Strikeforce: Melendez Vs Masvidal goes down on Saturday night In San Diego and we’ve got our preview and predictions for the four main card fights for you below.

Gilbert Melendez vs. Jorge Masvidal

Melendez has managed to climb the ranks to become one of the world’s best lightweight’s, but he can’t afford to be complacent against the scrappy underdog Masvidal.

What’s impresses me most about a seasoned fighter like Melendez is the fact that he’s shown a distinct development in his skills over the past few years, with his striking in particular improving with every fight.  He’s a more technical striker now who’s able to pick his shots rather than just go straight into brawl mode – though he does have the chin and the drive to make that work for him too.

Nevertheless I think he’d be wise not to attempt to outstrike Masvidal in this encounter as the champion is in my opinion one of the most slick, efficient boxers in the sport.  He’s not a devastating finisher, but his movement and counter-striking is first class and Melendez eagerness to push forward and be the aggressor could result in him getting deftly picked apart.

Therefore Melendez would do well to mix things up, and it just so happens that’s his strong suit.  Really there’s nowhere this fight will go that he can’t hold his own, and on the mat in particular he will hold an advantage with his wrestling in particular being a  big factor.

Based on his last few fights Masvidal hasn’t shirked on improving his own ground skills, but it’s still not his strong suit and his takedown defence is certainly not bullet-proof.  Melendez is a tireless worker on top with a strong base and has good ground and pound which could produce his best chance of getting a finish in this fight.

Another advantage for Melendez is his excellent conditioning and he’s proven that beyond doubt by fighting five hard rounds on several occasions.  On the other hand Masvidal will be facing a potential 25 minute fight for the first time in his career, and Melendez grinding style could wear on him if the fight goes into the later rounds.

Prediction:

I think Masvidal has it in him to produce an upset here if Melendez doesn’t play to his strengths, but overall i do favor the champion to successfully defend his title once again.  I think he’ll lean heavily on his wrestling, frustrate and tire out Masvidal and then go for the ground and pound finish in the championship rounds.

Gilbert Melendez to win by TKO in Rd4.

Cris “Cyborg” Santos vs. Hiroko Yamanaka

After over a year on the sidelines Strikeforce’s 145lb womans’ champion ‘Cyborg’ Santos returns hoping to re-establish her complete dominance in the division against Japanese challenger Yamanaka.

Cyborg’s striking prowess is well documented.  A comparison to fellow Brazilian star Wanderlei Silva isn’t too wide of the mark as she has that same aggressive streak and willingness to trade bombs toe-to-toe at any moment that her opponents appear unwilling or unable to deal with.   It’s worth noting that despite her fearsome reputation she’s not a one-punch KO artist – most of her wins have come by TKO, but she does tend to leave her adversary’s pretty banged up thanks to the cumulative effect of her blows.

That leaves Yamanaka with her work cut out for her, and she’ll need to use her height and reach to her advantage to keep the battling Brazilian at bay.  Unfortunately that’s not something she does particularly well. She’s not got the kind of power in her punches that’s going to make Cyborg think twice about pressing forward and has a tendancy to negate her advantage by closing the distance too quickly, while her defense is poor. 

Yamanaka is also fond of the clinch, which to be fair is effective due to her height making knee strikes a potent weapon, but Cyborg is also good from this position and is far stronger so it could actually work against her.

I’d have to give Cyborg the advantage on the ground as well.  Worryingly for her opponent the Brazilian has spent much of her time out from the sport working on rounding out her game so I’d expect improved groundwork from her.  She’s already got good takedowns and should have a lot of success getting the lanky Yamanaka on the floor.  I don’t think the same can be said in reverse, and I see little in the Japanese fighter’s ground game that’s going to trouble her.

Prediction:

Yamanaka’s 12-1 record flatters to deceive in my opinion, and I think that’ll show early on against a wrecking machine like ‘Cyborg’ Santos.  I’ll be surprised if she makes it out of the first round as Cyborg blasts away with vicious combinations on the feet.

Cris ‘Cyborg’ Santos to win by TKO in Rd1

Gegard Mousasi vs. Ovince St. Preux

For a man who likes to stay active Mousasi has had a relatively quiet 2011 with only two MMA fights and no kickboxing encounters, but he’ll get one last tough fight in before the end of the year against a potentially tricky opponent in OSP.

Mousasi is an excellent kickboxer with few holes in his striking game.  He’s got good power and accuracy, moves well, has solid defense and a good chin.  St.Preux has made effective use of his own striking prowess in his time with Strikeforce so far, but Mousasi is a big step-up in competition and given that Mousasi has got the better of some K-1 stars OSP is likely to find the going tough here.

OSP is a very good athlete though and has a solid wrestling game which could pose problems for Mousasi who had a fifteen fight winning streak snapped thanks to the grappling talents of ‘King Mo’ Lawal last year who pointed out weaknesses in his takedown defence.  St.Preux isn’t on Lawal’s level in that regard however and will likely struggle to impose his will the same way.

Mousasi is comfortable on the ground though and will offer a submission threat from his back if given space to work, and if he happens to get on top he’s known to lay down fight-ending strikes as ‘Babalu’ Sobral can testify.

Prediction:

This is an awkward fight for Mousasi and one that could highlight whether he’s made the kind of adjustments to his wrestling game that are going to be required to produce another sustained winning run at 205lbs against quality opposition.  It shouldn’t be forgotten that he’s still only 26 years-old and I like him to have made steps to shore up his weaknesses and also to have a distinct advantage in the striking realm which will help him to victory here.

Gegard Mousasi to win by TKO in Rd3

Billy Evangelista vs. K.J. Noons

With both Noons and Evangelista being far more used to winning than losing they’ll both be eager to put their last defeats in the Strikeforce cage behind them and emerge victorious tommorrow night.

While Masvidal outclassed him on the feet last time out Noons is still a very good boxer within the lightweight division with decent power, accurate hands and nice combination work, often picking out unusual angles that catch his opponents off-guard.

He’s also durable which is something that could also be said about Evangelista who’s proficient on his feet too, though in my opinion is going to come off second best against Noons more technical output.

Evangelista may be better served mixing things up a little with his wrestling, wearing him down on the floor with strikes. Noons has pretty solid takedown defence though and while he’s not especially comfortable on the floor, I don’t see his submission defense being tested to much here and he is adept at finding ways to get back to his feet.

Prediction:

I see Noons stuffing the majority of Evangelista’s takedowns and taking control of the stand-up battle en-route to a decision victory.

KJ Noons to win by decision.

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