This Saturday night might as well be Christmas morning for fans of Mixed Martial Arts, as pound-for-pound great Fedor Emelianenko is set to face off against notable Brazilian Fabricio Werdum and is supported by a cast of players who are also worth-watching for a number of reasons. Fans in attendance at Strikeforce‘s homebase, the HP Pavilion in San Jose, as well as those tuning in on Showtime, will have the pleasure of seeing the two heavyweights clash as well as the always-exciting Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos defend her Women’s Middleweight Championship against Jan Finney, a rematch between stand-up aces Cung Le and Scott Smith, and former promotional lightweight champ Josh “Punk” Thomson attempt to make his way towards a rubber-match with Gilbert Melendez by beating veteran competitor Pat Healy.
Before I get into the actual “pick em” part of this article let me preclude the breakdown of bouts by saying one of the things about Mixed Martial Arts I’ve always loved is its unpredictable nature. I’ll do my best to steer you in the right direction with a little insight/opinion included in the deal, but readers would be wise to avoid laying down money on my attempts to glimpse into the future. Beyond that, please don’t hesitate to share your own thoughts on any or all of the scheduled fights in the “Comments” section below, and let’s get this show on the road…
Derrick Burnsed vs. Bobby Stack
At 5-0 Burnsed is clearly is doing something right in the ring even if he’s never beaten anyone of particular note. As such, Stack will be his biggest test to date since he’s 2-0 in Strikeforce, but it also needs to be pointed out he hasn’t stepped in the promotion’s cage since November 2008. I think Burnsed will pull out the win since he appears to be a submission-based fighter who is comfortable tapping opponents from his back. He also seems to have decent power as well. Stack has gone to decision in his last three fights so it stands to reason the same could occur at tonight’s event, especially with the ring-rust brought on by his recent inactivity. That means 15-minutes’ worth of opportunities for Burnsed to latch onto his limbs or neck and finish things off along the way.
Winner – Derrick Burnsed via Submission Round 2
Gareth Joseph vs. Yancy Madeiros
Fans unfamiliar with Madeiros should keep a watch out for the rising middleweight. At 8-0 he’s shown himself to possess both knockout power and solid grappling skills. Joseph hasn’t fought in a year so he definitely appears to have his work cut out for him. However, three of his four professional wins have been the result of a first round knockout, so it’s not as if he can’t land a punch at some point in the fight that sets up the beginning of the end for “Frisson”. I think the involved match-up should lead to a stoppage and result in a very entertaining scrap. However, Strikeforce has a history of ending broadcasts early with undercard bouts left on the cutting room floor, so I’m doubtful any viewers at home will ever get a chance to see it.
Winner – Yancy Madeiros via TKO Round 2
Bret Bergmark vs. Vagner Rocha
If winners were determined by “best nickname” then Bret “The Angry Hick” Bergmark would be one helluva tough draw to beat. Unfortunately for him, outcomes are typically influenced by individual ability and in that regard I think Rocha has the edge. He’s 5-0 since debuting in February 2009 (including a pair of wins in Bellator). Though I suspect he’ll be prepared based on his Cesar Gracie JJ training partners, the 36-year old Bergmark has only fought once in the last 4 1/2 years and should struggle to maintain pace in all areas, especially when rolling on the mat. He has the proverbial “puncher’s chance” but other than that I think Rocha should be able to maintain a perfect record in the ring.
Winner – Vagner Rocha via Submission Round 1
Chris Cope vs. Ron Keslar
Keslar has won his last four fights while Cope is coming off the first knockout loss of his career so it seems likely their mindsets will be drastically different entering tonight’s bout. It’s an interesting match-up of styles in that Keslar appears to focus on mat-work while Cope on stand-up, but I’m not overly confident the pairing will lead to much more than a plodding decision win for one of the two. Neither has shown a great talent for finishing opponents and both are making their Strikeforce debuts. I can see there being a lot of “feeling out” on their feet, especially from Cope, and lay-and-praying on the ground, especially from Keslar, based on their particular skill-sets and the fact each will be attempting to win on the biggest stage they’ve competed on thus far in their young careers. Beyond that I think it’s a coin-flip as far as determining who will win. Since, at least according to the original line-up and fact it’s a catch-weight bout, Cope was a late replacement I think he’ll gas out at some point and end up spending the bulk of the bout on his back.
Winner – Ron Keslar via Decision
Josh Thomson vs. Pat Healy
I’m a fan of both fighters for different reasons and am looking forward to their bout even if Healy isn’t a particularly “sexy” opponent for a top divisional contender like Thomson to be facing since he may not be known to a lot of fans. However, “Bam Bam” shouldn’t be dismissed because his only appearance in the UFC was a loss or based on his less-than impressive overall record. The fact is Healy is a terrific grappler with a ton of experience and wins over Carlos Condit, Paul Daley, and Dan Hardy earlier in his career. He’s also won three consecutive fights and five of his last six (with a decision loss sandwiched between the dubyas). Thomson is a solid striker with above-average wrestling to back his punches/kicks/knees up and had won eight fights in a row before losing the Strikeforce Lightweight Championship via decision to Gilbert Melendez last December.
I expect this particular match-up will feature fireworks from both and have the crowd on their feet at more than one point. Look for Healy to shoot in to keep Thomson on his back for as much time as possible with “Punk” firing away with knees, or punches from the sprawl, to make Healy think twice. I think Thomson will win based on athleticism and having more ways to beat his opponent than can be said in return. Healy has been knocked out, submitted, and out-pointed a handful of times while the former 155-pound champ has never been tapped out and only TKO’d once in nineteen in-ring appearances. That being said, I also won’t be surprised if Healy is able to pull off an upset decision win because he’s certainly talented enough to do so.
Winner – Josh Thomson via TKO Round 3
Scott Smith vs. Cung Le
I can hardly wait for the high-level jiujitsu and wrestling ability that will undoubtedly be on display when Smith and Le lock horns in the cage! I can also hardly wait for pigs to fly! Now that I have your attention, based on their respective styles it’s fairly obvious 99% of this bout will take place while standing with the other 1% reserved for whoever gets knocked down/out first. Le’s problem in their original match-up was conditioning and, to an extent, his “warrior spirit”, as I recall him being en route to a decision win but still moving forward while gassed out rather than playing it safe and letting the third round expire. He won’t be coming off a 21-month break from action while filming movies rather than training so I don’t think cardio will be a problem, and I also believe Le to be intelligent enough to have learned from his previous loss to Smith. As such, I think he’ll be able to seal the deal against his fellow hard-hitting Californian this time around. Then again, Smith is known as “Hands of Steel” for a reason, and he’s impossible to count out in any fight based on his previous performances in the ring.
Winner – Cung Le via Decision
Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos vs. Jan Finney
Records and talent aside, how could anyone ever pick a “Cuddles” to beat a “Cyborg”? Moving on, as I said in this week’s “Grappling with Issues”, though Santos is unlike any female striker let alone female fighter seen thus far in women’s MMA, “Finney has been in the ring against a few females with above-average hands (Erin Toughill for example) and remained conscious throughout save for a single loss to Julie Kedzie.” I don’t think she’ll immediately be overwhelmed by Santos, but it seems pretty clear based on both female’s overall abilities she will eventually be. “Cyborg” has been out of action since January and will be looking to hang a new head in the Santos Family Room, as her husband Evangelista did ten days ago in regards to Marius Zaromskis, so expect some hate-filled flurries to end Finney’s night.
Winner – Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos via TKO Round 2
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Fabricio Werdum
I could break down the greatness that is Emelianenko but instead I’ll leave it at a single word – “Fedor”. Werdum is a world-class competitor and currently has one of, if not the, best BJJ games in the heavyweight division. Even if Emelianenko knocks him down he’s still a major threat to procure an armbar or triangle-choke from the bottom. He also has underrated striking that continues to improve on a per-fight basis thanks to his time with Chute Boxe. “Vai Cavalo” has only been finished once in eighteen fights and, though Fedor clearly has knockout power, he doesn’t have the speed or diversity of strikes that led to Junior Dos Santos’ TKO win over Werdum at UFC 90. Werdum also appeared to be in perhaps the worst shape of his career entering the bout, and given the opportunity attached to potentially beating Emelianenko that won’t be an issue this time around.
As far as how I see the actual fight unfolding, I have a feeling Werdum will try to keep things standing for the first round unless he sees an opening to work on Emelianenko from the top. He’s got good power to back up his Muay Thai techniques, including the option of leg kicks to maintain distance, and Brett Rogers and Andrei Arlovski showed promise when trading with the stoic Russian before eventually falling victim to him. The reality is that Fedor hasn’t gone to decision in five years and it could be interesting to see how his less-than toned body reacts if Werdum is able to make him work for fifteen minutes. However, he hasn’t seen the judges’ scorecards in that long a period because of how amazing a fighter he is, and in that regard I can’t pick against him. He’s escaped every difficult position he’s ever been put in and I don’t think Werdum is good enough to expose any weaknesses he possesses (assuming he is actually human and does possess some).
Winner – Fedor Emelianenko via TKO Round 2