while Cormier has the speed of the old Fedor. He's also built a lot like Fedor, with a big of extra padding around the waist, but that doesn't mean he's not explosive.
Barnett, after several positive steroid tests over his career, looks like he's finally kicked the habit judging by his new, less bulky physique. Either that or he's cycling down a lot sooner before the tests as he fights in America rather than Japan where they like their fighters juiced up. But he looks so much smaller I'd wager he's off the stuff for good.
He still has his skill, and he's one of the last true ground-and-pounders. This is mainly because of his skill at takedowns. As takedown defense becomes better and better, many of the ground-and-pounders fell to the wayside. But Barnett doesn't give up upon first resistance, as he showed with Kharitonov. After taking a few too many punches for comfort, he latched on to Kharitonov and held him there until he could execute a fantastic takedown directly into mount. It wasn't pretty, but it was very effective as he used his bodyweight alone to do the work.
Once in mount, Barnett also displayed on old-school ability to stay in mount and not let the opponent escape. Instead of unleashing punches, he takes only those that he can get without jeopardizing his stability, switching between a smothering stance and a post-up-for-punches stance. He only abandoned the mount at the end as he applied an arm-triangle choke and moved his body to the side for added torque.
It sets up a very interesting final. Barnett will have his hands full on the ground with Cormier, and Cormier is certainly the better standup fighter. Is Barnett going to be able to execute a takedown against a world class wrestler like Cormier? Beating Bret Rogers and Kharitonov is one thing, but Cormier will present a unique challenge. Barnett's main advantage will be experience, as Cormier still has fewer than 10 fights under his belt.