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The Walk Out – Strikeforce Challengers 13

Strikeforce runs their first event of 2011 this Friday but lets just think of this as the appetizer to the main course that Strikeforce is serving up in the coming months. Not only is this event part of Strikeforce’s Challengers Series, which are notoriously overlooked, but Strikeforce just announced a major heavyweight tournament that features Alistair Overeem facing Fabricio Werdum, Fedor Emelianenko facing Antonio Silva, and notable heavyweight names like Andrei Arlovski and Josh Barnett that everyone is salivating over. There are a number of reasons to watch this event though with the number one reason being the lovely and talent Kelli Hutcherson. Plus it’s a free weekend for Showtime so unless you’re a loser and actually go out on Friday night, you have no reason not to watch this event.

Welterweight Fight: Tarec Saffiedine vs. Tyron Woodley

Two welterweight prospects collide in the main event as Tarec Saffiedine tries to win his fourth straight fight while Tyron Woodley tries to win his eighth straight while also remaining unbeaten in MMA.

Saffiedine has flown under the radar a bit in his MMA career but now he’s getting a chance to shine in the main event. He’s a very good striker with an amateur background in kickboxing but what’s been really impressive as of late has been his wrestling. On the feet, he stands comfortably at orthodox or southpaw but considering that Woodley stands orthodox, expect Saffiedine to do so as well. He throws a lot of feints, especially with his kicks. He leads with his right hand and when he throws, it’s usually two punches and then he gets out. He has very good leg kicks but he might be afraid to throw them early in this fight given the wrestling prowess of Woodley. His kicks can be predictable though. When he’s kicking to the legs, he throws a left kick and when he’s kicking to the head, he throws a right kick. Working at Team Quest, one would think that his wrestling would be solid but it’s a lot better than people expect. He has very good takedown defense and not only that but he punishes opponents when they go for takedowns. He has a quick uppercut and if that doesn’t connect, he’s constantly throwing elbows to the body while stuffing the takedown. He has strong hips, good balance, and may end up on top of Woodley after fighting off the takedown. He has good control on top, likes to knee the body in half guard, and has good submissions. He needs to press Woodley in this fight. Woodley is at his best when he’s getting off first so Saffiedine needs to throw off his timing with quick inside leg kicks, get in with his strikes, avoid the big right hand, and get out. It wouldn’t hurt to adopt the strategy that fellow Team Quest teammate Nathan Coy used against Woodley, where he really wore Woodley out in the clinch with short knee strikes to the body and legs. Saffiedine can win this fight any of the three possible ways. He has the power to KO Woodley or overwhelm him with strikes on the ground, he’s good enough on top to lock in a submission, and he could win a decision by simply out-classing Woodley in all aspects.

Woodley is a highly touted welterweight who, despite being unknown to the general public, has been called out by Paul Daley as a potential next suitor. He’s a heavy hitter who relies on his wrestling and has a very good top game. He throws a very good counter right hand and every time Saffiedine throws a kick, you can expect Woodley to try and time it with a right hand. He likes to throw a left hook-right uppercut combo and that’s really his bread and butter combo when he moves forward. He uses the double jab to set up his takedowns or wing his right hand over the top. He has a very quick shot and he’s strong on his attempts. Like Saffiedine, he has very good hips but he seems very uncomfortable in the clinch. Given his wrestling background and athleticism, you would think that he could overpower his opponents in the clinch but instead he lets his opponents dictate things. He’s very good and submission oriented on top, possibly even too submission oriented. He doesn’t strike as much as he should to set up his submissions, he’s just used superior skill and technique to lock on whatever he attempts. He’s quick in the scrambles and that’s where he can really take advantage of Saffiedine in this fight. If he can create scrambles, he can end up in better positions and work from there. Woodley’s cardio is questionable. The one time he made it out of the second round, he gassed badly and arguably lost the decision. He’s a guy who uses a lot of energy with his punches and takedowns and it costs him the later the fight goes. Woodley needs to put Saffiedine on his back and grind him out. Saffiedine isn’t terrible off his back but Woodley has good submission defense and a good base and I doubt Saffiedine would be able to catch him. Saffiedine is very tough to finish but Woodley has one punch power, especially in his right hand, and his wrestling is good enough to wear out Saffiedine en route to a decision.

A lot of people are on the Woodley bandwagon, and while I certainly like him, Saffiedine is a tough match up for him. If Woodley can’t finish Saffiedine early, he’s going to be in for a long night because the more tired Woodley gets, the easier Saffiedine will be able to stuff the takedowns, and the more punishment he’ll do to Woodley on the feet. Look for Saffiedine to pick his shots on the feet, wear Woodley out in the clinch, and take him into deep waters. Woodley is tough to finish but I think Saffiedine can do enough to win a comfortable decision.

Prediction: Tarec Saffiedine to defeat Tyron Woodley by Decision

Heavyweight Fight: Devin Cole vs. Daniel Cormier

Looking to keep his 2010 momentum intact, Daniel Cormier finally makes it back to television to take on the well-traveled Devin Cole.

Cole isn’t a bad fighter but almost every time he’s stepped up in competition, he’s lost. He’s a long time wrestler who was an All-American at Southern Oregon and he trains at Team Quest. His striking is very basic and he has power but he mainly uses his striking to get inside on his opponents. He’s strong in the clinch and throws very good uppercuts from that position. He changes levels well and is relentless on his takedowns but his wrestling isn’t up to Cormier’s level. He strong and active on top but has a tendency to punch himself out when he gains a top position. I haven’t seen much of his bottom game but I’m guess that it’s not good enough to catch Cormier, although stranger things have happened in MMA. Cole needs to get off to a quick start. Not only is his best chance to finish Cormier within the first couple of minutes but also he needs something to go well for him early. He can’t afford a slow start where he begins to doubt himself and succumb to the hype and skill of Cormier. Cole needs to dictate the pace of the fight, which needs to be a rather slow pace, and not get into a wresting battle with Cormier either. Tony Johnson, a solid wrestler in his own right, tried to engage in a wrestling match with Cormier and 9/10 times, that;s a battle that favors Cormier. Cole needs to work his jab and set up his right hand. He has the power knock Cormier out and maybe he can win a decision if he can keep the fight on the feet and outstrike Cormier.

If you’re looking for that 2011 breakout star, look no further than Cormier. He’s highly respected among his peers and has the credentials to back it up. He’s an outstanding wrestler who has placed in various high-level tournaments over the years. He has power in his hands but his striking is mainly powerful hooks that he uses to set up his takedowns. Despite his wrestling credentials, it hasn’t quite translated to MMA the way you would expect. Less skilled and credentialed wrestlers than him have stuffed his takedowns, which is a bit surprising to most people. Even though his takedowns don’t come as easy as they probably should, sooner or later, Cormer’s opponents end up on their back thanks to Cormier’s relentless on his takedown attempts. On top, Cormier has excellent posture and control, gets to better positions, and is active and strong with his striking. When you’re as big as Cormier and push a pace like he does, it’s fair to question his cardio. I doubt it will be a problem for him though, should this fight make it out of the first round. He trains at American Kickboxing Academy, a camp known for great cardio, and he’s not a muscular heavyweight. I’m sure Cormier will do what he always does and that’s come out quickly, throw a quick right hook, and then go for the takedown. He’ll keep the pressure on Cole and simply look to dominate him. Cormier has the power to finish Cole, his submission game is good enough to put Cole to sleep, or maybe he’ll just win a decision by being a better fighter.

This is a designed win for Cormier, which doesn’t always work out, but I trust Cormier’s skills. Simply put, he’s a better fighter than Cole in all aspects of the game. Cole has plenty of power in his hands and anyone can be caught early but I expect Cormier to immediately go for the takedown and rough up Cole on the ground en route to a stoppage.

Prediction: Daniel Cormier to defeat Devin Cole by TKO in Round One

Women’s 145 lb Fight: Amanda Nunes vs. Julia Budd

After an impressive performance against Shana Olsen, Julia Budd is back in the Strikeforce cage to face newcomer Amanda Nunes.

Nunes hasn’t fought in almost a year but she’s on a four fight win streak and now has a chance to not only derail the Budd bus but also make a name for herself. She’s not a power striker but she is an overwhelming striker who is willing to stand in the pocket and throw down. She’s not very technical with her striking, telegraphs her right hand, and leaves herself open for counter punches but she seems to have a good chin on her. Trying to stand and bang with Budd wouldn’t be a very good idea though given Budd’s technical ability and power. She has decent takedown defense and off her back she seems comfortable although I doubt she wants to spend much time there. She controls her opponents posture well and likes to attempt an armbar off her back, which is more just to get her opponent to move and create a scramble rather than an actual submission attempt. She has quick hips, controlling on top, and is active with passes and strikes. She needs to get Budd to the ground in this fight. Even though she’s a tough girl who is willing to exchange strikes, it seems like she’d be in for a short night should she try and go that route. It would be smart to pressure Budd and get her uncomfortable early but after that, she needs to put Budd on her back and continue that pressure. It’s possible that Nunes overwhelms Budd on the ground en route to a TKO stoppage or she could win a decision but controlling Budd on the ground.

Coming from a muay-thai background and being the only person to defeat Gina Carano in a muay-thai fight, Budd looked very well-rounded in her MMA debut. She comes out of her corner quickly, pumps a quick jab, uses the push kick, and just does a very good job at controlling the distance. She also welcomes the clinch because that allows her to throw knees and elbows. Plus she’s very strong for the weight class and is able to bully her opponents on the ground and in the clinch. She has strong and quick hips, shown when she was able to end up on top of Olsen both times Olsen tried to get a takedown. She’s spent some time training with Quinton Jackson but she mainly trains with Lance Gibson and his crew. She’s still inexperienced in MMA but her muay-thai experience helps her when it comes to preparation. The thing I’m concerned about with Budd is how she deals with her newfound attention. After an impressive debut she garnered a good amount of media attention due to her performance and good looks. She seemed humble in her post-fight interview, realizing she has a long way to go before challenging Cristiana Santos, but maybe the pressure and hype will get to her. I wouldn’t count on it but it’s at least worth mentioning. Look for Budd to try and keep things on the feet and work her superior striking but it shouldn’t shock anyone to see her try and clinch in order to use her size and strength. She’s a power puncher who could easily put Nunes out with one shot, wear her out with strikes, or win a controlling decision.

I was really impressed with Budd in her last fight. Combine that with the fact that Nunes wasn’t quite as impressive and is coming off a very long layoff, I don’t like her chances. I think Budd picks her apart on the feet, wears her out in the clinch, and finishes her on the ground with strikes.

Prediction: Julia Budd to defeat Amanda Nunes by TKO in Round Two

Light Heavyweight Fight: Abongo Humphrey vs. Ovince St. Preux

In an overlooked fight that really shapes the future of the Strikeforce light heavyweight division, Ovince St. Preux fights for the third straight month against Abongo Humphrey.

Although he’s best known for almost having his dreadlocks pulled out by Brett Rogers, Humphrey has since dropped down to light heavyweight and done decently for himself. He’s a decent striker with power but his defense leaves a lot to be desired. He tries to parry punches, which doesn’t work so well in MMA and leaves his body wide open. He reacts to a lot of feints and can be hit with hooks from both sides. Luckily for him, his parents blessed him with a hell of a chin. Offensively, he throws some solid leg kicks, has a good counter left hook, and likes to press forward with three punches. When he shoots for takedowns, he telegraphs his shot and leaves himself wide up for uppercuts. He has good clinch control and takedowns from the clinch. If St. Preux decides to willingly go down, Humphrey could easily grind him out on the ground. One thing Humphrey likes to do is bait his opponents into using an underhook to stand up and then lock on a modified anaconda choke, which is pretty much just an arm in guillotine. Arm in guillotine’s are usually tough to finish but Humphrey has confidence in his squeeze. The problem is, when he doesn’t get the choke, he’s on his back with his opponent on top. Humphrey has the power to finish St. Preux, could possibly catch him in a choke, and could win a decision if St. Preux decides to get passive on the ground.

St. Preux is on a big roll right now. He’s coming off back-to-back victories over respected fighters Antwain Britt and Benji Radach and he’s now poised for a big 2011. He’s a very good striker with big power in his right hand and a good body kick. He’s tall for the weight class and has a good reach that he uses well. He has a stiff jab and a good left hook that he uses to set up his straight right hand. On top of his power, he’s very explosive and athletic on his feet. He’s a solid defensive wrestler but very inconsistent. Sometimes it looks like he has the best sprawl in the world and other times he’s easier to get on his back than a girl in the Jersey Shore. He’s no real threat off his back and in fact, he’s very defensive and tries to just hold on in hopes for a stand up. He’s active on top with his strikes but has been known to wear himself out trying to finish. His back control is excellent and a position he may be able to gain relatively easy in this fight due to Humphrey’s lack of ground game. I think St. Preux will look to keep it standing early, batter Humphrey with body kicks, and wear him out in the clinch. Even though St. Preux’s cardio is questionable, Humphrey’s is just as bad. Humphrey doesn’t have great takedown defense, especially in the clinch, so expect St. Preux to try and get the fight to the ground and be on top where he can do damage and control the fight. I’d be shocked to see St. Preux knockout Humphrey with one punch but he could easily overwhelm him on the ground with strikes, finish with a rear naked choke after securing the back, or win a dominating decision.

St. Preux is on such a role right now that I can’t see him losing to Humphrey. He should be too quick and powerful on the feet for Humphrey and I know he can go 15 minutes, even if he tires a bit, while I don’t have faith that Humphrey can. I think St. Preux lands a lot of body kicks and then catches Humphrey coming in with a big punch that leads to the end.

Prediction: Ovince St. Preux to defeat Abongo Humphrey by TKO in Round One

Light Heavyweight Fight: John Richard vs. Rhadi Ferguson

Judo Olympian Rhadi Ferguson makes his Strikeforce debut against John Richard, who is taking this fight on a weeks notice.

I can’t find any footage on Richard so I honestly have no clue what he has to offer in this fight. He hasn’t faced very good competition and in fact, the only time he’s faced someone with a winning record, he lost. Maybe not so coincidently, the one time he’s made it into the third round, he lost. So based on those facts, I’d have to say that he’s just a mid-level fighter at best who doesn’t have a great gas tank. He’s also taking this fight on less than a weeks notice so his questionable gas tank might be even worse. That said, there is no pressure on him in this fight. Ferguson has the big name, he’s the guy who’s been on ESPN2 in the past, and he’s the guy who everyone expects to win. Richard can’t get overaggressive because that could lead to a clinch situation where he could quickly find himself thrown on his head. Ferguson tends to drop his hands and use head movement like he’s Anderson Silva but that’s a quick way to get knocked out. Richard needs to use leg kicks to take away the movement of Ferguson, go to the body, and then head upstairs. He could finish Ferguson because we don’t know how good Ferguson’s cardio is either but he could also win a decision by controlling things and possibly turning this into a boring fight.

If you recognize the surname Ferguson, you might be thinking of Rhadi’ cousin Kevin Ferguson, better known to fight fans as Kimbo Slice. But while Slice was busy taking $500 from bodyguards at backyard BBQs, Rhadi was winning Judo tournaments all across the world. He’s very smooth on his feet but seems to be a bit overconfident with his striking. Both his MMA victories have come via his hands, which is something he’ll get away with against lower competition, but sooner or later it will catch up to him. As I mentioned above, he drops his hands when he’s attacked and uses movement to evade his opponents but that won’t work forever. He’s in his mid 30’s and even though he hasn’t fought much in MMA, your reflexes slow down as you get up near your 40’s. His background is in Judo so I’d expect that he’s strong in the clinch and has good hips. Judo fighters have a slight advantage because it’s tough to find high-level judoka’s to train with. I’m sure Ferguson will look to strike early and if that doesn’t go his way, he’ll put Richard on his back and work from there. He’s a hard hitter who could finish Richard with one shot or overwhelm him en route to a stoppage or maybe he’ll show off his submission skills on the ground. I highly doubt this fight will go to a decision with Ferguson winning and if it does, he should be ashamed of himself.

This is Ferguson’s fight to lose. He’s the better fighter and he’s facing a mid-level fighter taking this fight on very short notice. If he gets overconfident on his feet, he could easily be dropped but I suspect that he’ll once again get away with striking, drop Richard early, and finish him.

Prediction: Rhadi Ferguson to defeat John Richard by TKO in Round One


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