By Steve Davies – mmabay.co.uk
Main Event – Strikeforce middleweight title
Luke Rockhold (8-1) vs. Keith Jardine (17-9-2)
The Lowdown: The rebuild of Strikeforce as a legitimate top-tier promotion could hinge on current middleweight champion, Luke Rockhold – a clean-cut, aesthetically pleasing prospect who shocked the world by snatching the belt from Brazilian Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza in September.
The American Kickboxing Academy man cruised past the champion, utilising his slick kickboxing and natural athleticism to leave ‘Jacare’ exhausted and unable to take the fight to the ground. It was a big upset, as Rockhold had only beaten solid, but not world-class, opposition in Paul Bradley and Jesse Taylor in the past. Expected to face rival Tim Kennedy in his first title defence, the up-and-comer instead gets perhaps the weirdest title fight in Strikeforce history.
‘The Dean of Mean’ Keith Jardine is not only fighting for the first time at 185lbs, the Jackson’s MMA man has also gone 2-5-1 in his last eight fights – hardly title-worthy form. Granted, the Montana native lost to quality opposition in the UFC but his only recent victories came over bottom-level competition such as Aron Lofton and Kiko France in the little leagues. In his last outing, Jardine surprisingly drew with top 205lb contender, Gegard Mousasi.
The Verdict: If Keith Jardine wins this weekend, Scott Coker should be placed on suicide watch. Truth be told, Jardine will be a massive middleweight and his unorthodox style has caused problems for supposedly superior guys in the past so it might not be as cut-and-dried as we expect. However, ‘The Dean of Mean’s shaky chin will not get better by dropping down a weight-class and while Rockhold lacks sheer knockout power, he has the cardio and skill to keep the shots coming for twenty-five minutes if necessary. Don’t expect a corker of a title fight, but we should get to see a finish at least as Rockhold capitalises on a tiring Jardine to put him away with knees and punches at the halfway point. Rockhold, (T)KO, 3rd round.
Robbie Lawler (18-8) vs. Adlan Amagov (9-1-1)
The Lowdown: Middleweight slugger ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler’s career needs a boost in the arm as the Finney’s HIT Squad man looks to rebound from a dodgy spell in which he’s gone 1-3 in four fights. Always capable of delivering a ‘brutiful’ knockout (yep, I’m keeping that one), Lawler has lost back to back fights this year, starting with a third round submission defeat to BJJ sensation ‘Jacare’ Souza in January. In July, ‘Ruthless’ faced top 185lb contender Tim Kennedy and looked borderline dreadful as he failed to let his hands go and was more or less dominated to a decision by the grappler.
Lawler has again drawn the short straw as he faces Russian firebrand, Adlan Amagov, in the co-main event knowing that a third straight loss could see him trimmed from the Strikeforce roster. A whirling dervish of destruction, Amagov has already picked up two victories in the promotion – eking out a split decision over grappler Ron Stallings in July before punching out Anthony Smith in November to score a first round knockout. With a win over a recognised name like Lawler, the Russian banger would be hard to deny a title shot.
The Verdict: Lawler proved against Melvin Manhoef and Matt Lindland that he only needs one opening to leave you stiff on the mat, but Lindland’s striking is very poor and Manhoef simply got cocky due to the beating he was laying on Lawler’s legs. Amagov is quick, moves well and is a far more diverse striker than Robbie, who is still pretty much a power-puncher even after all these years. If Lawler wants to salvage his career in the big leagues, he needs to come in decisively and test the Russian’s chin but with no grappling to fall back on, he will struggle. Amagov takes this, out-manoeuvring and out-striking the American to a clean-cut decision. Amagov, decision.
Muhammed ‘King Mo’ Lawal (8-1) vs. Lorenz Larkin (12-0)
The Lowdown: Former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion Muhammed ‘King Mo’ Lawal returns to action this weekend as he aims to set-up a fight for the vacant belt in the near future by shooting down high-flying prospect Lorenz Larkin. Lawal famously wrestled the belt (literally) from Gegard Mousasi by unanimous decision only to be pounded out by Rafael Feijao in his first defence. The elite-level wrestler returned to the Strikeforce cage in September and needed just less than one round to drop and finish BJJ sensation Roger Gracie.
Already 3-0 in Strikeforce, 25 year old prospect Lorenz ‘The Monsoon’ Larkin has showcased some amazing agility and the kung fu practitioner is a crowd-pleaser in the highest sense. The Californian finished K-1 striker Scott Lighty in his debut but was forced to dig deep against both Gian Villante and Nick Rossborough – winning both fights by unanimous decision but not dominating either opponent. The entertaining Larkin would really shoot to prominence with a win over ‘King Mo’ and a title shot would beckon for the youngster.
The Verdict: Too much, too soon, too small. All three cover the reasons why this writer is leaning firmly towards ‘King Mo’ this weekend. Larkin’s a true prospect but he’s undersized for 205lbs and struggled badly in round one against a pretty strong wrestler in Villante. Replace Villante with an elite calibre wrestler who will not tire after five minutes and things look bleak for the stand-up artist who will be defending takedowns and trying to avoid the big right hand of Lawal from the off. Larkin is no one-hitter-quitter either, and relies on volume of strikes – sooner or later, Lawal is catching an errant kick and planting him on his back. ‘King Mo’ takes this one, riding out a conservative decision or picking up a late stoppage. Lawal, (T)KO, 3rd round.
Tyron Woodley (9-0) vs. Jordan Mein (23-7)
The Lowdown: Blue-chip welterweight prospect and former Mizzou wrestler, Tyron ‘T-Wood’ Woodley is apparently one win away from a title shot. Considering he’s 7-0 in Strikeforce and has beaten the likes of Paul Daley and Andre Galvao, Woodley should fighting for the gold this weekend but what can you do? The heavy-handed wrestling machine lines up opposite another highly-rated prospect in Las Vegas with the winner fighting for the vacant Strikeforce welterweight title later in the year.
Babyfaced killer Jordan ‘Young Gun’ Mein has been wowing the crowds in his homeland of Canada for years now under the tutelage of his father and former fighter, Lee Mein. The well-rounded Alberta native proved his salt in September when he made his Strikeforce debut against Brazilian madman Evangelista ‘Cyborg’ Santos. Mein dealt handily with the knockout artist before finishing him with some devastating standing elbow strikes in round three.
The Verdict: Why this is not a title fight is beyond this writer, but it’s safe to say the victor will be holding the belt come the summer either way. Mein is a legitimate prospect but has shown weaknesses against wrestlers such as Jason High in the past that a grappler of Woodley’s nature will take full advantage of. If Mein can follow Daley’s game-plan of sprawling and brawling (which had Woodley in some trouble in the final round of their fight), the Canadian could cause an upset. But put your hard-earned cash on ‘T-Wood’ who should grind out another admirable win to put himself in pole position in the welterweight division. Woodley, decision.
Tarec Saffiedine (11-3) vs. Tyler Stinson (22-7)
The Lowdown: The Strikeforce rebuild program will centre on established contenders like welterweight ‘Sponge’, Tarec Saffiedine who this weekend looks to take a step closer to a title shot. The Belgian all-rounder had a mixed 2011, dropping a close decision to top contender Tyron Woodley in January before bamboozling knockout artist Scott Smith in July to a dominant decision of his own.
Training with Team Quest, the karate stylist will be firmly in the title picture with another victory as he looks to prove technique outfoxes brute force again this weekend against heavy-handed Tyler Stinson. A massive 6ft 3in welterweight, ‘The Evolution’ arrived in Strikeforce with a bang as he knocked out veteran Eduardo Pamplona in just 15-seconds in July.
The Verdict: Stinson is seemingly confident in his ability to cause the upset this weekend but while the Kansas native has power and skill, he’s a heartbeat slower than Saffiedine who has shown real poise and precision inside the cage. If Stinson can turn it into a brawl, the fight could be his for the taking but ‘Sponge’ is a cut above right now and will pick him apart with kicks, punches and superior technique. Saffiedine, decision.
That’s all for the main card of ‘Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Jardine’, tune into MMABay on fight night for all the breaking news and results from the fight card.
By Steve Davies