It’s the first Strikeforce of the year – hooray! Middleweight champ Luke Rockhold is defending his belt against Keith Jardine, who’s about as worthy a challenger as Urijah Faber or Bob Sapp – boo! Okay, enough with the griping. Saturday night’s main event may be a big pile of suck (for reasons such as Jardine’s five-fight losing streak that got him booted from the UFC, and his last bout ending in a draw), but there’s no cause to lambast the rest of the card, which is actually quite decent. There’s an ex-champ, a legendary slugger, and a wealth of promising up-and-comers on deck, all of whom deserve love. So let me give them love – all of them – in the form of a preview.
-Luke Rockhold vs. Keith Jardine – Rockhold was a very talented nobody who was wrecking dudes on the lower rungs of the ladder, so in September he was given a crack at the more-experienced Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza’s belt. And I’ll be damned if Rockhold didn’t outwork him and earn himself the Strikeforce crown. So here we are then, with the champ set to defend his title for the first time against former light-heavyweight Jardine in what should be a walk in the park for the Dave Camarillo-trained grappler. Can “The Dean of Mean” stuff a takedown? Sure. Can he still wing kicks and punches from odd angles and throw opponents off? Sure. But there’s a fire that burns within the hearts of those who can and do compete at the highest levels, and though Rockhold put that flame on display in his five-rounder against Jacare, a peek inside Jardine’s chest is like looking inside the freezer compartment of your refrigerator – there’s a TV dinner, a torn-open bag of peas, some stray cubes that fell from the tray, and that’s pretty much it. Rockhold is taking this one, maybe by sub, maybe by decision.
-Robbie Lawler vs. Adlan Amagov – Lawler has been knocking people into oblivion since before he starred in the UFC’s first appearance on cable television (fun fact: it was on Fox Sports Net’s “Best Damn Sports Show Period”, and he TKO’d Steve Berger). Unfortunately, he’s also been falling to expert submission specialists since those early days, too. But Chechen fighter Amagov isn’t so much a “make you tap out” kind of guy as much as he’s a “brawl ‘til you fall” guy, so this could be one heck of a thrilling bout while it lasts. Does Lawler still have it in him to send a young buck to Dreamland? I don’t see why not. With his last four losses coming at the hands of Tim Kennedy, Jacare, Renato Sobral and Jake Shields – elite fighters all – taking on a prospect who has yet to face top talent should be no problem.
-Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal vs. Lorenz Larkin – Former champ King Mo may have bitten off more than he could chew against Rafael Cavalcante, but since losing the belt the trash-talking wrestler bounced back to easily crush Roger Gracie – a win that reestablished him as a prominent (read: badass) member of the organization’s light-heavyweight division. On the flip side, aside from a performance in September that lacked magic, Larkin has been epitome of “exciting striker and rising star”, and Lawal should be the mother of all tests of his ability to defend takedowns. In terms of sheer mettle, I see Larkin going the distance. Sadly, I don’t see the up-and-comer doing more than surviving while the ex-champ dry humps him. King Mo is taking the decision here.
-Tyron Woodley vs. Jordan Mein – As one of the best guys to ever come out of the Strikeforce Challengers “little league”, Woodley has been so effective with his “lay and pray” technique, the Catholic Church has given him the rank of cardinal. (Get it? “Pray”? Heh-heh.) Mein, though highly-touted as a stud and sporting wins over Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos, Marius Zaromskis and Josh Burkman, is going to have a rough night if he can’t keep Woodley off of him. And frankly, I have Woodley smothering him to death.
-Tyler Stinson vs. Tarec Saffiedine – After seeing Stinson get handled by Steve Carl in Bellator, I tend to believe his 15-second knockout of Eduardo Pamplona (a Brazilian who is to striking what the Human Torch is to fire) was a fluke. Regardless, his bout against Saffiedine should be entertaining as hell given Saffiedine’s propensity for standing and creatively throwing fists and feet. For handily defeating the likes of Scott Smith and Brock Larson, I give the edge to the man from Belgium. But when leather is flying, you never know. Stinson could catch him.