In February, we witnessed the first half of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.  There, it was Sergei Kharitonov scoring a quick knockout of former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski and Antonio Silva handing the legendary Fedor Emelianenko a quick exit from the tournament.  Now, Kharitonov and Silva will sit and await the revelation of their fellow semi-finalists at the June 18 “Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum” event, which takes place in Dallas, Texas.

Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem will look to avenge a previous loss when he faces Fabricio Werdum and Josh Barnett will lock horns with slugger Brett Rogers.  The two winners will join Kharitonov and Silva in the Grand Prix’s semifinals.

The tournament matchups are but two of five bouts that will air live on Showtime beginning at 10 p.m. ET. Also on the card will be a set of heavyweight bouts, as Daniel Cormier battles Jeff Monson and, in a Grand Prix alternate matchup, Chad Griggs faces Valentijn Overeem.  And rounding out the card will be a lightweight duel between K.J. Noons and Jorge Masvidal.

The MMA Corner’s Round Table panel of Bryan Henderson, Rob Tatum and Richard Wilcoxon break down all the main card fights.  Who do they see advancing in the Grand Prix?  Continue reading to find out.

HW: Valentijn Overeem (29-25) vs. Chad Griggs (10-1)

Tatum: In a Grand Prix alternate bout, the vastly experienced Overeem battles rising slugger Griggs.  Griggs enters the fight riding high after dispatching of Bobby Lashley in August of last year and defeating Gian Villante in February.  Overeem is easily one of the most experienced heavyweights on the planet, with over fifty fights in organizations like Rings and Pride.

On the feet, Griggs has shown a decent chin, and if he can tire out the older Overeem, he may be to finish the fight.  In all likelihood, Overeem will look for an opening to bring the fight to the ground where he can lock in a fight-ending submission.

Wilcoxon: Both Griggs and Overeem won their fight in February to be considered as an alternate in the Strikeforce Grand Prix.  Now they will square to narrow the alternate choice a little more.

Overeem is the older brother of Strikeforce heavyweight champion and main event competitor Alistair.  Like his brother, Overeem has a background in kickboxing, but has found success in grappling.  Griggs has a limited ground game, but he loves to stand toe-to-toe and trade.

Griggs likes to brawl.  He needs to make this fight ugly if he is going to have a chance.  I think Overeem has too much experience to fall into that trap.  I think he will wait for Griggs to get wild and then exploit the opening for a takedown for a submission.

Henderson: There’s really no telling how a fight involving Valentijn Overeem will go.  The brother of the current Strikeforce heavyweight champ doesn’t quite bring the same consistency to combat as his sibling.

Overeem has lost fights to sub-par competition, but has defeated Randy Couture and Renato “Babalu” Sobral.  He has never been able to sustain an extended winning streak throughout his career, and his ability to put in unpredictable performances makes this a difficult fight to predict.

Griggs is a brawler who loves to stand and trade.  He’s been able to put his fists and heart to use in his first two Strikeforce outings, and is becoming a reliable spoiler.  While I would not be surprised at all to see Overeem do exactly what my fellow panelists predict, I’m going to lean in the other direction and say that this is where we see Overeem turn in a performance more on par with his history of inconsistency.  Griggs wins via second-round TKO.

HW: Daniel Cormier (7-0) vs. Jeff Monson (42-11)

Henderson: Cormier has a wrestling background that includes numerous honors and a run as team captain of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team.  He brings a great wrestling game to the cage, and has effectively mixed in ground-and-pound and striking.

He’s facing the toughest test of his career in Monson. “The Snowman” has fought for the UFC heavyweight title, has more than 50 fights under his belt and can still play the spoiler to an up-and-comer like Cormier.

While it might be convenient to think of Monson as an over-the-hill veteran stepping stone for Cormier, Monson has managed to provide recent setbacks for other fighters who have shown potential, such as Maro Perak and Tony Lopez.  Monson also notched wins over top big men Sergei Kharitonov and Roy Nelson in 2009.

Monson’s experience and ability could prove to give Cormier a hard time, but I think the AKA standout is a smart fighter who will be focused coming into this bout.  I look for Cormier to be tentative early in the fight, until he gets comfortable with how he matches up with Monson.  Once he finds his groove, Cormier will take over and earn the decision win.

Wilcoxon: Monson is a tank of a man, standing only 5-foot-9 and weighing in at over 240 pounds of muscle.  He has also been one of the sport’s most active fighters, competing in a whopping 24 fights in the last four years. Monson primarily relies on his submission wrestling, winning 24 fights via submission in his career.  Unfortunately, he is still probably best-known for his part in one of the worst heavyweight title fights in UFC history when he faced Tim Sylvia.  It was so bad, it led from Monson competing for the title to him being cut from the organization after the event was over.

Cormier is a wrestling machine.  He was a three-time Louisiana state high school champion, a National high school All-American, and two-time Junior College National champion, NCAA runner-up, and a two-time Olympian.  He has showcased his ever-improving submission skills in his last few fights, but he probably doesn’t want to play with Monson on the ground.

This is really a match-up of a veteran against a relative newbie to the sport.  This could be a trap fight for Cormier, but I don’t think it will play out that way.  One has to question the wear and tear on the 40-year-old Monson’s body.  You also have to question how Monson will get this fight to the ground.  I am afaid this could be a fight that makes both men look bad on the way to a Cormier decision victory.

Tatum: This fight could be far less exciting than it looks on paper.  Cormier may be the best pure wrestler in MMA and with the help of American Kickboxing Academy, the undefeated heavyweight has quickly risen through the ranks.  Monson, on the other hand, possesses a slick submission game that has ended more than half of his victories.

While the tendency is to think that something has to give in this fight, I don’t think you’ll see Cormier eager to fight Monson on the mat.  I think this fight will largely remain standing, with Cormier landing the better shots against the veteran.  I agree with Bryan and Richard that Cormier wins by decision, but not by the way that most would expect it.

LW: K.J. Noons (10-3) vs. Jorge Masvidal (21-6)

Wilcoxon: This is the fight that was moved up the card when Gina Carano was not medically cleared.  For the casual fan, I am sure this fight doesn’t hold the same value, but for many long-time fans this fight actually is a more exciting battle.

Noons is the former EliteXC lightweight champion.  He is primarily a striker with solid takedown defense.  He has competed in both kickboxing, where he earned several titles, and in professional boxing, where he compiled a 11-2 record with five KO’s.

Masvidal is probably less-known, but equally dangerous.  He is also a striker who has won ten bouts by TKO.  He has also competed as a professional boxer, but only a single time in which he won.

This fight will be a war and is truly a toss-up to me.  Both guys will look to keep the fight standing, they are the same size, possess a similar skill set, and have shown strong chins.  I will take Noons to win based on recent competition, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it went the other way.

Tatum: This lightweight battle is sure to be one of the most exciting fights of the night.  Noons is clearly the better striker in this matchup, as the former boxer is one of the best standup fighters in the sport.  While Masvidal may not have the standup prowess of the Hawaiian, his well-rounded attack is something that will pose a lot of trouble for Noons.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you’ll see either of these fighters attempting submissions, but I could see Masvidal bring this fight to the mat.  His gritty style will make Noons work, as he won’t stand in front of him for three rounds.

This fight will likely go the distance and feature a number of back-and-forth exchanges.  I believe that Noons will land more frequently and cleanly, scoring enough points with the judges to claim the decision win.

Henderson: I cannot argue with Noons’ technically sound striking and his ability to pick an opponent apart on the feet.  I do have my doubts in the former EliteXC champ, based on the identity of his recent opponents.

Noons lost to Nick Diaz, a fighter who prefers to show off a busy boxing game and also has ground skills.  He defeated Jorge Gurgel, a ground specialist who would rather stand and bang even though it usually assures him of defeat.  And finally, there’s Conor Heun, a grappler who pushed Noons to a split decision.

Masvidal can take a lot from Noons’ showings against Diaz and Heun.  Noons could definitely outstrike Gurgel, but he had difficulties with fighters who don’t just go out there to please fans by keeping the fight standing.

Josh Barnett (Credit: Mike Acevedo/Strikeforce)

“Gamebred” might not show the same technical prowess as Noons, but he’ll push Noons.  I also eye this as an exciting fight that could go either way, but I’ll say that Masvidal is able to learn from what Heun and Diaz did against Noons.  Masvidal will be outpointed, but it won’t matter because he’ll end this via a late TKO.

HW GP: Josh Barnett (29-5) vs. Brett Rogers (11-2)

Tatum: Barnett may be a name that MMA fans hate to hear after his positive steroids tests in the past have stripped him of a UFC belt and forced the cancellation of a bout against Fedor Emelianenko in Affliction.  That aside, it is impossible to discount his skills as

a fighter.  The veteran heavyweight has defeated an array of big names including Randy Couture, Jeff Monson and Dan Severn.  And of his five defeats, three came against Mirko Cro Cop in Pride.  His experience and strong catch-wrestling base are trouble for any opponent.

Rogers enters this contest looking to get back the hype that once surrounded him.  The Minnesota brawler dropped two straight bouts to Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem and quickly fell out of contention in Strikeforce.  The Grand Prix is the perfect opportunity for Rogers to move back up the ranks.

Unfortunately for Rogers, his first-round draw in the tournament is Barnett.  Rogers’ only path to victory is a puncher’s chance, much like his path to victory against Andrei Arlovski.  Barnett, on the other hand, will look to bring the fight to ground and lock in a submission.  I believe this happens easily and early, as Barnett moves into the second round of the tournament.

Henderson: Barnett is a tough fighter who has had more difficulties with drug tests than the opponents he’s faced in the cage/ring.

I think that trend continues here, with “The Babyfaced Assassin” assuming control early in this bout and never allowing a shift in momentum.  As Rob said, Rogers has a puncher’s chance and not much else.

Brett Rogers (Credit: Tracy Lee/Combat Lifestyle)

This is a case where Barnett might need to weather an early storm, but he should be able to take Rogers down as the big man comes forward while throwing haymakers.  Once Barnett gets Rogers to the mat, I envision something similar to Barnett’s showing against Gilbert Yvel – he either forces Rogers to submit via punches or locks him up in something more technical.  Either way, Rogers is tapping.

Wilcoxon: This is the first fight on this card that is part of the Strikeforce Grand Prix.  The questions leading up to this fight all centered around if Barnett would get licensed. Now that we are past all that, it is time to fight.

This is a pretty simple match-up of a grappler facing a striker.  Rogers is a big heavyweight with big power.  Nine of his wins have come in the form of TKO with eight of those happening in the first round.

Barnett, on the other hand, is primarily a submission wrestler.  The former UFC heavyweight champion has won 17 of his fights by submission.

Rogers was a big prospect a few years ago, but at this point he looks to be somewhat limited.  He has the power to stop anyone, but his technique leaves openings that have been exploited.  This fight will be the first one where his ground game is tested.  Barnett is a long-time veteran of the sport.  He only loses to elite level opponents.  I don’t think Rogers is at that level.  Barnett wins this by submission.

HW GP: Alistair Overeem (34-11) vs. Fabricio Werdum (14-4-1)

Wilcoxon: When Strikeforce created its Grand Prix brackets, they stacked one side with all four of the fighters ranked in the top ten.  The first of those fights saw Fedor Emelianenko upset by Antonio Silva.  This fight matches the Strikeforce heavyweight champion against the first man to beat Fedor in a decade.

Overeem has gone from promising light heavyweight prospect to a giant of a heavyweight.  The Dutch kickboxer hasn’t lost since 2007 and has captured both the Strikeforce and the Dream heavyweight titles, as well as winning the 2010 K-1 Grand Prix in that span.  Overeem is primarily a striker with good takedown defense, but he has actually won most of his MMA bouts via submission.

Werdum, on the other hand, is a grappler.  He is a BJJ black belt who shocked the world when he submitted Fedor in the first round of their bout.  In addition to his grappling, he spent years working with Mirko Cro Cop to hone his striking ability.  He had a short run in the UFC, where he went just 2-2.  Werdum may have a psychological edge since he defeated Overeem back in 2006.

Werdum has shocked me at times and utterly underwhelmed me at others.  His victory over Overeem was a long time ago and against a much smaller fighter.  I think this time is another story.  I see Werdum having trouble getting Overeem to the ground and eating strikes until late in the fight.  Overeem wins this either by a late TKO or one-sided decision.

Henderson: I cannot really argue with Richard’s breakdown of this fight.

Fabricio Werdum (Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Werdum shocked the world with his submission of Fedor Emelianenko and holds a win over Alistair, but Overeem’s recent dominance makes it hard to envision Werdum being able to get this fight to the ground where he can wrap up the Golden Glory product in a submission.

Overeem should be able to keep Werdum at arm’s length and utilize his elite K-1 striking abilities to convincingly finish Werdum.

I’ll say this one doesn’t make it out of the first round, with Alistair scoring a big knockout for the win.

Tatum: Werdum may be the most talented heavyweight grappler in MMA, with a slew of Abu Dhabi wins and one of the most dangerous guards in the sport.

Overeem is, without a doubt, the most dominant striker in the division.  He is one of the only MMA fighters to ever to claim a K-1 crown (Mark Hunt being the other) and has completely re-invented himself since a loss to Werdum over five years ago.  His last nine bouts haven’t even made it out of the first round.

Certainly Werdum has a chance if he can bait Overeem onto the mat, but I believe the Dutch wrecking machine known affectionately as “The Demolition Man” won’t make the same mistake as Emelianenko and will end Werdum’s tournament quickly and violently.

Top Photo: Alistair Overeem (Credit: Strikeforce)