“Business as usual.” That’s the phrase that has been run into the ground by MMA journalists ever since Dana White made the announcement that Zuffa purchased Strikeforce. Now that the first major Strikeforce event under Zuffa reign is finally upon, “business as usual” is about to pick up. The main event pits two of MMA’s notorious bad boys battling it out to see who gets to wear the wedding dress and who gets to marry a super model. While the main event is likely to feature trash talking and fireworks, at least we know that things will be classy in San Diego outside of the ring thanks to Ms. Kelli Hutcherson.
Strikeforce Welterweight Title Fight: Paul Daley vs. Nick Diaz ©
Just three months after defending his Strikeforce Welterweight Title for the second time, Nick Diaz is back in the cage again. This time he takes on the hard hitting, ever so brash, Paul Daley.
After being released by the UFC, Daley has rattled off four straight wins with three of them coming by way of (T)KO. Daley’s power at welterweight is second to none but what’s underrated about his striking is his technical ability. He has a good jab and he really likes to throw the jab to the body, which could get him in trouble if Diaz can time it with a knee or uppercut. He also throws a very good left hook-straight right combo and has solid leg kicks. Expect him to use more leg kicks in this fight than he’s ever used in his previous fights given Diaz’ inability to check leg kicks against Evangelista Santos in his last bout. Daley’s biggest weapon is his counter left hook. It’s his go to counter punch and he throws it with a ton of speed and power. Daley can be beaten on the feet though. Maybe not knocked out, because he was blessed with a great chin, but definitely out-struck. He has trouble with guys who use a good jab and kicks to keep the distance. Now while Diaz does use his jab effectively, he throws so many punches that he leaves himself open to a counter shot. As long as Diaz shows up and strikes like he usually does, Daley will have plenty of opportunities to land his left hook. Daley’s takedown defense is a little better than given credit for but it’s still pretty bad. He can stop initial shots but he has trouble when his opponents really drive through and finish their takedowns. Off his back, Daley offers almost nothing except for his explosiveness to get to his feet. He doesn’t threaten with submissions and he doesn’t really strike off his back. He just tries to control his opponents posture in order to get a stand up or he tries to explode to his feet. He’s about as comfortable on his back as Steve Carell was in “40-Year-Old Virgin” when he was getting his chest waxed. The only difference is that he’s usually screaming, “AHHH! TAP! TAP!” instead of “AHHH! KELLY CLARKSON!” One thing about Daley is that he’s a finisher. When he has a guy hurt, he pounces on them and moves in for the kill. Diaz has been dropped a number of times in his career and if he goes down against Daley, “Semtex” will make sure that he doesn’t get up. To win this fight, obviously Daley needs to keep this fight on the feet and he needs to put Diaz away early. The longer the fight goes, the more it favors Diaz because Daley’s cardio is questionable while Diaz is a cardio freak. Daley needs to use leg kicks, get Diaz to come to him, and look to land his big left hook. Since Diaz stands southpaw, Daley should also be throwing a lot of straight right hands off of his left hook. Really Daley’s only option is to finish Diaz with his hands. He’s not going to submit Diaz and, while he could win a decision, it’s not all that likely given Diaz’ pace and activity.
Whether you love or hate Diaz, you can’t deny his talent. He’s currently on a nine fight win streak and he’s widely considered the best welterweight not in the UFC. Diaz has really become known for his striking over the years. No one in the sport throws more strikes per minute than the bad boy from Stockton. He stands southpaw but does a lot of stance switching in the middle of the fight. He uses a very effective jab to set up the rest of his strikes. A lot of times he’ll double and triple up on his jab and then follow that up with a straight punch down the middle. He also likes to do a lot of hand fighting with his opponents and often times he’ll throw his straight right after the hand fighting. Diaz always does an excellent job of mixing up his strikes. He has kicks in his arsenal, and he likes to throw leg kicks after the double jab, but while he doesn’t go to them too often, he uses them enough to keep his opponents off balance. Diaz is also great at recognizing when the body is open, which is usually around the middle of the second round after his opponents start keeping their hands higher to block the sheer volume of Diaz’ punches. Even though it’s not his style, Diaz would be well advised to tone down his activity against Daley. While Diaz does have a great chin, Daley’s power is second to none and I don’t think Diaz wants to press his luck too many times because Diaz does keep his chin out and has been susceptible to counter left hooks in recent fights. While Diaz isn’t the greatest wrestler in the world and he doesn’t set up his takedowns very well, he has been training with Chael Sonnen and if there’s one thing Sonnen is good at, it’s defending triangle chokes. Just making sure you’re still paying attention. Joking aside, if there is one thing Sonnen is good at, it’s driving through his takedowns. Diaz has an underrated clinch game and he’d be smart to use it in this fight. He has good control in the clinch and does a nice job roughing up his opponents with knees to the legs. Not only can he damage Daley in the clinch but he can also use the position, his size, and his length to trip Daley down to the ground. On the ground, Diaz should really have his way with Daley. Diaz is a black belt under Cesar Gracie and is very smart with his submissions. He’s very good at passing to better positions and should he achieve mount on Daley, he’ll either posture up and try and finish him or he’ll look to set up the armbar. Although I doubt it happens, don’t be shocked if Diaz decides to pull guard in the fight, especially if things aren’t going his way on the feet. Diaz is a much smarter fighter than given credit for and he’ll need to be smart in this fight. While his activity and pace is one of his greatest strengths, it could be his downfall in this fight. He’d be much better off staying out of range, using his jab, throwing body kicks, and then clinch when Daley moves in. The goal of Diaz needs to be to get this fight to the ground by any means necessary. He can’t let his pride get in the way of winning. Even if he can’t get Daley to the ground early, he could at least try to wear him out by constantly pressing for the takedown. Diaz could possibly put Daley away late with strikes but it’s much more likely that he submits Daley or wins a decision.
I feel like this fight will be decided in the first round. Either Diaz will stand with Daley too long and be knocked out, or badly hurt, or Diaz will try and get the fight to the ground, and while he may fail or not be able to finish Daley on the ground, he’ll at least show that he’s not going to stand and trade very often. While Diaz’ judgment is often smoke clouded, I think he’ll fight smart. I expect him to jab away, get inside, clinch, and wear out Daley in the first round before getting the takedown in the second and finishing him with a submission, likely an armbar or rear naked choke.
Prediction: Nick Diaz to defeat Paul Daley via Submission in Round 2
Strikeforce Lightweight Title Fight: Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Gilbert Melendez ©
One year ago, Gilbert Melendez defeated the top lightweight in Japan. One year later, Japan sends over their new top lightweight, Tatsuya Kawaijiri, to try and dethrone the Strikeforce Lightweight Champion and avenge a 2006 loss.
Kawajiri defeated Josh Thomson on New Years Eve Japan and now he makes his US debut. If you’ve never seen Kawajiri fight, just know that for a Japanese fighter, his style translates well to the US and he’s had the benefit of fighting Melendez before. You can essentially throw out that fight since it happened over four years ago and both men have drastically improved since then. Kawajiri is a very willing striker. He likes to use a quick inside leg kick to find the distance. He likes to throw a right uppercut-left hook combo and he has a very good counter left hook. Kawajiri does a nice job changing levels and many of his takedowns come via trips in the clinch. He has heavy and quick hips and like Shakira, he knows how to use them. Kawajiri’s biggest strength is his top game. He uses good head and arm control, and that allows him to use his legs to pass to better positions. His mount control is very good and he likes to triangle the legs of his opponents so they can’t shrimp out. Kawajiri is relatively active on top and he uses a lot of elbows to the body, which more fighters should do, but he’s not someone who is overly active against top guys because I think he’s afraid of losing the position. He has good takedown defense but Melendez is a higher caliber wrestler than Kawajiri has faced in recent times. Granted Kawajiri just beat Thomson but Thomson never really tried a takedown. Kawajiri isn’t really a threat off his back, especially against someone like Melendez, who has excellent submission defense. The x factor in this fight is Kawajiri’s training. He’s spent his entire camp in Japan, where they were recently struck by tragedy, and I’m not sure how much the recent events in Japan hindered his training. Not only that but he hasn’t been training in the cage, which I think is a huge mistake because Melendez is very good at using the cage to his advantage. I think Kawajiri will want to get Melendez on his back in this fight. He won’t mind standing and he’ll slug it out if he needs to but he knows his best chance to win is to put Melendez on his back and control him for 25-minutes. Kawajiri might be able to finish Melendez with strikes but chances are that if he’s going to win, it’ll be by controlling Melendez en route to a decision.
Out of action for almost a year with a broken hand, Melendez finally returns to action. Melendez is a very well-rounded fighter and consensus top five lightweight in the world. He’s a good striker, he’s very willing to stand in the pocket and exchange, and he has a heavy right hand. He has a feeler jab that he uses to set up his straight right and he also uses a left hook-leg kick combo, which is very effective for him. His best punch is his counter straight right, which we’ll probably see a lot of in this fight as Kawajiri throws a leg kick. Melendez’ strength is his wrestling. He does a solid job setting up his takedowns with his strikes and he’s also relentless with his attempts. On top Melendez is very active with his striking. He does a nice job posturing up and he likes to throw a ton of right hands. I really think Melendez will benefit from elbows on the ground, which are now legal in Strikeforce because of how active he is with his ground and pound. Kawajiri isn’t much of a threat off his back so expect Melendez to really open up with his strikes on the ground. Melendez has very good takedown defense but should he find himself on his back, don’t be shocked if he gives up his back in order to get up. He trusts his submission defense and speed to give up his back in order to stand without worrying too much about Kawajiri maintaining the position. Expect Melendez to clinch a lot in this fight and use the cage to his advantage. He has very good cage awareness and he’s active in the clinch. Not only that but his best takedowns come from the clinch where he throws high and then quickly switches into a double leg. While Kawajiri may have had a tough time in his training camp, I believe that Melendez had the best training camp of his career. He was likely hungry to get back in the gym after so much time off, and not only that but he was training with the Diaz brothers and Jake Shields where all three have huge fights in April so they likely pushed each other every day in camp to the absolute limit. Melendez will likely want to keep things on the feet and possibly look to score timely takedowns. He’ll use his jab a lot, throw his straight right, and press the action. I think Melendez knows that Kawajiri can’t hang with his pace and I’m under the impression that Melendez doesn’t think that Kawajiri belongs in the same cage as him. Melendez could finish Kawajiri with strikes, choke him out on the ground, or win a decision by out-striking Kawajiri and securing takedowns at the right time.
While Kawajiri’s style does translate to the American game, Japanese fighters have notoriously struggled in their US debut and in the cage. Combine that with the fact that I think Melendez is a man on a mission right now and this just spells trouble for Kawajiri. While I won’t say Melendez will “run through” Kawajiri, I do think Melendez will make a statement in this fight and rough up Kawajiri en route to a mid-round stoppage.
Prediction: Gilbert Melendez to defeat Tatsuya Kawajiri via TKO in Round 3
Light Heavyweight Fight: Keith Jardine vs. Gegard Mousasi
Taking the fight on just over a weeks notice, Keith Jardine is back in the spotlight, looking for one last run at the top, starting with former Strikeforce 205 kingpin Gegard Mousasi.
Jardine hasn’t really been heard from since being released by UFC but he’s picked up two victories on the local scene and is once again a Zuffa employee. Jardine’s style is very awkward but it hasn’t been very effective as of late. He moves oddly but he has a lot of go to combinations, mainly his (double) jab-leg kick combo. He also likes to throw a lot of uppercuts and has a good jab-uppercut-left hook combo. Jardine’s problem has never been his striking offense, as that has confused a number of top fighters over the years, his problem is his striking defense. He gets hit a lot, usually with left hooks, and his chin appears to be beyond repair. Jardine isn’t just a striker though. He’s a decent wrestler, although he doesn’t set up his takedowns and he leaves his chin exposed for knees and uppercuts. It’s possible that Jardine will be able to get Mousasi down to the mat, which would not only be a feather in his cap, but would also be his best route to victory. Jardine has good submission defense and his ground and pound is very underrated. He’s good at posturing up in the guard and he throws heavy right hands while on top. Not only that but his submission game is underrated, and while I don’t think he’ll be able to catch Mousasi, he could surprise everyone by pulling off a submission. Working against Jardine is the fact that he’s taking this fight on just over one weeks notice. He seems like a guy who keeps himself in good shape year-round but there is a difference between good shape and fight shape. And an underrated part of Jardine’s game is the fact that he’s always been in good shape and his conditioning carries him to making fights competitive when maybe they shouldn’t be. Jardine really needs to get this fight to the ground but he can’t rush in with his takedowns like he often does. He needs to be smart with his takedown attempts and look to actually set them up with his hands. If he can get Mousasi down, he could easily control him and punish him on the ground. It’s possible that Jardine could win a striking battle because he’s not a terrible striker by any means and he’s had success against good strikers but his defense is so poor and his chin is so cracked that I don’t like his chances against anybody with power. Jardine could overwhelm Mousasi with strikes on the ground, possibly catch him with a submission on the ground (an armbar would be the most likely submission), but his best route to victory is by winning a decision.
One year ago, Mousasi was on top of the Strikeforce light heavyweight division. One year later, he’s almost an after thought. After losing to Muhammad Lawal in April 2010, Mousasi went on to defeat mid-level fighters Jake O’Brien and Tatsuya Mizuno in DREAM before finally returning to Strikefore. Mousasi is an excellent striker. He’s very technical, throws nice straight punches, and has heavy and quick combos. For such a technical striker though, he doesn’t put too many combinations together. He limits himself to one or two strikes at a time, which is a huge mistake on his part. Perhaps the best part of Mousasi’s striking though is his defense. He is very relaxed on his feet and he gets out of the way quickly. The leg kicks of Jardine might slow down the movement of Mousasi but those same leg kicks are going to allow Mousasi to counter Jardine. While Mousasi doesn’t have great takedown defense, it’s not as bad as people think. The thing I like about Mousasi’s takedown defense is that he makes his opponents pay for shooting in, either with an uppercut, a knee, or a guillotine attempt. Now “King Mo” was able to power through those strikes but Lawal is also a world-class wrestler with a solid chin, Jardine isn’t cut from that same cloth. Even off his back, Mousasi is very active with submission attempts and hammerfists. While Jardine does have good submission defense, he can only eat so many hammerfists before he starts to crack. One area where I really think Mousasi has an advantage is in the clinch. He’s very strong in the clinch and active with knees. If he can clinch and put Jardine on his back, he should be able to make short work of “The Dean of Mean.” While Jardine may threaten with an armbar, Mousasi should be able to avoid it and then rain down heavy punches from the standing position with Jardine on his back. I’m sure Mousasi will want to keep this fight standing and look to counter Jardine. Even though Jardine’s timing is difficult to get down, he’s not a very hard person to hit. Not only that but when Jardine goes for a takedown, which I suspect he will in this fight, he really leaves himself open for a counter knee or uppercut. Mousasi can turn Jardine’s lights out with one shot, maybe submit him with a rear naked choke, or win a decision by out striking him.
I don’t want to completely write-off Jardine in this fight because he has a history of success against top fighters in MMA, but his chin is made of eggshell at this point and he’s taking this fight on short notice. Unless Mousasi was never all that great, which I don’t think is the case, he should be able to tag Jardine sooner or later and when he does, moments later, Jardine will unfortunately have to answer a question he’s been asked way too many times before, “Do you know where you are?”
Prediction: Gegard Mousasi to defeat Keith Jardine via TKO in Round 1
Lightweight Fight: Lyle Beerbohm vs. Shinya Aoki
The always entertaining Lyle Beerbohm is now on the main card against top submission grappler Shinya Aoki in a battle of who has the more colorful tights.
Beerbohm is coming off the first loss of his career to Pat Healy and yet by losing, he finally gets on the main card of a big show. He’s a decent striker but definitely not great. He’s known to switch stances but when he’s in southpaw, he’s most likely going to throw a head kick and then he’s in orthodox, that’s when he’ll open up with his hands. His boxing is very basic and he mainly sticks to a one-two combination. Beerbohm is primarily a grappler but that might not be a smart idea against Aoki. Beerbohm is strong in the clinch though and if he’s able to put Aoki against the cage in the clinch, look for him to rough up Aoki with uppercuts. Beerbohm has decent takedowns, although he doesn’t set them up well with his hands. In fact, his best takedowns come after a head kick, which is very unorthodox and rare. Beerbohm’s biggest strength is actually just how unorthodox he is. He’s a wild grappler and puts himself in a lot of bad and unnecessary positions. Should Beerbohm put Aoki on his back, he needs to essentially follow Gilbert Melendez’ game plan. Every time Melendez had Aoki on the ground, he stayed at the feet of Aoki and if Aoki was ever able to trap Melendez in full guard, Melendez immediately pressed him against the cage so he didn’t have room to operate. If Beerbohm is going to mess with Aoki on the ground, he needs to at least be smart about it. Of course even messing with Aoki on the ground would be pretty dumb. Beerbohm should play it smart and keep things on the feet. Press Aoki with the jab, put a straight right behind it, and mix in a couple of kicks. Beerbohm doesn’t need to concern himself with trying to make this fight exciting. He’s coming off a loss and was still given a high profile fight. He should be grateful and just look to win. An ugly win goes further than two straight pretty losses. Beerbohm could finish Aoki with strikes or likely win a decision by fighting smart.
The last time many of us saw Aoki, he was clowning around against a K-1 striker during the striking round and then immediately knocked out in the grappling round. As funny as it was to see that happen, Aoki is no joke. Even though he’s widely considered to be one of the best submission grapplers in MMA, he’s also one of the worst strikers. I don’t think he’s as bad as made out to be because he seems to understand distance very well, but he’s still not great. Everything he does striking is with his feet. He doesn’t throw many punches and the only strike he really throws is a body kick. He also has a decent knee right the middle that he uses when he’s pressed. I’d actually like to see him throw more kicks, both to the legs and head, because it may invite his opponents to go for more takedowns. While he’s not a great wrestler and he’ll likely struggle to put Beerbohm on his back, Aoki isn’t afraid to pull guard. Obviously Aoki’s strength is his submissions. The man is an absolute killer on the ground. When he has a hold of his opponents limbs, he’s not afraid to rip it off in order to secure the victory. He has great grip strength and a very tight guard, which is key for any good submission grappler. He’s also very flexible and active with his guard. He has a great triangle, a great armbar, and sick leg locks. If I’m Beerbohm, I’m most concerned with the leg locks of Aoki because Beerbohm left his legs dangling a number of times against Healy and should he do the same thing against Aoki, you better believe that Aoki will tear some ligaments. Aoki will be looking to get this fight to the ground at all costs. He’ll shoot in and pull guard, he’ll try to get Beerbohm to come to him and welcome the takedown, or he may just lay on his back and see if Beerbohm is dumb enough to drop into his guard. If Aoki can just get a hold of Beerbohm, I think he puts “Fancy Pants” in a lot of trouble. Aoki’s best way to win this fight is by submission but he might be able to win a decision if the majority of the fight stays on the ground with Aoki controlling.
This fight really depends on which Beerbohm shows up. If he fights smart and keeps his distance, I think he wins a lackluster decision. I don’t think Beerbohm will fight smart though. I think he’ll want to put on a show and try and make a statement, and that will be his downfall. He’ll engage in a grappling contest, Aoki will grab a leg or ankle, and he won’t let go until Beerbohm taps out.
Prediction: Shinya Aoki to defeat Lyle Beerbohm via Submission in Round 1
This is a huge event for Strikeforce, not only because it features two title fights, but because it’s the first event under the Zuffa banner. While I don’t think many things will change, be on the look out for small but noticeable differences, like maybe Strikeforce will actually show a preliminary fight should time permit. Also make sure to check out MFC 29 on Friday night and Bellator 40 prior to Strikeforce on Saturday night. And of course get ready of The After Party on Monday.