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The Walk Out – “Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg”

Strikeforce delivers their first major show of the year this weekend with Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg. If you were excited for a rivalry fight between two of Strikeforce’s most colorful personalities, well, maybe if we all band together and send $10 each to the 209 then by the end of 2011 we’ll get the fight that we want. Until then we’re stuck with whatever name Scott Coker can pull out of a hat as a challenger for his champions. This show features two title fights, neither of which seems to have much hype behind it, and the return of a 48 year old former NFL running back who should really be commended for the effort he’s done in promoting this show. If Strikeforce really wanted to get fans excited for their events, they’d just put Kelli Hutcherson on every poster and the fans would be tuning in en masse.

Strikeforce Welterweight Title Fight: Evangelista Santos vs. Nick Diaz ©

It’s not the grudge match we’ve all been waiting for. Hell, it’s not even a grudge match at all. That’s right, unfortunately Nick Diaz doesn’t get paid a whole lot of money and despite what you think, doesn’t qualify as a bully, so we won’t be getting Diaz vs. Jason Miller. Instead we get Diaz defending his Strikeforce Welterweight Title against Evangelista Santos, better known to most fans as the husband of Strikeforce 145 lb Women’s Champion Cristiane Santos.

Santos only has one victory at welterweight but that victory was good enough to earn him a shot at the title. He comes from the Chute Boxe camp and he’s really your typical fighter that comes out of that camp. He’s very aggressive, he throws a lot of wild hooks, and he hits really hard. He’s a good counter striker and he’ll have plenty of chances to counter Diaz given Diaz’ output of strikes. Throws very good leg kicks and I expect him to use a lot of those in this fight because Diaz doesn’t check them too often. He actually does a really nice job in mixing up his kicks, attacking the leg first and then going upstairs with a head kick. Santos doesn’t have the greatest chin in the world and it’s taken plenty of shots in its career but Diaz has never really shown one punch power so Santos’ chin should hold up in this fight. Santos’ biggest problem in his career has been on the ground. It’s not even that he has terrible submission defense, he just looks completely lost on the ground. Guys pass to better positions with ease, he never threatens off his back, and he’s typically overwhelmed with strikes en route to a stoppage. Luckily for Santos, Diaz is always willing to engage in a firefight on the feet. Santos has never been known for his great cardio, he’s never gone 25 minutes like Diaz, and just three years ago he was fighting at light heavyweight, which means he’s been losing a lot of weight over the years. The longer this fight goes, the more trouble Santos is in because Diaz averages like 100 strikes per round and never gets tired. Santos will probably stay patient early, feel things out, chop at Diaz with leg kicks, and then look to counter every time Diaz throws. The problem with Santos’ striking against Diaz is that Diaz throws a lot of straight punches and Santos throws a lot of hooks. A straight punch will beat a hook every time but to counter that argument, Santos only needs one hook to beat Diaz’ five straight punches. One thing Santos can’t do is let Diaz be the aggressor and dictate the pace. If he lets Diaz do the stalking and allows him to tee off to the point that he can only cover and fire back with a hail mary punch, he’ll be playing right into Diaz’ game. Santos needs to control the center of the cage and not let Diaz get into a comfortable rhythm. Santos’ only shot in this fight is to knockout Diaz or finish him with strikes. It’s hard to imagine Santos submitting Diaz and it’s even harder to imagine him lasting 25 minutes and doing enough to win a decision.

If you want to see the most active fighter in MMA in action, watch Diaz this weekend. He’s known as a grappler but he’s a very effective striker due to his style. He stands southpaw, uses his reach well, and never stops throwing strikes. He uses a good jab to set up his left hook, puts together solid combinations, and mixes up his strikes really well. He throws good body shots and a lot of kicks as well. The problem with Diaz’ striking is his defense. He leaves his head straight up, stays in the pocket, and is very open to counter left hooks. Luckily for him, his parents blessed him with a good chin where he’ll get dropped from really good punches but he always has his whereabouts even after getting rocked. He’s not a good wrestler but he is good at taking guys down off kicks, which he should have plenty of opportunities to do so against Santos. Diaz is good in the clinch and one thing he does well is rough up his opponents with knees to the legs and body. Even though he’s a little too willing to exchange, on the ground is where he’s at his best. He’s active off his back and he likes to isolate the right arm in order to set up his submissions. On top he actually likes to strike more than work for submissions but his control is good and he throws so many punches on the ground that he simply overwhelms his opponents. A big concern I have with Diaz in this fight is that he might be overlooking Santos. Santos has never been thought of as a high-level fighter and Diaz seems more concerned with other things at moment. In the past few weeks Diaz has talked about everything and everyone except Santos. Diaz wants to fight Miller, he wants to fight Georges St. Pierre, he wants to drive something other than a crappy Honda, he wants to go to boxing, he wants to compete in marathons and get high, Diaz wants to do everything except talk about Santos. I have no doubt that Diaz is trying hard for this fight because he’s always training and training hard but that doesn’t mean that he’s not overlooking Santos to an extent or taking him lightly. I expect a typical game plan from Diaz in this fight. He’ll come out strong, throw a lot of punches and try to wear out Santos with his pace. If he’s doing well on the feet, he’ll just keep peppering Santos until he eventually gets a stoppage but if he’s eating too many counter hooks, he’ll look to clinch and get the fight to the ground. Diaz could finish this fight any number of ways. He could force the referee to stop things by overwhelming Santos with strikes, he could submit Santos on the ground, or he could just outwork Santos for 25 minutes en route to a decision.

Even though I do believe that Diaz isn’t 100% focused on Santos, he’s still the superior fighter and he should win this fight. Santos has the power to be the first person to legitimately finish Diaz for the first time since his fifth professional fight but unless he catches him early, I expect Diaz to take over and just out-class Santos in every aspect. I think this fight could look a lot like Diaz vs. Marius Zaromskis where Diaz survives a scare or two but eventually wears out Santos with his pace and finishes him.

Prediction: Nick Diaz to defeated Evangelista Santos by TKO in Round One

Strikeforce Middleweight Title Fight: Robbie Lawler vs. Ronaldo Souza ©

After possibly retiring Matt Lindland, Robbie Lawler hopes to add another knockout victim to his list against Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Ronaldo Souza, who is looking to make his first title defense after winning the vacant title by defeating Tim Kennedy.

Despite being inconsistent over the past few years, Lawler always has that one punch power in his bag. He’s mainly a counter puncher who stands southpaw, has a sneaky good right hook, and puts a good left straight behind it. He’s very patient on his feet, perhaps even a bit too patient. He lets worse strikers than him hang around on the feet because he doesn’t like pressing the action. He’s not really known for his kicks but he would be smart to use leg kicks against Souza, who leaves his lead leg out there for plenty of kicks and doesn’t bother checking them. Lawler is a decent wrestler but isn’t really known for his outstanding sprawl. One place he has trouble in is in the clinch. He likes to go to the body but doing so leaves his head low and allows opponents to go for chokes. This is how Jake Shields caught Lawler and how Renato Sobral nearly caught him in their respective fights. On the ground, Lawler will be vastly overmatched. He has quick hips but he’s no threat off his back and Souza’s top control is excellent. Lawler has been working a lot on his choke defense so if he gets put on his back, look for him to use an underhook to stand and protect his neck on the way up. If he doesn’t use the underhook, he’ll probably use the tried and true method of cage walking his way back to his feet. Lawler’s best chance to get up will likely be when Souza tries to move from half guard to side control. No matter how he gets up, Lawler can’t spend more an ample amount of time on the ground because even if Souza doesn’t submit him, he’s going to at least control him on his way to a decision. Lawler’s cardio will be questioned in this fight. He’s never gone 25 minutes before and he’s only gone 15 minutes or more four times in 27 fights. Obviously Lawler needs to keep this fight standing and test Souza’s chin. Both of Souza’s MMA losses were by KO’s, his chin is questionable, and Lawler has the power to put him to sleep. Lawler needs to use an effective jab and a good uppercut to catch Souza coming in with takedowns. He also needs to be more aggressive than he usually is because I think Souza will fight very patient and not allow him to get off too many counterpunches. The only way I see Lawler winning this fight is by KO or TKO. The longer the fight goes, the more I favor Souza and I think the whole world would be shocked if Lawler could submit Souza.

Souza is known as one of the best grapplers in all of MMA but in his last couple of fights he’s really shown off his improved striking. You can immediately tell that he trains with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira because he has that lead jab twitch that Nogueira is famous for. Unlike Nogueira though, he doesn’t really use his jab all that often and when he does it’s pretty inaccurate and used more as a feeler. He mainly likes to throw a right straight followed by a left hook. One thing Souza has a bad habit of is reaching when he doubles up on his strikes. Now he rarely doubles up with his hands but when he does try and throw a right straight-right hook or something similar, he’ll reach with that second punch. If he gets caught reaching against Lawler, it could be the opening Lawler needs to put his lights out. The only kick Souza really throws in a push kick, but hopefully he mixes in other kicks against Lawler. Lawler doesn’t really react well to kicks and Sobral and Shields had a lot of success keeping him at bay with kicks to the body. Another thing Souza should try and do in this fight is clinch with Lawler and wear him out. Lawler’s neck is often exposed in the clinch and even if Lawler does protect his neck, it will be easier for Souza to get a takedown from the clinch than shooting for a takedown. This is due to the fact that Souza doesn’t set up his takedown attempts on the feet while in clinch, where he is very strong, he’s already got a hold of Lawler. Souza’s bread and butter is on the ground. He’s arguably the best submission grappler in MMA. He’s very controlling on top and he passes with superior technique and by striking, He likes to set up the arm triangle on top and if he passes to mount, he’ll be looking for the armbar. Souza’s cardio was questioned prior to the Kennedy fight but he went 25 minutes and didn’t seem gassed at the end of it. That said, he didn’t expend much energy going for takedowns nor did he push a strong pace on the feet. Still, give him credit for going all 25 without tiring out. I expect Souza to try his luck on the feet for awhile but not too long. He knows that he needs to get this fight in close range and eventually to the ground. I think he’ll throw to clinch and then work from there. Like Lawler submitting Souza, I’d be shocked if Souza could knockout Lawler but he could easily submit him or win a decision by holding his own striking but really controlling him on the ground.

In this striker vs. grappler battle, I favor the grappler. Souza continues to improve with every fight and I think is good enough to hold his own on the feet while Lawler has never picked up the ground game all that well and I don’t think he can hold his own grappling with Souza. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Lawler catches Souza early and puts him out cold for the third time in his career but I feel that Souza can get this fight to the ground and eventually submit Lawler, likely with an arm triangle or rear naked choke.

Prediction: Ronaldo Souza to defeat Robbie Lawler by Submission in Round Two

Heavyweight Fight: Scott Carson vs. Herschel Walker

Herschel Walker is back in the cage to prove that he’s a real fighter while his opponent, Scott Carson, is hoping to send him back into retirement.

I can’t find any video of Carson, unless you want me to breakdown the game of West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper Scott Carson. Based on Carson’s record, he’s faced three guys who aren’t good and one guy who might not be so bad. He beat the three guys who aren’t good, he lost to the one guy who might not be so bad, and he’s never been past the three-minute mark. What does this tell us about how he’s going to do against Walker? Pretty much nothing. What Carson needs to do against Walker though is throw a lot of leg kicks and straight punches, avoid the clinch, and look for any type of leg lock on the ground. Walker is very stiff in his stance and his leg is just begging to be kicked. He holds his hands high but he keeps his chin straight up. Walker is very strong in the clinch and has quick hips for a man his age so Carson can’t allow himself to be bullied around by Walker. On the ground, Walker leaves his leg dangling and if Carson has any experience in going to leg locks, he should use it in this fight. Leg locks are always one of the last things new MMA fighters pick up on and it’s probably the best way to submit Walker given his strength and control on top. Like any fighter just thrown in there to be beaten, Carson needs to let it all hang out in this fight. Pressure Walker with strikes and stay active off his back. Given the quick nature of all of his fights, it’s fair to question his cardio so he needs to do his best to make short work of Walker. Given Walker’s lack of experience and Carson’s lack of footage, I think that Carson could catch Walker on the feet with a clean punch or catch him on the ground with a quick submission. I don’t see him winning a decision though because even if he has better than average cardio, there is bound to be an adrenaline dump for him in this fight given who he’s fighting and the stage he’s on.

This is only Walker’s second professional fight but he showed a lot of good things in his first outing. Granted his opponent, Greg Nagy, offered absolutely nothing in any area but lets look past that. Even though he stands very stiff on his feet, he throws some quick and powerful leg kicks. He didn’t really let his hands go against Nagy so it’s tough to know how good he is boxing. Walker’s biggest strength is, oddly enough, his strength. He’s very strong in the clinch and despite his age and wear and tear on his body, he moves very well in close quarters. On the ground he’s strong and controlling so he gets away with a lot of technical mistakes. Against Nagy, he constantly controlled the arms of Nagy in order to move to better positions and strike. It’ll be interesting to see if or how much Walker’s submission offense has improved over the year. He had a lot of opportunities to lock on a submission against Nagy but never once attempted to. If I had to guess, I would think that he’s developed some sort of guillotine choke because it’s one of the easier submissions to pick up and given his natural strength, I assume that he would have a very tight grip. The thing that makes Walker a bit unpredictable is the fact that he hasn’t fought in a year and he’s 48 years old. I don’t know how much he’s improved in a year and even though he’s in great shape for his age, sooner or later father time will catch up to him. I suspect that Walker will just take this fight as it comes to him. If Carson wants to keep it on the feet, as long as he’s not getting tagged up, he’ll strike with Carson and probably batter him with leg kicks. If Carson wants to try and grapple, Walker will use his strength to put him down and control him. Walker could win this fight in a number of ways. He could overwhelm Carson with strikes, possibly submit him if he has developed some sort of submission game, or just dominate his way to a decision.

This is obviously a designed win for Walker. Strikeforce wants to build him up, towards what I don’t know because even Walker isn’t delusional enough to believe he’s going to by a contender for the heavyweight title, and it’s only his second professional fight. This is MMA though and anything can happen but I don’t think Walker or American Kickboxing Academy would allow him to step in the cage if they thought he was going to embarrass himself. I think Walker throws a lot of leg kicks, forces a clinch, overpowers Carson, and eventually shows off his newfound guillotine choke for the victory.

Prediction: Herschel Walker to defeat Scott Carson by Submission in Round Two

Light Heavyweight Fight: Trevor Prangley vs. Roger Gracie

Roger Gracie looks to remain unbeaten in MMA as he faces tough veteran Trevor Prangley, who stays at light heavyweight after a victory over Keith Jardine.

Prangley is a tough well-rounded veteran who can hold his own in all areas of the game. On the feet, he’s mainly a counter striker and he likes to counter with two hooks, usually leading with the left. He’s not all that aggressive but he may change that philosophy against Gracie given that Gracie is a grappler and their chin and how they deal with punches is always questionable. Prangley is an outstanding wrestler but I don’t expect him to try and put Gracie on his back unless he’s getting tagged up on the feet. He usually likes to get opponents to the ground by clinching and getting a takedown off a whizzer throw or a trip. The clinch might not be such a bad idea in this fight as long as Prangley doesn’t allow Gracie to grab a front headlock and drag him to the ground. In the clinch Prangley can use his strength to put Gracie against the cage and rough him up with knees. Plus the clinch takes away Gracie’s reach and jab. If he decides to go to the ground against Gracie, he needs to use his hips and movement. He has very good hips and he’ll need them to avoid the submission attempts of Gracie but posturing and maneuvering at the right time. I’d like to see Prangley throw a lot of punches on the ground to really rough up and test the reaction of Gracie but of course the more punches he throws, the more opportunities Gracie has to slip from the bottom and then use his hips and legs to counter with a submission. One disadvantage Prangley has is that he’s an undersized light heavyweight. He’s a natural middleweight but he has fought plenty of times at light heavyweight and he’s only lost once at 205. I think Prangley will want to keep this fight standing for the most part. Even though he’s not a great boxer, he has an excellent chin and power in his hands. If he does keep it standing, he’ll have a tough time dealing with the reach of Gracie so he should look to throw a lot of inside leg kicks, get Gracie a little uncomfortable on the feet, and then explode with some powerful hooks. Don’t be shocked if Prangley goes to the body of Gracie with punches after ducking under the jab of Gracie. If he is losing the striking battle, he should look to just slow the fight down and grind out Gracie in the clinch and along the cage. Prangley could finish Gracie with one punch or an abundance of strike or win a decision by controlling Gracie in the clinch and on the ground.

For years now MMA fans and companies have been searching for “the next great Gracie,” well Roger appears to be that man. In his last fight against Kevin Randleman, Gracie showed off some decent striking skills to go along with his world-class jiu-jitsu. He throws a very active feeler jab and puts a solid right hand behind it. He doesn’t have much power behind his strikes but they’re very peppering and I think they’re used more to aggravate his opponents into trying to get him down. He has a very big reach advantage and he uses it well. He even uses his size well in the clinch to grab a front headlock and throw knees. Prangley is tough to takedown so if Gracie wants to get Prangley to the ground, he’ll need to do what Kennedy did and that’s suck the hips out on Prangley to get him down. Gracie is an absolute handful on the ground. His control on top is great, he sets up his passes well, and he’s always thinking submission. Prangley is a survivor but he’s not great off his back and he’s certainly not good enough to hang with Gracie on the ground. If I were Gracie, I would be throwing a lot of leg kicks in this fight as long as Prangley isn’t checking them, which he usually doesn’t. I’d throw them simply to bait Prangley into trying to get the fight to the ground and then working for there. At the very least they’ll be effective in taking away the power of Prangley. Besides that, look for Gracie to test things out on the feet by using his reach and when the time comes, he’ll be looking to take Prangley to the mat. Gracie obviously has the jiu-jitsu to submit anyone in the sport but if he can’t find the neck or a limb of Prangley, he could win a decision but controlling the fight on the ground and being more active.

This is a sneaky good fight and it’s a shame that it’s getting virtually no attention. Prangley is by far Gracie’s toughest fight to date and this will really determine whether or not Gracie can be a contender in the depth lacking Strikeforce light heavyweight division. I like Gracie in this fight because I think he’s adapted his jiu-jitsu very well to the sport of MMA and his length gives him a huge advantage. Sooner or later Gracie will get this fight to the ground where he’ll just out-position Prangley before locking in a submission, which I think will be an arm triangle.

Predicted: Roger Gracie to defeat Trevor Prangley by Submission in Round Two

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