The semifinals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix took place from the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati.  The event featured Josh Barnett battling Sergei Kharitonov in the main event, Daniel Cormier vs. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in the other tournament bout, and a middleweight title fight between champ Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and challenger Luke Rockhold.

Barnett Destroys Kharitonov, Finishes with a Choke

MMA veteran Josh Barnett showed why he has been near the top of the heavyweight rankings at many times in his career by dispatching of Russian Sergei Kharitonov and moving on to the final of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.

Kharitonov opened the fight aggressively, forcing Barnett to back up against the cage.  After a number of big shots landed, Barnett used a counter punch to close the distance and bring the fight to the ground.  Once there, Barnett seamlessly moved to the mount.  He pounded away at the former kickboxer until Kharitonov gave up his back.  Barnett continued to deliver punches and looked for a rear-naked choke.  Kharitonov rolled to his back, but Barnett anticipated it and slapped on a fight-ending arm-triangle choke.

Barnett will now face Cormier in the tournament final.

Cormier Remains Undefeated, KO’s “Bigfoot”

Former Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier used his quickness and improved striking to overwhelm Brazilian Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and advance to the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix final.

Cormier defended an early barrage from Silva and then began to attack.  A right hand from Cormier dropped Silva to the mat and Cormier followed him to the ground briefly.  Realizing his advantage, Cormier stood and repeatedly connected on his larger, slower opponent.  An uppercut-hook combination sent the Brazilian crashing to the canvas.  Cormier followed up with hammerfists, finishing off Silva with a minute left in the opening frame.

Rockhold Shocks “Jacare”, Claims Middleweight Championship

American Kickboxing Academy product Luke Rockhold returned from an eighteen-month layoff to stun champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and take home the Strikeforce middleweight belt.

Throughout the course of the five-round fight, both fighters showed heart and the strength of their chins as the two grappling specialists engaged in a stand-up battle.

The opening rounds saw the Brazilian, Souza, land big right hands against the southpaw Rockhold.  Despite getting rocked more than once, Rockhold bounced back with a variety of kicks that kept the champion off balance.

As the fight progressed, the pace slowed slightly.  Rockhold looked for combinations while “Jacare” looked to counter strike.  “Jacare” scored with takedowns, but he failed to keep Rockhold on the ground.

The closely contested fight made it to the scorecards, with the judges rewarding Rockhold for his performance.  The new Strikeforce champ was given three of five rounds on two of the scorecards, and one judge shockingly awarded him all five rounds.

“King Mo” Returns with a Vengeance, Knocks out Roger Gracie

Former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal returned from over a year away from the cage due to injury to put the first blemish on the record of grappling ace Roger Gracie.

The pair started slowly, looking to feel each other out.  Gracie scored with a flying knee, but Lawal was unfazed.  Gracie began to establish his jab as the round pressed on, but Lawal looked for his right hand.  As the round neared its end, Lawal connected behind the ear of Gracie, sending the grappling legend crashing to the mat.  Lawal pounced, landing one blow before the referee stopped the assault.

Lawal credited his performance to his new camp at American Kickboxing Academy.  He requested a rematch with Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante, the man who handed Lawal his only defeat.

Healy Survives Illegal Blow, Chokes out Blanco

Lightweight veteran Pat “Bam Bam” Healy welcomed former Sengoku fighter Maximo Blanco to the Strikeforce cage in the opening bout of the Showtime main card.

In the opening round, Blanco used his wild and reckless assault to batter Healy.  A big kick dropped Healy, who instinctively looked for a takedown.  The Venezuelan Blanco used his own wrestling to end up in top position.  Healy transitioned for a leg lock, but Blanco repeatedly kicked him in the face on the mat.  The referee intervened, taking a point from Blanco while the doctors checked Healy.  Healy resumed and finished the round strong, securing his first takedown of the fight.

The second round saw Healy pour it on.  He scored with repeated takedowns from the body lock, forcing Blanco to work from the bottom.  Healy moved to Blanco’s back, locking in a rear-naked choke near the cage.  Despite not having his hooks secured, Healy forced a tap from Blanco.

HDNet Undercard

The night’s undercard aired live on HDNet.  It was highlighted by a number of top prospects making their Strikeforce debuts.

In the final undercard bout, light heavyweight and battled-tested veteran Mike Kyle used an effective jab and mixed in occasional takedowns to ruin the debut of Marcos Rogerio de Lima.  De Lima had entered the contest undefeated, and despite his arsenal of kicks, he could not solve the boxing of Kyle.  Kyle took home a unanimous decision.

Former light heavyweight champion Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante ruined another debut, as he brutally knocked out former Olympic freestyle wrestling silver medalist Yoel Romero.  The first round saw little action and was heavily booed by the Cincinnati crowd.  In the second, both fighters came alive.  Romero was aggressive with his strikes, but it was Feijao that landed the most significant blows.  A spinning back fist from the Brazilian started a sequence that included a knee and a number of big strikes that finished off the Cuban for good.

Welterweight Canadian prospect Jordan Mein showed resiliency and solid boxing by surviving the leg kick onslaught of Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos.  Santos punished the legs of the Canadian in the opening round, but Mein’s adjustment to southpaw seemed to throw off the Brazilian’s timing.  Mein used a barrage of punches and elbows to finish off Santos late in the final round.

In what was supposed to be a showcase for explosive Amanda Nunes, Alexis Davis had other ideas.  Using the clinch to neutralize the power punches of Nunes, Davis delivered a number of knees that slowed down the dangerous striker.  In the second round, Davis gained the top position and made sure the fight would not return to the feet.  She took Nunes’ back, flattened her out, and pounded away until the referee intervened.

The night’s first fight featured a collision of Ohio-based middleweights.  Dominique Steele survived a number of submission attempts from Chris Mierzwiak en route to a unanimous decision win.

Main Card Results:

Josh Barnett def. Sergei Kharitonov by submission (arm-triangle) at 4:28, Round 1

Daniel Cormier def. Antonio Silva by KO at 3:56, Round 1

Luke Rockhold def. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza by unanimous decision (50-45, 48-47, 48-47).  Rockhold is the new middleweight champion.

Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal def. Roger Gracie by KO at 4:33, Round 1

Pat Healy def Maximo Blanco by submission (rear-naked choke) at 4:24, Round 2

Preliminary Card Results:

Mike Kyle def. Marcos Rogerio de Lima by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)

Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante def. Yoel Romero by KO at 4:51, Round 2

Jordan Mein def. Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos by TKO (elbows) at 3:18, Round 3

Alexis Davis def. Amanda Nunes by TKO at 4:53, Round 2

Dominique Steele def. Chris Mierzwiak by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-27, 29-27)

Photo: Josh Barnett (MMAFrenzy)