The staff weighs in on Strikeforce Dallas
Here are our picks for Strikeforce Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament:
Jorge Masvidal versus K.J. Noons
Chad Dundas: Noons by decision. So, two guys with very little pull on mainstream fans fighting over a future shot at a Strikeforce lightweight title that Gilbert Melendez absolutely cannot wait to vacate, huh? Well, be still my beating heart. Copious bungalows will no doubt be thrown from both sides, but in the end I think Noons will get the nod.Josh Gross: Noons by decision. A stylistically pleasing matchup between lightweights that like a scrap, with the winner in line to earn a title shot against Gilbert Melendez, this is my pre-event candidate for fight of the night. I'm taking Noons in his first fight since going five rounds against Nick Diaz at 170 pounds, but Masvidal is well within the margin of error. If Masvidal surprises with his wrestling, he can also make it look relatively easy on Saturday.
Franklin McNeil: Noons by TKO. There is no need to guess what game plan each fighter intends to utilize Saturday night. Noons and Masvidal know only one way to fight: throw lots of hard punches. This will be a stand-up battle, with the more powerful striker still on his feet when it's over. That guy is Noons. And while Noons and Masvidal take a good punch, their aggressiveness will leave each of them vulnerable to big shots. Both have good boxing skills, but Noons' brawling approach will prove advantageous in this MMA encounter.
Chuck Mindenhall: Masvidal by KO. Odds are this thing hits the floor only if there's a banana peel lying around the cage. It's boxer versus boxer, and something tells me the undervalued Masvidal proves he has a lot more than street cred.
Brett Okamoto: Noons by decision. A fight that's been a long time coming, with both guys eyeing a future shot at Gilbert Melendez. I think Noons finds a way to work inside and land the more significant punches. Masvidal can be extremely tough to hit, but unfortunately defense doesn't win fights and his weapons don't match those of his opponent in this fight.
Darius Ortiz: Noons by decision. My favorite bouts are the ones that could take place in a boxing ring or outside a Manhattan nightclub. Noons' boxing background should help him find and exploit openings en route to a unanimous decision in a back-and-forth brawl.
Brett Rogers versus Josh Barnett
Dundas: Barnett by submission. It has been a long, long time since Barnett defeated anyone of any substance in the heavyweight division, and for that reason I feel that he might struggle more than anticipated against Rogers. I wouldn't be surprised if there are some close calls for "The Babyfaced Assassin" during a surprisingly competitive first five minutes. Eventually though, Barnett will get this fight on the floor and pull off one of those catch wrestling concession holds he's famous for. Perhaps a strangle-bar, hammerlock or a step-over toehold.
Gross: Barnett by submission. A terrific opening matchup for Barnett in the Strikeforce Grand Prix gives him the chance to move through with ease. Barnett has to be leery of Rogers' power, but not much else. The former UFC champion says he'll win by some sort of armlock, and that sounds right to me. If not, a ground-and-pound finish is plausible.
McNeil: Barnett by submission. Rogers is a threat every time he steps in the cage, but his weaknesses are exposed by veteran fighters. He is a one-trick pony who is still in the learning stages of his career. Barnett has too many ways to frustrate Rogers, and Barnett's weapon of choice in this contest will be the ground game. Expect him to test Rogers' standing skills for a brief period and then remove him from his comfort zone by getting this fight on the ground, where Barnett will finish it.
Mindenhall: Barnett by KO. You read the words "dark horse" enough that you half-expect Barnett to show up as a Frank Frazetta drawing. Instead, he'll simply show up as he left off -- strong, imposing, victorious.
Okamoto: Barnett by submission. I'm not crazy about the fact that nearly a year has passed since Barnett's last fight. But ring rust or not, he's got the edge on Rogers. You can't argue Rogers' power, and if Barnett is looking past this fight, it's a mistake. Still, he's clearly the more well-rounded fighter and should be able to dictate where this one goes. I don't see it ending early, but I do see a frustrated, tired Rogers tapping before the final bell.
Ortiz: Barnett by decision. It might take a few nail-biting minutes for Barnett to shake off the rust, but when he does, he should have no problems taking Rogers to the mat and grinding him down for three rounds. Nothing fancy, just another safety-first win for Barnett.
Fabricio Werdum versus Alistair Overeem
Dundas: Overeem by KO. Any way you slice it, this bout will no doubt be viewed as a referendum on either Alistair Overeem's inflated muscle mass, his inflated MMA record after fighting mostly cans during the last four years, or our inflated view of Fabricio Werdum after his victory over Fedor Emelianenko last year. I'm saying probably the latter. That win over "The Last Emperor" appears less and less impressive with each passing day, and it'll look even less so after Overeem puts his big, green Incredible Hulk fists on Werdum. The Legend of Vai Cavalo = deflated.
Gross: Overeem by decision. People are talking about this one like it's a foregone conclusion for the Dutchman. Not so fast. Werdum is unquestionably the best heavyweight Overeem has faced since the Strikeforce champion debuted in the division against Sergei Kharitonov in 2006. I expect a competitive fight, and can envision Werdum winning. But I'll take Overeem because he's incredibly dangerous. Werdum can't make a mistake.
McNeil: Overeem by decision. There are a couple of motivating factors the Strikeforce heavyweight champion will take into this bout that should prove beneficial. He is highly determined to exact revenge on Werdum, who submitted him in May 2006. Secondly, Overeem has quietly begun campaigning for a shot at the UFC titleholder in the not-too-distant future. Overeem is bigger, stronger and more technically sound than when he first faced Werdum. The champ's size, quickness and improved ground defense will be too much for Werdum to overcome.
Mindenhall: Overeem by KO. They were different fighters in 2006, when Werdum defeated Overeem by submission, than they are in 2011 -- and Overeem has been sleeping with Werdum under his pillow and dreaming of a rematch ever since. Werdum will get things to the floor, all right, only this time he goes there alone (and unconscious).
Okamoto: Overeem by TKO. Many think the winner of the Grand Prix will be one of these two fine heavyweights, and it's hard to disagree. Although Overeem hasn't faced some of the big names his peers have, I'm still sold on the guy. I think he comes out with an aggressive game plan, blanketing Werdum with pressure early. Werdum will capitalize if mistakes are made, but at some point I think he buckles to Overeem's offense.
Ortiz: Werdum by submission. Over-aggression never seems to end well against Werdum. Unless Overeem can end matters with a clean kick or punch, he'll end up getting himself into trouble on the ground.
You've read what we have to say. Now, it's your turn. Vote for the last men standing at Strikeforce: Dallas here.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
Franklin McNeil covers MMA and boxing for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at Franklin_McNeil.
Chuck Mindenhall covers MMA for ESPN.com and is a features writer at FIGHT! magazine. He can be followed on Twitter at @ChuckMindenhall.
Brett Okamoto covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at bokamotoESPN.
Darius Ortiz is the MMA editor for ESPN.com.
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