‘Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal Preview and Predictions
By Steve Davies – MMABAY
Main Event – Strikeforce lightweight title
Gilbert Melendez (19-2) vs. Jorge Masvidal (22-6)
The Lowdown: It’s been a long time coming, but top-ranked lightweight and Strikeforce champion Gilbert ‘El Nino’ Melendez returns in San Diego as he looks to reaffirm his position as a world-beater and possibly get a transfer to the UFC to prove it. The Skrap Pack lightweight wrestled the title from Josh Thomson in 2008 and has defended it five times since in increasingly dominant fashion.
Melendez’s last two defences have seen the Californian on a one-man mission to make the world of Japanese MMA look bad. In April 2010, ‘El Nino’ had little trouble with feared submission wizard Shinya Aoki and put a wrestling clinic on the PRIDE superstar en route to the unanimous decision. In April this year, Melendez returned to action and needed less than one round to elbow his way to a stoppage against Tatsuya Kawajiri after flooring the veteran with a bomb.
While reputation would suggest Aoki and Kawajiri were the biggest threats to the champion, Jorge ‘Gamebred’ Masvidal could be a much tougher fight for Melendez this weekend. The American Top Team bruiser earned his shot with dominant three-round drubbings of Billy Evangelista and K.J Noons and will be chomping at the bit to bring a little Miami heat to San Diego this weekend.
The iron-chinned former street-fighter’s ruthless aggression and fearless attitude can only take him so far but Masvidal is a deceptively well-rounded lightweight who has the ability to turn this into a war of attrition. If ‘Gamebred’ can make it competitive, we could be in for a classic.
The Verdict: To stand a chance, Masvidal needs to stay off his back and drag Melendez into a brawl where he has a solid chance of coming out on top. The lankier fighter could use his reach to keep distance and look to do damage from the clinch but the champion’s wrestling base and endless cardio should mean that Masvidal spends much of the fight backing up. ‘Gamebred’s iron will and scrappiness will make him difficult to finish but Melendez will wear him down against the cage and score points with the odd takedown. The title rounds may look one-sided as Melendez puts another contender to the sword and pushes for a fight with the UFC champion. Melendez, decision.
Co-Main Event – Strikeforce women’s 145lb title
Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Santos (10-1) vs. Hiroko Yamanaka (12-1)
The Lowdown: The Strikeforce women’s 145lb title is up for grabs in San Jose as unstoppable Brazilian champion Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Santos looks to take out yet another hopeful and reaffirm her status as the most feared female mixed martial artist on the planet. The Chute Boxe wrecking machine ripped the belt from Gina Carano with a first round demolition and has since defended it twice without being remotely threatened.
‘Cyborg’ made top female competitor Marloes Coenen look amateur with a third round stoppage before handing an even more brutal reality check to Jan Finney last June – KO’ing the challenger with a knee to the body in round two.
Next in line is Japanese debutant Hiroko ‘Cat’s Eye’ Yamanaka who comes with an admirable 12-1 record and appears to be a worthy challenge for the champion. Yamanaka hasn’t lost since 2008 and is a veteran of Japan’s Jewels promotion but the 5ft 11in grappler has yet to enter the cage with a monster like ‘Cyborg’.
The Verdict: It’s hard to favour anyone against ‘Cyborg’ and while Yamanaka seems a solid challenger and her height and reach could cause some problems, the Brazilian’s ultra-aggressive style will have the Japanese fighter wobbling all over the cage. It will more than likely be a walk in the park as ‘Cyborg’ lays waste to another pretender with an onslaught from the clinch early on. Santos, (T)KO, 1st round.
Gegard Mousasi (31-3-2) vs. Ovince St Preux (11-4)
The Lowdown: The Strikeforce light-heavyweight title remains vacant but you can bet that former champion Gegard Mousasi’s name is a firm favourite to fill that hole should he put on a show in San Diego. ‘The Dreamcatcher’ ruled the Strikeforce division briefly after arriving in 2009 and knocking out Renato ‘Babalu’ Sobral before taking out Sokoudjou in similar fashion.
In April 2010, the Dutch-Armenian striking machine was stripped of the title by Muhammad ‘King Mo’ Lawal after a torrid five-round battle and has only fought once in Strikeforce since that disappointment. Mousasi was again dealt a harsh hand by the judges in April this year, drawing with Keith Jardine, an opponent he was supposed to demolish.
Perhaps the most promising 205lb prospect Strikeforce has under contract, former NFL man Ovince St Preux’s natural athleticism and power has taken him to a 5-0 record with the promotion. The 6ft 3in Tennessee native has not lost since 2009 and has made relatively easy work of tough mid-level opposition like Antwain Britt and Benji Radach and was last seen making up-and-comer Joe Cason submit to punches in July.
The Verdict: With such a shallow talent-pool at their disposal, Strikeforce are forced to throw a prospect to the lions again and while St Preux has undeniable talent he’s far from the finished product. ‘OSP’ is a powerful wrestler but’s not dominant with it and he leaves openings that a wily grappler like Mousasi can expose without breaking a sweat. The K-1 level striker will have no problem dealing with St Preux’s standard boxing but he must be wary of the punching power at the same time. The gap in experience though will be glaring this weekend – St Preux will either be too tentative or too cocky and Mousasi will make him pay, slapping the brakes on the hype train. Mousasi, submission, 2nd round.
Billy Evangelista (11-1) vs. K.J Noons (10-4)
The Lowdown: Fresno, California’s Billy Evangelista had honed an impressive unbeaten record of 11-0 while becoming one of the faces of the ‘Challengers’ series, taking out tough journeymen like Waachim Spiritwolf and Jorge Gurgel by decision. The well-rounded lightweight was not ready for the big guns though and in March, Evangelista was put through the mangler by title contender Jorge Masivdal who stuffed his takedowns and used him as target practice for fifteen minutes.
Humiliation at the hands of Masvidal is something Evangelista has in common with his opponent this weekend. ‘King’ K.J Noons famously beat Nick Diaz in EliteXC due to a cut and after a few entertaining wins inside the Strikeforce cage, the boxer faced Diaz for the welterweight title last October, dropping a decision to the champion. In June, Noons’ record took another hit when he found Masvidal too hot to handle and left the cage with a decision loss and a deformed head.
The Verdict: Evangelista is good at most things, but excels in few areas and his wrestling is too patchy to exploit Noons’ weaknesses on the ground. Noons’ excels when he can dictate the pace and his opponent is not hyper-aggressive and after stuffing a few takedown attempts and finding his rhythm the boxer will start lighting up Evangelista with tight combinations. Expect an easy one for the judges. Noons, decision.
Preliminary card preview
It’s going to be a crucial night in the Strikeforce career of welterweight talent Roger Bowling (9-2) whose time in the promotion has been far from spectacular thus far. ‘Relentless’ rode a steady wave of hype into the bigger leagues but has underwhelmed and going 1-2 against experienced but unspectacular Bobby Voelker has left some critics scratching their heads. The Ohio native needs to recapture his earlier form that saw him blast through UFC fighters Shamar Bailey and Seth Baczynski, starting with Jerron Peoples (4-1). Peoples is an up-and-comer from California who certainly knows how to bang but was mauled in his Strikeforce debut by the far more experienced Eduardo Pamplona. If Bowling falls short again, he might have seen the last of the Strikeforce cage while Peoples has seen how Bowling can wilt under pressure – setting the stage for a barn-burner between two desperate 170lb prospects.
The Verdict – Bowling, submission, 3rd round.
For surging lightweight contender Justin Wilcox (11-3), a prelim slot seems a bit harsh as the American Kickboxing Academy wrestler was riding a five-fight winning streak in the promotion until June. An errant finger to the eye caused ‘The Silverback’s televised fight with Brazilian bomber Gesias ‘JZ’ Cavalcante to be ruled a no contest and Wilcox finds himself back in the shade of the undercard this weekend. The lightweight powerhouse pits his top wrestling game against fellow rising star, Caros Fodor (6-1) who earned his spurs on the ‘Challengers’ cards and most recently took a comfortable decision over tough Cung Le student, James Terry. The AMC Pankration man is aggressive and does some destructive work from the clinch but is no stranger to the ground game either. ‘The Future’ maybe a premature nickname but with a win over Wilcox, Fodor would be shot to the main cards in the future.
The Verdict – Wilcox, decision.
The other standout preliminary card clash sees green heavyweight prospect Gabriel Salinas-Jones (5-0-1) who gets an almighty bump in competition after winning his Strikeforce debut in July, submitting tough kickboxer Bryan Humes with a third round brabo choke. The 260lb Illinois native has beaten solid competition by little leagues’ standards – former TUF hopeful Zak Jensen and recent Gabriel Gonzaga victim, Parker Porter – but in Devin Cole (19-9-1) the portly rookie may have his hands full. The former IFL veteran and decorated collegiate wrestler went three rounds with Daniel Cormier on his Strikeforce debut before taking a lopsided decision over Shawn Jordan in July. Jordan went on to dismantle Lavar Johnson, so Cole’s controlling of him is testament to his under-rated skillset. The Oregon native is a major roadblock in the path of Salinas-Jones but if the underdog pulls it off, we could be seeing the start of something special.
The Verdict – Cole, decision.