Fedor has been eliminated from the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. Alistair Overeem has been pulled from the bracket. Now, there are only four men left: An established star mired in the controversy of past steroids suspensions, two top fighters who have the chance to put their names among the division’s elite and an alternate, stepping in for Overeem, who seeks to play the spoiler.

UFC and Pride veteran Josh Barnett would likely be considered the favorite in the grand prix, if not for a past that has seen him test positive for performance-enhancing drugs on more than one occasion. He headlines Strikeforce’s semi-final round of the tournament against Sergei Kharitonov, a striker who has long stood on the outer edges of the division’s top tier.

Opposite Barnett and Kharitonov in the bracket, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva looks to continue to build upon an impressive upset victory over Fedor Emelianenko. The win made Silva an instant favorite to claim the tourney championship, but he’ll first have to contend with Daniel Cormier. Cormier is the true underdog of the tournament, entering as an alternate for Alistair Overeem and sporting the least accomplished record of the four men. He’s already shown signs of becoming the future of the division, but now he has a grand opportunity to rocket to the top via the grand prix.

Those two semi-final tournament bouts headline Strikeforce’s trip on Saturday to the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati. The fun doesn’t end there, as Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza will risk his middleweight crown against up-and-coming challenger Luke Rockhold, light heavyweights Muhammed Lawal and Roger Gracie will lock horns and lightweight Pat Healy will welcome Maximo Blanco to Strikeforce. It’s all part of the main card of Strikeforce’s latest effort, which airs live on Showtime with a start time of 10:30 p.m. ET.

The MMA Corner panel of Bryan Henderson, Brian McKenna and Rob Tatum share their opinions on how all five main card contests will go down in this edition of The Round Table.

LW: Maximo Blanco (8-2-1) vs. Pat Healy (25-16)

McKenna: Making his Strikeforce debut, Maximo Blanco enters as a feared striker having knocked out his opponent in seven of his eight victories. Ever since he defeated Katsuya Inoue to become the lightweight King of Pancrase, he has ripped off five victories while fighting in Sengoku Raiden Championship.

Blanco’s opponent, Pat Healy, has had an up-and-down MMA career. He held a record of 18-14 after a loss to Jake Ellenburger in February of 2008, and has gone 7-2 since. “Bam Bam” trains out of Team Quest in Oregon, which is why he is an all-around good fighter, holding 13 submissions and six knockouts.

This fight kicks off the main card of Saturday’s Strikeforce card, and it looks to be explosive. Both of these fighters frequently win fights by stoppages, and hopefully we can get a great stoppage in this one. The nod on this one goes to Healy by submission, as he is more comfortable fighting under the Strikeforce banner.

Henderson: I’m always apprehensive about a star of the Japanese circuit finding success stateside. So many fighters meet up with defeat when they transition across the Pacific. Blanco looks to be another such case.

As Brian pointed out, Healy is already comfortable fighting under the Strikeforce banner. In addition, he has faced off with a number of tough opponents in his 41-fight career and has often come out on top. His victims include former WEC champion Carlos Condit, former UFC and Strikeforce welterweight contender Paul Daley, rising prospects Ryan Ford and Lyle Beerbohm, and the list goes on.

Healy is going to provide Blanco with a rude welcome to Strikeforce. “Bam Bam” will withstand Blanco’s early striking attack and battle back to earn the decision win.

Tatum: After following Blanco’s career in Japan, his striking certainly cannot be taken for granted. However, his level of competition is nowhere near the level of his opponent Healy, as both of my fellow panelists have pointed out.

Blanco will have to hope that Healy is willing to stand and trade, something that doesn’t seem likely. The experienced Team Quest product has beaten a who’s who of fighters in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions and even though he is taking the fight on short notice, Healy has to be the favorite.

I’ll echo Bryan’s prediction and take Healy by decision.

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

Tatum: Former Strikeforce light heavyweight title holder Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal returns to action after a year away from the cage to take on one of the world’s most decorated grapplers in Roger Gracie.

Muhammed Lawal (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

Lawal suffered a knee injury prior to his last bout against Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante, but fought anyway. Feijao defeated Lawal by third-round TKO, taking his belt and handing the former Oklahoma State wrestler his first defeat in the process. During his recovery, Lawal has worked diligently to evolve as a fighter, spending time training with the likes of K-1 striker Tyrone Spong and the team at American Kickboxing Academy.

For the UK-based Gracie, his grappling and submission skills are a thing of legend. His 65-7 record in major competition is largely unparalleled. The multi-time ADCC champion has recently reiterated that his focus will be MMA. When the fight hits the mat, Gracie has an edge against anyone, including a veteran wrestler like Lawal.

While Lawal has stated that he’s not afraid to go to the ground with Gracie, his path to victory is on the feet. Gracie’s boxing has shown improvement with each fight, but Lawal has faced much better strikers in his career. With the additional training at AKA and with Spong, Lawal will have the edge on the feet.

Look for King Mo to have a triumphant return, handing Gracie the first loss of his career by TKO in the second round.

Henderson: This is an interesting match-up. Gracie is the taller fighter and should enjoy a reach advantage, but Lawal’s striking skills are superior. Lawal is an elite wrestler, but putting the fight on the mat means dealing with Gracie’s submission skills. Does Gracie’s reach and improving boxing trump Lawal on the feet? Is Lawal really fine with taking Gracie down?

Roger Gracie (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

This fight is all about location. Unless Gracie clinches and pulls guard, Lawal should be able to dictate whether or not this fight hits the canvas. Lawal might talk big about not being scared to fight Gracie on the ground, but he’s not stupid either. “King Mo” knows he has to keep this one on the feet.

I think he’ll do exactly that. Lawal will struggle with Gracie’s taller frame at first, but he’ll eventually settle in and score a second- or third-round knockout.

McKenna: To echo what Rob said, Muhammed Lawal said that he is not afraid to go to the ground with Gracie. But just because you say something, doesn’t mean its true. Let’s be serious and call a spade a spade. Yes, “King Mo” has a decorated wrestling career, but there is absolutely no chance that he would like to be on the ground against Roger Gracie. Gracie has proved that he is capable of grappling without the gi, as all four of his victories have come with his opponent tapping out.

With that being said, the biggest focus of Lawal’s camp has to be defending the takedown and keeping the fight standing. While Grace is a tall guy, Lawal will have the weight advantage as half of his professional fights took place at heavyweight. The key to victory here will be when the American uses a mixture of Greco-Roman and dirty boxing clinch while holding the Brazillian against the cage as he will be too powerful and will score a late first-round knockout.

MW Championship: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (14-2) vs. Luke Rockhold (7-1)

Henderson: It’s about time. While Rockhold only has eight fights under his belt, the middleweight prospect has seemingly been on the verge of contender status in Strikeforce for eternity. Now, he gets his shot against the champ, “Jacare.”

Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

There’s just one problem with the equation. Rockhold is a submission specialist taking on another high-level grappler. In fact, Rockhold’s brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu makes him into a relative novice compared to Souza’s trophy case of five jiu-jitsu world championships and blacks belts in both BJJ and judo.

Rockhold will find himself in a similar situation to that of Tim Kennedy, only with less firepower. The American Kickboxing Academy product will have to attempt to score a knockout or look to out-point Souza for the decision. It is a possibility, but Souza trains with the Black House camp and proved against Kennedy that he can handle himself well in the standup game.

Rockhold is a great up-and-coming middleweight, but he just doesn’t excel in any one area that can help him against Souza. If he plays to his usual strengths, he’ll find himself on the wrong end of a grappling contest with a legendary BJJ practitioner. If he opts to trade with “Jacare” on the feet, he might just find himself in the same futile situation as Kennedy. Either way, Rockhold comes out on the losing end of this one.

McKenna: It is true that the current middleweight champion is ahead of his contender on paper in pretty much every category, such as jiu-jitsu and judo, but again, this is fight, not a grappling match. Not every top collegiate wrestler goes on to have a storied MMA career because the wrestling used on the mats is significantly different than the wrestling used in the ring or cage. It is a lot easier to latch onto a submission when you know that you don’t have to worry about protecting your face from a punch.

Luke Rockhold (Tracy Lee/Combat Lifestyle)

With that being said, Souza is as dynamic as they come and has had a stranglehold on the Strikeforce middleweight division ever since Jake Shields parted ways with the promotion. However, while all of this dominance at the top had been going on, Rockhold was quietly working his way up the ranks like you’re supposed to. Maybe Rockhold isn’t the best guy to put up against “Jacare” and maybe he isn’t title-worthy, but that is what was said about Buster Douglas when he squared off against Mike Tyson, and we all know what happened there.

No, I do not think that we will get a reincarnation of Douglas vs. Tyson, but I think that this fight will be a lot closer than anyone would like to admit. “Jacare” will retain the belt by a unanimous decision. A decision victory that will likely appear as a 50-45, but that we will all know is definitely closer than that due to the 10-point must scoring system.

Tatum: This is not what I consider much of a title match-up. Perhaps that’s why it isn’t headlining the event, as most title fights would. It’s not so much a knock on Luke Rockhold as it is praise of “Jacare.” As Bryan pointed out, Rockhold has earned his way to a title shot, but he couldn’t have asked for a worse opponent.

There may not be a more accomplished grappler in the sport than the dangerous Brazilian. There’s black belts and then there’s “Jacare.” What makes the Blackhouse-trained fighter all the more dangerous is how he has developed a striking arsenal to compliment his ground game.

Rockhold will keep this fight competitive for a round or two, but eventually he will succumb to Souza’s lethal attack. A third-round rear-naked choke finish is in order, as “Jacare” retains his belt and makes his case as the next Strikeforce champ to make the jump to the UFC.

HW GP Semifinal: Daniel Cormier (8-0) vs. Antonio Silva (16-2)

McKenna: Personally, I am a little annoyed about the way that this Heavyweight Grand Prix has gone down. How long it took to get to the final four, the way the brackets were originally set and the order the fights occurred, but with this fight specifically, why Daniel Cormier is even in the position that he is in. On February 12, Strikeforce held not only the first two fights of the tournament, but three reserve fights to determine alternates, should a fighter not be able to continue. Shane Del Rosario, Chad Griggs and Valentijn

Overeem won their alternate bouts. Fast-forward to June, and we have the second half of the first round of the Grand Prix, and another bout between alternates Chad Griggs and Valentijn Overeem. Griggs took down Overeem, and appeared to take over the top spot as far as reserve fighters are concerned. This is my source of confusion as to why Cormier is taking over Alistair Overeem’s spot, rather than “The Grave Digger.”

Be that as it may, the undefeated Cormier has been inserted into the tournament. The Louisiana native has had a storied wrestling career, from being a state champion, to being an NCAA All-American while at Oklahoma State, to being the captain of the USA Olympic Freestyle team. Cormier trains at the wrestling-friendly American Kickboxing Academy, where you know that he is working on his striking, which is the biggest question mark on his game. Wrestling can only get you so far in this sport, but if you lack striking then you won’t last long.

In the first round of the Grand Prix, Antonio Silva dominated Fedor Emelianenko and busted up his eye so badly that the doctor was forced to stop the fight. Casual MMA fans thought that Fedor would roll over the Brazilian, and as it turned out it was almost the exact opposite. “Bigfoot” showed great poise as he picked apart “The Last Emperor” and ground-and-pounded him for most of the second round. What is yet to be seen is if he can out-wrestle a fighter with the wrestling caliber of his opponent.

It is hard to pick against “Bigfoot” based purely on how great he looked in his last fight, which is why I am going to go with him. He has more experience, he is bigger, and his striking is superior. This fight goes the distance and ends with the Brazilian’s hand held in the air.

Tatum: This heavyweight fight is a great contrast to fights that are witnessed in other divisions. The Brazilian Silva will hold a significant size advantage, while Cormier will have a clear speed advantage. Additionally, Cormier stands only 5-foot-10, while Silva is 6-foot-4 and is about 25 pounds heavier than the American.

Another factor that cannot be ignored in this fight is the level of competition. While Cormier is undefeated at 8-0, his toughest test to date was against 40-year-old Jeff Monson in June. Cormier dominated that fight with his striking, evidence that his time at American Kickboxing Academy has helped him evolve beyond being just a wrestler.

Antonio Silva (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

Silva, on the other hand, has tangled with the likes of Fedor Emelianenko, as well as UFC veterans Ricco Rodriguez and Andrei Arlovski, defeating all of them. In addition to his black belt in Karate, Silva also holds black belts in both judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which should allow him to remain competitive if Cormier does take the fight to the ground.

With all of the shuffling of the field in this tournament, “Bigfoot” has become one of the favorites. His size and experience edge is simply going to overwhelm Cormier over the course of the fight. Expect Cormier to land some big shots, but it won’t be enough to finish the Brazilian. Silva takes a decision win en route to the tournament final.

Henderson: Cormier’s elite wrestling skills, and hype, have brought him this far. There is definitely a strong argument to be made for Griggs stepping into the tournament, as Brian suggested, but Griggs has been an underdog toughing out wins against overrated competition, while Cormier has been groomed as a future star of the sport. It makes sense to insert Cormier in place of Alistair Overeem, giving the top prospect a test against on of the best in the promotion.

The funny thing is, I would have loved to see Griggs in this fight. Something tells me that fight would have been a war. Meanwhile, the actual match-up just doesn’t strike me as competitive. Maybe in a few years, after Cormier gains more experience against tougher competition, it would be, but right now I just cannot see the American Kickboxing Academy product emerging victorious. Silva has the size advantage, experience edge, plus the striking and submission skills to make it a tough night for Cormier.

Cormier’s route to success lies in putting Silva on his back and pounding on him for a full three rounds. While I do not doubt that Cormier will be successful on some of his takedown attempts, Silva will keep the talented wrestler busy defending against submission attempts and use his size to wear down Cormier. On the feet, we’ll see both men land some big shots, but Silva’s sounder technique will allow him to out-point Cormier. In the end, we’ll see a hard-fought decision going in Silva’s favor.

HW GP Semifinal: Josh Barnett (30-5) vs. Sergei Kharitonov (18-4)

Henderson: Is it just me, or is Barnett not getting the respect he deserves? This tournament has been about Fedor Emelianenko’s final fall from invincibility, Alistair Overeem’s sudden forced departure from the promotion and Antonio Silva’s rise at Fedor’s expense. But what about Barnett?

The catch wrestler long stood right behind Emelianenko as one of the top-ranked heavyweights in the world. But now he’s not even the top-ranked heavyweight in Strikeforce’s grand prix. What gives?

Barnett’s only losses have come against fighters at the top of their games. Now, he faces Golden Glory’s Kharitonov, a striker who holds a victory over Alistair Overeem. Kharitonov has also managed to lose only against top competition, making him an intriguing foe for Barnett.

What stands out with Kharitonov is his 2009 loss to Jeff Monson. Monson took the win in the midst of a seven-fight winning streak that also included a victory over Roy Nelson. However, Monson is a short and small heavyweight who prefers to grapple. Kharitonov would seem to hold the advantage with his striking, but instead found himself the victim of an early submission. Barnett is also a grappler, one who is far more dominant than Monson and closer in size to Kharitonov. If Monson made it look easy, Barnett should make it look like child’s play.

Barnett’s catch wrestling and submission savvy will be too much for Kharitonov, who finds himself tapping to a Barnett submission hold by the second stanza, if not earlier.

Tatum: My thoughts on this fight are nearly identical to Bryan’s. I definitely feel that people are ignoring Barnett’s course of work. In his 35 professional fights, his only losses have come to former UFC champion Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, former UFC title challenger Pedro Rizzo and Pride superstar Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović (three times). His victories have come against some of the biggest names in the sport, including Randy Couture and Dan Severn. Due to his repeated steroid test failures, many have cast him off, ignoring his fighting credentials.

Sergei Kharitonov (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Kharitonov certainly has a puncher’s chance in this fight, as the K-1 veteran possesses true knockout power in his hands. While his resume does include a number of submission wins, he isn’t at the same level as the catch wrestler Barnett.

I’m not sure this fight makes it to the second round. Barnett will look to get this fight to the ground immediately, where he will eventually take the Russian’s back and finish the fight via rear-naked choke and book his place in the Grand Prix final.

McKenna: So Bryan is asking about why Josh Barnett is not getting the respect that he deserves? Well, Rob touched upon it, but I need to bring the big picture as to why he doesn’t get the respect that his fellow semi-finalists are getting: Steroids! The general public likes to find a villain wherever they can, and as far as this tournament is concerned, Barnett is the villain.
Yes, Barnett has elite grappling abilities, but because of the fact that he has used performance-enhancing drugs, it is hard to like the guy. Also, the fact that he drew Brett Rogers for his first-round fight aggravated people a little bit too. It was probably all random, but that fight was almost as if Barnett had a first-round bye, yet another reason to root against the guy.

Despite all of that, this really does have the dynamics of being a great fight. Both fighters are known for finishing their fights, and both are capable of winning via the knockout or submission. The grappling edge goes to Barnett, the striking edge going to Kharitonov.

Ultimately, what I am scared of here is both of these veterans being overly cautious, knowing that a birth in the finals is at stake. I cringe at the thought that this fight could be similar to the quarterfinal fight between Overeem and Werdum, but I really do think the overlying factor here is the aforementioned reinvention process for Barnett. Because of this, he will find a way to get the fight to the ground and make the Russian tap.

Photo: Josh Barnett (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)