Strikeforce’s widely-welcomed focus on promoting talented female fighters takes an intriguing step at tonight’s “Strikeforce Challengers 10” event with the evening’s welterweight tournament. In opening-round action, well-rounded Brazilian Carina Damm faces submission-specialist Hitomi Akano while fan-favorite Miesha Tate looks to advance to the final fight against newcomer Maiju Kujala. The last woman standing is not only bound to gain a good deal of notoriety from her success but also an eventual shot at current 135-pound champion Sarah Kaufman’s title.
Also set to unfold from Phoenix’s Dodge Theatre on Showtime at 11:00 ET / 8:00 PT, Ryan Couture makes his professional MMA debut after notching a number of wins in his amateur career with opponent Lucas Stark looking to prevent the 27-year old from following in his famous father’s footsteps. Also, Joe “Diesel” Riggs will face 6-1 striker Louis Taylor in hopes of rebounding off a decision loss to Jay Hieron in his last bout.
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…
Miesha Tate vs. Maiju Kujala (Tournament Semi-Final)
Kujala is a relative unknown, as are the four opponents she’s beaten in her career, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing where her success is concerned. If it’s difficult to find tape on her, then it’s difficult to know exactly what to expect then the cage door closes. However, I think Tate is experienced enough to handle anything her Finnish adversary offers and will at minimum use her wrestling ability to take Kujala down, then look for submissions while smothering her for the duration of the bout if necessary. I’m positive she’ll try to finish things as quickly as possible to both avoid damage and reserve energy rather than letting either affect her in the tournament final.
Winner – Miesha Tate via Submission Round 1
Carina Damm vs. Hitomi Akano (Tournament Semi-Final)
The result of this bout will depend on where the bulk of its action takes place. Damm has a definite advantage where striking is concerned while Akano is a solid grappler. That being said, the Brazilian is more apt on the ground than Akano is on her feet, and I believe her jiujitsu ability and takedown defense should be enough to make the overall difference in eventual outcome. I don’t expect her to finish Akano, as six of the Tokyo native’s seven losses have come by way of decision with the lone exception being a third-round TKO to Cris “Cyborg” Santos, but I do think Damm will do enough in all facets of the game to win a very close decision.
Winner – Carina Damm via Decision
Ryan Couture vs. Lucas Stark
Couture will clearly be the fan-favorite based on his last name and success as an amateur. However, Stark shouldn’t be dismissed simply because his father isn’t a Mixed Martial Arts legend. He may only be 2-4 in his career but six fights’ worth of experience still counts for something when considering Couture is only making his professional debut. I expect Couture to play it fairly safe in hopes of grinding out a decision win, though it’s possible he could attack with basic jiujitsu since Stark has shown a past vulnerability to ground-based submissions. Look for him to stay active with jabs while looking for takedowns to play off his wrestling pedigree without ever pressing the action to the point he’s at risk of catching a clean shot on the chin.
Winner – Ryan Couture via Decision
Miesha Tate vs. Carina Damm (Tournament Final)
Like most one-night tournaments, this bout will likely be influenced by which of the two fighters escapes the semi-final match less-scathed than the other. An earlier knockdown, cut, broken bone, or even cardio-testing battle could spell disaster for either talented lady. Based on how I predict their previous fights unfolding, I definitely think Tate will have an advantage where her general physical state is concerned. I expect “Takedown” Tate to focus on taking Damm down (surprise, eh?), working from the top, and trying to press the pace in order to soak up the last of Damm’s conditioning. It might even be enough to open up an opportunity for a well-timed, TKO-inducing combo in the third round or submission on the ground.
Winner – Miesha Tate via Decision
Joe Riggs vs. Louis Taylor
Taylor will be looking for his third consecutive win but has yet to face an opponent with Riggs’ familiarity of the ring or overall skill-set. Riggs is 4-1 in his last five bouts and beat a number of respectable opponents earlier in his career like Chris Lytle, Kendall Grove, Joe Doerksen, and Nick Diaz. Don’t surprised if Taylor tries to keep things upright as often as possible based on Riggs’ wrestling ability in addition to his previous success on the TKO-front. Taylor’s last three wins have come by way of knockout and if his head-kick of the ironically-named Ryan Sturdy at Bellator 14 last April was any indication of his overall ability it’s clear his best chance for beating Riggs is in the stand-up department. However, I think “Diesel” will be able to score enough takedowns to do damage from the top and either pound Taylor out or cover him for the bulk of the bout’s fifteen minute time limit.
Winner – Joe Riggs via TKO Round 2