We’ve been waiting for weeks and it’s finally here. THE NFL LOCKOUT IS OVER! If that wasn’t enough, we finally have a major MMA event for the first time in weeks. While there has been plenty of MMA these past few weeks, none of them have come close to matching the interest of tomorrow nights “Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson” event, which features two legends squaring off with arguably the greatest fighter of all-time fighting with his back against the wall. Not only that but there’s also a very important female fight with two of the most skilled female fighters in the sport today. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s always Ms. Kelli Hutcherson.
Heavyweight Fight: Dan Henderson vs. Fedor Emelianenko
Losing two straight fights for the first time in his career, Fedor Emelianenko tries to silence critics and show that he’s not finished just yet while Dan Henderson looks to add another big victory to his already legendary resume.
Henderson Skill Assessment: At the age of 40, Henderson is who he is as a fighter, which is an aggressive power puncher with excellent wrestling. We all know about Henderson’s deadly right hand. He’s put plenty of fighters down with it and I believe that it’s the one “hold your breath” strike left in MMA. When he throws his right hand, the entire crowd just holds their breath and waits to see if it connects because they know that if it does, it’s trouble for his opponent. As good as his right hand is, he doesn’t get enough credit for setting it up. It’s not an accident that guys keep getting hit by that punch, it’s because Henderson creates openings for the punch. He usually sets it up with the double jab or the inside leg kick. Outside of his right hand, he has a good left hook, that a lot of people forget about. He’ll throw kicks but looks extremely uncomfortable throwing them. Defensively, he keeps his hands up but because he’s tends to get aggressive and wild with his striking, he can be tagged with straight punches. Luckily for him, his parents blessed him with one of the best chins in MMA history. He’s never been finished by strikes and he’s never really been hurt when he’s been dropped. Henderson’s main strength is his wrestling though. He has a great Greco-roman base, which allows him to control things in the clinch and get takedowns. Despite being a great wrestler though, his takedown defense is suspect due to his aggressiveness. On the ground, he’s rather stagnant both on top and off his back. He’s content on staying in guard and doing as much damage as possible without over-exerting himself or trying to improve his position. And if he’s on his back, he’s content on just holding on and trying to force a stand up. He does his best work on the ground when he’s able to stand over his opponent and swing down with his right hand. While this fight is at heavyweight, I’d be shocked if Henderson came in over 210, and if he does, he could be in big trouble. He doesn’t need to cut any weight but he also shouldn’t allow himself to put on too much weight or muscle. Speed is Henderson’s biggest advantage in this fight but if he comes in with too much weight or muscle, he’s going to lose that advantage.
Henderson Game Plan: I’m sure Henderson will look to land his big right hand but getting into a fire fight with Fedor might not work out for him. So he should look to clinch, put Fedor up against the cage, and grind him out. Fedor has never looked comfortable in the cage while Henderson really knows how to use his wrestling and the cage to his advantage. Fedor’s takedown defense is good, but Antonio Silva showed that it’s not great. Henderson should look for trip takedowns and put Fedor on his back, where he doesn’t have a plan B if he can’t lock on an Armbar or Kimura. If he decides to stand with Fedor though, he needs to use his jab to get to Fedor first, avoid wild exchanges, and be patient in setting up his right hand.
Fedor Skill Assessment: Once (and maybe still) considered the greatest fighter of all-time, Fedor has fallen on hard times recently. In his defense though, he was more or less just caught in a submission by Fabricio Werdum and he was out-sized by a very underrated “Bigfoot” Silva. That said, when you’re the Michael Jordan of MMA, you’re not supposed to lose those fights. Fedor is not a very technical striker, he just hits really hard. He usually leads with a right hook and then follows with a left hook. He rarely throws straight punches and a lot of times he just punches to get inside. Because of his tendency to only throw power hooks, he’s susceptible to straight punches. He’s so quick with his hooks though and fighters have a tough time getting in and out before he gets them. Like Henderson though, Fedor has an excellent chin. He’s been wobbled a few times in his career but he’s never been outright dropped. What works against him though is his thin skin, which makes him cut and swell up easy. Fedor is strong in the clinch thanks to his sambo background and has very quick hips but he looks lost when pressed against the cage. Fedor is good on the ground when he’s on top and predictable off his back. He’s great at staying in his opponents guard, posturing up on his knees, and raining down accurate and powerful punches. With elbows now allowed in Strikeforce, he may be able to even more damage in the guard if he decides to utilize his new tool. While he’s content of staying in guard, he’s happy to pass to side control, where he can drop hammerfists and set up a kimura. Against Silva, and even a bit against Brett Rogers, we saw the holes in Fedor’s bottom game. He’s known for his armbar and kimura but he usually locked those on against opponents with mediocre submission defense. When he’s not able to lock those up though, he looks lost on his back. He’s explosive enough to scramble up but he doesn’t do a lot of the basics, like simply bucking his hips to shake his opponents. I wouldn’t question Fedor’s skills heading into this fight. I think he has the skills to hang with Henderson, I just don’t know where he is mentally. He was ready to retire after the beating Silva put on him, but fighters say a lot of things in the heat of the moment after the fight. Fedor has always been a guy who just fights because it seems expected of him, not because he really enjoys it. I think he enjoys competing and he doesn’t want to go out like he did against Silva, but I don’t think he’s a guy who just loves to fight, like say, Chris Leben. If Fedor has mentally checked out though, he could end up out cold for the first time in his career.
Fedor Game Plan: Fedor has to throw with bad intentions early, get inside, and look to get Henderson to the ground. Henderson is virtually no threat off his back while Fedor does his best work on top of his opponents on the ground. While I’m sure he could hold his own against Henderson on the feet, but it’s very risky getting into a stand up war with Henderson.
Fight Prediction: This is a tough fight to call, thanks in large part due to Fedor’s mindset. I think he has the skills to beat Henderson, but he has to show up ready to fight. Henderson isn’t a guy you can beat if your mind is on other things. I’m counting on Fedor to mentally show up though and get back to what he does best, which is getting guys on their back on pounding them out. Henderson is tough to finish but I think the Last Russian Emperor will do enough to win.
Official Prediction: Fedor Emelianenko to defeat Dan Henderson by Decision
Women’s Bantamweight Championship: Miesha Tate vs. Marloes Coenen ©
Earning her title shot last August by winning a one-night tournament, Miesha Tate takes on champion Marloes Coenen in a battle between two of the best women fighters in the world.
Tate Skill Assessment: Tate is a relatively well-rounded fighter although her strength is her grappling. On the feet, she’s not very technical but she does a nice job mixing things up. She mainly likes to throw a left hook-right straight combo but she does have a tendency to get into a brawl where she just wildly throws hooks. She throws a lot of kicks but doesn’t really set them up with her punches. Where Tate shines is with her wrestling and grappling. She uses her punches, usually the left hand, to get inside to clinch, where she’s very strong and controlling. From the clinch she drops a level and is relentless with her takedown attempts although he does leave her neck exposed and her head in a bad position to eat knees. What I like about her takedowns is that they’re usually single leg drags, which means often times she ends up in side control. She has quick hips, which allows her to be great in scrambles. Training at Team Alpha Male, I’m sure she’s doing a million scramble drills a day with Urijah Faber and the boys, so she has to be pretty good to hang with them. Her control on the ground is very good. She uses head and arm control to set up her passes and she rarely relinquishes a dominant position. It has been almost a year since Tate has competed though, so she could have some cage rust in this fight.
Tate Game Plan: Tate needs to get this fight to the ground. She’s not going to win a striking contest with Coenen but on the ground, even though Coenen is a great grappler in her own right, Tate is at least comfortable and can hold her own. Tate should look for takedowns and if she ends up in guard, back out, stand over her, and use punch passes to gain side control. She can’t spend too much time in Coenen’s guard because that’s where the champ is most dangerous on the ground.
Coenen Skill Assessment: For my money, Coenen is the most skilled female fighter in the sport today. She’s a technical striker who throws tight punches and good combinations. She throws a good one-two combo and also has a good right straight followed by a left hook. Her best punch though is the counter straight right. She also has a good quick inside leg kick, which she uses to set up her head kick. In the clinch, she’s very strong, has good hips, and knows how to use her size to her advantage. She’s active with knees to the body and if Tate leaves her chin exposed like she’s done in the past, Coenen will have no problem kneeing her in the face. If Coenen has one weakness, it’s her takedown defense. She likes to defend takedowns by going for a guillotine, which is a great offensive move but puts you on your back more often than not. Of course she’s not really afraid to go to her back because her guard is so outstanding. She has good wrist and posture control, which allows her to set up triangles and armbars off her back. What I like most about Coenen’s ground game is just how composed she is. Liz Carmouche passed to mount a number of times and was landing some good punches from mount but Coenen covered well, kept moving her hips, and even threw her legs up to try and prevent Carmouche from doing further damage. As good as Coenen is on the ground, her top game could be improved. She’s a little sloppy with her positions and just seems more comfortable off her back. She’s going to have a tough time really controlling Tate on the ground anyway because of how good Tate is in the scrambles.
Coenen Game Plan: Coenen needs to take the fight as it comes. On the feet, stay technical, throw straight punches, and look for the counter right. In the clinch, soften up Tate with knees to the body. And on the ground, stay busy with submission attempts. If she does one thing though, she needs to make Tate pay when she goes for takedowns with strikes and submission attempts.
Fight Prediction: I feel like for Tate to win, she has to fight a perfect fight and for Coenen to win, she just has to fight her fight. Because of that, I favor Coenen to win. She’s a better striker and she’s good enough on the ground to really make Tate work. Plus Tate hasn’t fought in almost a year and that really worries me, especially given the circumstances of her last night in the cage. I think Tate will make a mistake and Coenen will capitalize to retain her title.
Official Prediction: Marloes Coenen to defeat Miesha Tate via Submission in Round Three
Middleweight Fight: Robbie Lawler vs. Tim Kennedy
It’s a classic striker vs. grappler match up as heavy hitter Robbie Lawler takes on top middleweight contender Tim Kennedy, looking for a win and another crack at the title.
Lawler Skill Assessment: Lawler is known for his explosive striking and one punch power. He stands southpaw and starts pretty much every combo with a right hook. He has a really good body kick, which he doesn’t use nearly enough, and he follows that up with a right hook. He’s an aggressive striker but he does his best work when he’s able to counter. Some people think Lawler is a brilliant technical striker, but he’s really not. He can get very wild with his striking and doesn’t throw a ton of straight punches, relying more on power hooks to get the job done. For some reason, despite training with Matt Hughes and Pat Miletich for years, Lawler’s wrestling and grappling has never really evolved. He has a good sprawl thanks to his quick hips but when he’s pushed against the cage and not able to sprawl out, he’s easy to drag to the ground and put on his back. He’s essentially no threat off his back. Because of his explosiveness, he’s able to get to his feet against guys who don’t have the greatest of top control but more often than not, he can be held down until his opponent leaves a big enough opening for him to use to get up. I also worry about Lawler’s cardio. He fades as the fight goes along, mainly because he blows out so much energy throwing his hands and defending takedowns.
Lawler Game Plan: Lawler can’t allow this fight to go to the ground. He has to remain upright and pressure Kennedy. He can’t allow Kennedy to grab a hold of him and push him against the cage. He needs to remain in the center of the cage and should Kennedy get in close, he needs to immediately spin away rather than get bullied around.
Kennedy Skill Assessment: Kennedy is a relatively well-rounded fighter who has been under the radar for most of his career. He’s a solid striker who throws with power but mainly uses his striking to get inside on his opponents. He mainly leads with a left hook and puts either a right hand or a leg kick behind it. He has a good counter right and after he throws it, when he misses, he’ll throw a side kick in order to keep his opponent at bay. If there’s any problem with Kennedy’s striking, it’s that he leaves his chin a little to high. Kennedy’s main strength though is his wrestling. He does a nice job using his left hook to get inside and once he has a hold of his opponent, he rarely relinquishes it. He likes to push his opponents against the cage, grab a body lock, and then just power them to the ground. On the ground, he has very good top control. He uses his strikes to set up his passes and he’s just great at keeping his opponents down, controlling them, and forcing them into giving up bad positions with his strikes and strength. He has some heavy ground and pound from pretty much every position. He also has a good submission game, although it’s more power submissions than actual technical ability. It works for him though, which is really all that matters. What I like most about Kennedy’s game is that he’s an aggressive fighter who is always looking for the finish. When he plays it safe, he usually ends up on the losing side of things.
Kennedy Game Plan: Kennedy has to get this fight to the ground. There’s just no point in standing with a powerful striker like Lawler, who doesn’t have a great ground game. Kennedy needs to get the fight to the clinch, get a takedown, and then work his ground game and test Lawler’s submission defense, which hasn’t held up very well in the past.
Fight Prediction: Lawler has one punch power but Kennedy seems to have a durable chin and I think will be able to use his size and strength to get inside, push Lawler into the cage, get him to the ground, and then work his ground game from there before securing a submission late in the round.
Official Prediction: Tim Kennedy to defeat Robbie Lawler by Submission in Round One
Welterweight Fight: Tyron Woodley vs. Paul Daley
Undefeated Tyron Woodley looks to prove that he deserves to fight for the vacant Strikeforce welterweight title, but first he has to get through the explosive power of Paul Daley.
Woodley Skill Assessment: Woodley is best known for his wrestling. He’s a decent striker, who mainly throws a straight right and a counter right. Beyond that, he doesn’t offer much on the feet. He throws kicks but doesn’t commit to them and they’re rather slow and easy to counter. Woodley is at his best when he’s able to get inside, get a body lock, and use his wrestling strength to get a takedown. He doesn’t really have a great wrestling shot but he’s strong and controlling in the clinch, which is how he gets the majority of his takedowns. He’s very strong in the clinch and does a good job staying active with short knees and punches to the body. On top, he likes to use head and arm control in order to pass and set up the arm triangle from the top position. He has a very good submission game, although we haven’t seen much of it as of late, as he seems content on just controlling his opponents on the ground. In his defense, he’s taken a step up in competition in recent fights so that could be a reason why he hasn’t been able to lock on a submission. He’s not a big threat off his back as he mainly just looks to either control his opponents posture to force a stand up or get to his feet. I really question Woodley’s cardio. He’s been to a decision two times in his career and in both fights, he gassed out by the end of the second round.
Woodley Game Plan: Woodley can’t stand with Daley. He doesn’t have the power to crack Daley’s chin and he doesn’t have the speed to match Daley either. He needs to get inside, clinch, and get the fight to the ground. Even if he can’t get Daley down, he can hold him against the cage and frustrate him with the control.
Daley Skill Assessment: Daley is a technical power puncher. He has a stiff jab, but it’s really just a set up jab for his deadly left hook. His left hook might be the best left hook in the sport in terms of ability to land it and power. Outside of his left hook, he has a good straight right and likes to jab to the body. He has good, quick leg kicks but he doesn’t use them often enough. When pressed, he likes to grab the plum clinch and throw knees but when you grab the plum clinch and you’re afraid to pull the trigger on your knees, you leave yourself open for body shots. Daley has a great chin but he is open to body shots and doesn’t seem to react well to getting jabbed. Everyone knows that Daley’s weakness is his grappling. His takedown defense is better than people make it out to be but that doesn’t mean it’s all that good. Daley does a nice job stuffing the initial shot of his opponents, it’s when his opponent continues to drive and they use the cage to take away Daley’s hips, that Daley ends up on the ground. Daley is a fish out of water when he’s on his back. If he can’t get up using an underhook and his explosiveness, he’s going to lie on his back and hold on for dear life. For some reason he’s never learned how to wall walk, which is the most tried and true method of getting to your feet. If he can somehow get to on top, he has very good ground and pound. He likes to posture to his feet and swing down with wild left hands and hammerfists. Like Woodley, Daley’s cardio is questionable. He burns a lot energy because he puts so much power in his punches and spends so much energy defending takedowns and trying to get up.
Daley Game Plan: Daley needs to establish his jab and keep the distance. Obviously he has to keep the fight on the feet and to do that; he can’t allow Woodley to get inside. He has to avoid Woodley’s straight right and make him pay with his counter left hook. Daley has the power to KO Woodley, he just has to remain upright to do so.
Fight Prediction: This is a tough fight to call for me because I’m not as sold on Woodley as everyone else seems to be. That said, this is a fight that stylistically favors him. I think Woodley will be able to get inside, put Daley against the cage, and just grind him out on the cage and on the ground. But he can’t get frustrated if the takedown doesn’t come as easy as he thinks it should, because if he starts to get frustrated, Daley will put him out.
Official Prediction: Tyron Woodley to defeat Paul Daley by Decision
Welterweight Fight: Tarec Saffiedine vs. Scott Smith
With three losses in his last four fights, Scott Smith looks to get back on track against the very dangerous Tarec Saffiedine.
Saffiedine Skill Assessment: Saffiedine is a relatively well rounded fighter who has really hit peoples radar in the past couple of years. He’s a good striker, who stands southpaw but often switches stances throughout the fight. He throws a lot of kicks and loves to throw the lead leg head kick. He also feints with a lot of kicks, which opens things up even more for him. He throws straight punches and usually is two and done with them. He’s very strong in the clinch and throws a lot of knees to the body to soften up his opponents. He has good hips, which helps with his takedowns and takedown defense. He’s very controlling on top and likes to maintain position in order to set up his submissions. He likes to isolate the arm of his opponents to set up kimuras and armbars. Off his back he’s a very active fighter. He has an offensive guard and likes to go for armbars and triangles. Working as hard as he does off his back, it forces his opponents to work, which opens them up for more mistakes. What I like most about Saffiedine’s game is that he’s always active and working. When opponents go for takedowns, he makes them pay with elbows. He’s always looking to counter on the feet. He’s always working on the ground in all positions. He’s just an active fighter and he has the cardio to back it up.
Saffiedine Game Plan: Tarec is a skilled enough fighter to where he should be able to handle Smith no matter where the fight goes. Of course, there’s no point in trading bombs with Smith given his power. That’s why Saffiedine should put Smith against the cage, attack his body with knees, and then get the fight to the ground where he has a major advantage.
Smith Skill Assessment: If nothing else, Smith is an exciting fighter. He’s known for his comeback victories, which is a nice way of saying that he takes a lot of punishment before landing a big punch and winning. He has a good double jab, which he uses to set up his big right hand. He’s a very aggressive striker but he’s wildly aggressive, which leads him open to counter shots. While Smith does have a very durable chin, he gets destroyed by body shots. He just doesn’t move away quick enough or is so worried about getting hit in the chin that he leaves his body completely exposed. Some of Smith’s best offense is when he’s able to clinch and throw tight elbows to the forehead. From the clinch position, he also does a good job of breaking and then letting his hands go on the break. Beyond his striking skills, Smith is rather limited. His takedown defense is decent but not great and his wrestling shot isn’t very good, certainly not good enough to get down Saffiedine, who stuffed the takedowns of Brock Larson with success.
Smith Game Plan: Smith can’t get wild with his striking like he’s done so much in recent fights. He needs to somehow become more patient and look for openings rather than trying to force him. Getting into a brawl might be his best chance to win but you can’t force a wild brawl by recklessly moving forward and leaving yourself open to counter shots.
Fight Prediction: As entertaining as Smith is, he’s just not a great fighter. Saffiedine on the other hand is a very good fighter and someone who I think is better than given credit for. I think Saffiedine is able to weather the early storm, eventually get Smith to the ground, and then lock up a submission for the win.
Official Prediction: Tarec Saffiedine to defeat Scott Smith by Submission in Round One