Saturday night finds Strikeforce in Nashville for their second live event on CBS, minus Fedor Emelianenko, but with three major title fights on the line, and the debut of former UFC star Dan Henderson.
Read on for our full preview and predictions for the main card of the event.
Dan Henderson Vs Jake Shields
After being forced to sit out much of the last 9 months due to failed contract negotiations with the UFC, Dan Henderson finally gets back into the cage to make his Strikeforce debut against the current middleweight champion Jake Shields.
Shields moved up to 185lbs to fight for the vacant title against Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller on the last CBS event, putting together a less-than-thrilling, but dominant performance to earn both the belt, and his 13th victory in a row.
Henderson is a step up in competition though, arguably the toughest fighter Shields has faced to date, and coming off a three fight win-streak in the UFC that culminated with a ‘Knockout Of The Night’ performance against Michael Bisping at UFC 100.
Having spent his career moving between 185lbs – 205lbs Hendo will also have a natural size and strength advantage over Shields, who is more at home at 170lbs, and together with his wrestling that should allow him to dictate where the fight goes. In this instance it’s no great secret that he will aim to keep the fight standing, testing Shield’s own questionable striking, and hoping to connect with his tried and tested heavy hands.
Shield’s showed no interest in competing on his feet with ‘Mayhem’ so you can be assured that there’s absolutely no chance of him doing so against Henderson if he can avoid it. Therefore watch for the current champion to attempt to get his opponent flat on his back where he can attempt to grind him down, and possibly work for a submission.
Getting Henderson down is likely to be a major challenge though, and whether he can do so will make or break his fight.
Jake Shields is much better suited to 170lbs, and I think we’ll see that against a true middleweight veteran like Henderson. Really this fight stacks up heavily in ‘Hendo’s favor – he has the size, experience, striking and power advantage, with the icing on the cake being his wrestling which should nicely counter Shields only real route to success on the mat. If he is able to keep this fight on the feet then there’s only one winner here.
I’m going for Dan Henderson to win by knockout in the 2nd round.
Gegard Mousasi Vs Muhammed ‘King Mo’ Lawal
24 year old Gegard Mousasi has compiled one of the most impressive winning records in the sport, going 15 fights unbeaten over the past three and a half years. along the way he has defeated respected fighters like Hector Lombard, Denis Kang, Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza and Renato ‘Babalu’ Sobral spanning fights in Pride, DREAM, M-1 and Strikeforce.
King Mo has established a six fight unbeaten run of his own since entering into the sport, though the level of competition has been less notable, with his debut in Strikeforce against Mike Whitehead back in December arguably being his toughest so far. That doesn’t faze the 28 year-old former wrestling stand-out however, who is certainly not lacking in self-confidence heading into this bout.
One of Mousasi’s main assets is his well-rounded style. Capable of ending the fight on his feet, from his back, or from top position, the Dutch-Armenian will be comfortable wherever the fight goes. And make no mistake, he does end fights – only three of his 31 career fights have went to a decision, and his opponents rarely survive past the opening round.
Lawal on the other hand is definitely more of a work in progress at this stage, though he is a ‘student of the game,’ studying tape, carefully considering strategy and constantly trying to improve.
Significantly he is a former NCAA wrestling champion, and as we’ve seen many times in the past, wrestling can take you a long way in this sport. Backing that up Mo has shown himself to have KO power, as was best demonstrated against Mike Whitehead, and those skills combined makes him a handful for anyone he faces.
I’m interested to see how Lawal does against a significantly better opponent than he’s faced so far. A win would be huge for his career, but it’s a big ask against the more technically proficient, well rounded and experienced Mousasi – perhaps a case of too much too soon. I expect Mousasi to show his superior technique in the striking department, but ultimately to end the fight by submitting King Mo to retain his light-heavyweight title.
I’m taking Gegard Mousasi to win by submission in the third round.
Gilbert Melendez Vs Shinya Aoki
Gilbert Melendez showed the evolution of his game by going three fights unbeaten including avenging a previous loss against Josh Thomson to claim the lightweight title. Meanwhile Shinya Aoki also had a notable 2009, winning the DREAM lightweight championship and then defeating Senguko’s title holder Mizuto Hirota in controversial fashion by breaking his arm and then taunting him afterwards.
Aoki is currently rated as the No.2 lightweight in the world, while Melendez also ranks in the top 10. Since current No.1 fighter BJ Penn lost last weekend in the UFC, there is now addition interest in this fight, with some suggesting the winner could be crowned the new lightweight No.1. While I personally disagree with this (especially if Melendez wins), it certainly adds spice to the occasion.
Both fighters have a distinct skill-set heading into this bout. Melendez will have the advantage in the stand-up with good boxing backed up by solid wrestling skills and the cardio to go five hard rounds.
Aoki on the other hand is a slick, creative BJJ stylist with an uncanny ability to pull off a bewildering array of advanced submissions in competition. Whether it’s an arm-breaking hammer-lock, a gogoplata, a flying triangle-choke or a standing arm-lock, Aoki knows how to finish fights in spectacular fashion.
Melendez is a purple belt in BJJ himself, trained under Cesar Gracie, along with renowned ground fighters like Jake Shields and Nate Diaz, but that might not be enough to save him should this fight hit the mat. To balance that out Aoki is not a fearsome prospect in the striking department so Melendez will undoubtedly look to exploit that weakness in his game.
This is a tough one. Aoki is such a creative fighter that it’s hard to bet against him pulling off another highlight-reel submission victory. I can’t seem to shake off the fact that Japanese fighters often struggle overseas though, and this will be his first fight ever outwith his own country. I’ve also been impressed with Melendez development recently, and I think his combination of striking and wrestling can overwhelm the Japanese champion.
I’m going for Gilbert Melendez to win by TKO in Rd3.
Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller Vs Tim Stout
Technically a prelim, the bout between Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller and Tim Stout was hastily arranged to give CBS the opportunity to air a fourth fight should the three title fights finish early. Really it’s the type of mismatch that doesn’t warrant a great deal of discussion with Miller being the vastly more experienced and talented fighter.
Stout has a punchers chance, but that’s about it. He’s shown a susceptibility to being submitted, and that’s a flaw that Miller will be only to glad to expose. Expect him to do so as quickly as possible to avoid any potential for an upset, and most importantly to ensure that his fight is short enough to fit neatly onto the CBS show.
Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller to win by submission in Rd1