The second installment of Strikeforce action in 2012 takes place this Saturday in the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. “Hands of Steel” Scott Smith (17-9) returns from a timely lay-off to take on one of the middleweight division’s rising new stars, Lumumba Sayers (5-2). “The Punk” Josh Thomson (18-4) is back from injury and will be greeted by KJ Noons (11-4) in his return. Midway through the main card, two dynamos of the sport meet as knockout artist “Semtex” Paul Daley (29-11-2) battles a fellow veteran in “Hitman” Kazuo Misaki (24-11-2). Bristol Marunde (12-6) makes his Strikeforce debut in the co-main event but has a steep mountain to climb in the form of submission ace, “Jacare” Ronaldo Souza (14-3). The main event has been turning heads for some time and now it finally comes to fruition when “Takedown” Miesha Tate (12-2) puts her women’s welterweight title on the line against “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey (4-0). With all the action already placed on the main card, here’s a glance of what to look out for when the combatants take to the cage.
Scott Smith vs. Lumumba Sayers: Fresh off a knockout win over “The Juggernaut” Antwain Britt (11-6) in the Strikeforce: Challengers Series, Lumumba Sayers gets his crack at the main card when he battles heavy-handed Scott Smith. Lumumba’s track records shows he has made his name out of submitting his opposition quickly and effectively within the first round but what these wins have in common is lethal striking to set it up. Although he is known to have power in his hands, choosing to strike with Scott Smith is a road he has to be careful in traveling. Smith may be on a three-fight skid but his comebacks, including knockout victories over the likes of Cung Le (7-2), “Razor” Benji Radach (21-6), and “Drago” Pete Sell (10-6), prove that even in later rounds, he possesses the power to end the fight with one well-timed punch. With a return to the middleweight division, the weight cut will be less stressing on him as well. This fight will go to polar extremes: either Sayers will land the big blows early in the first or he will be drawn out to later rounds where Smith is more likely to reign supreme. Sayers via KO (Strikes), Round 1
Ronaldo Souza vs. Bristol Marunde: Former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Ronaldo Souza returns to action for the first time since dropping his title to Luke Rockhold (9-1). Standing across from him is a promising newcomer to the Strikeforce promotion, IFL veteran Bristol Marunde. Marunde and Souza are notable submission artists in the cage with 16 submission stoppages between them, but it is Souza with the definitive edge in this department as his tours with the ADCC and other notable grappling tournaments support. His wins over Tim Kennedy (14-3) and his five-round war with Rockhold showcased Souza’s improvement in his stand-up but it is here where Marunde might be able to shine. Marunde can take a respectable punch but has serious power in his hands to return the favor. The downside to this is that he has been near reckless at times and if he chooses to do so from top-position, “Jacare” will show no mercy in making him pay for it with a slick submission. For Marunde to have a successful debut with Strikeforce, he will have to settle the fight standing and avoid Souza in close quarters, especially if pressed against the cage. Souza via Submission (Rear Naked Choke), Round 2
Paul Daley vs. Kazuo Misaki: Veteran Kazuo Misaki returns to Strikeforce for the first time since 2009 to battle stand-up fighter extraordinaire, Paul Daley. With Daley in the ring, one can expect nothing short of exchanges on the feet with a knockout being the goal in mind. Having gone 2-2 since falling short for the Strikeforce Welterweight Championship, a big victory over a seasoned veteran such as Misaki is what Daley believes can help situate him among MMA’s elite. As his wars with Jorge Santiago (23-10) are perfect examples of, Misaki has no problem trading strikes and holds a submission game he can implement with even the slightest opening or angle. Daley has shown vast improvements in his takedown and submission defense whenever brought out of his element, but rolling with Misaki is a mistake he cannot afford to make. The outlying factor is the 170lbs. weight limit the Japanese superstar will have to drop down to. Misaki’s career has taken place in the middleweight division but with an extra 15 pounds to cut, his stamina is at risk. “Hitman” will most likely opt for the ground game rather than go punch-for-punch with the Brit. Daley needs to keep the fight standing and wait patiently for his killshot to come rather than exchange with the “Hitman”. Daley via TKO (Strikes), Round 1
KJ Noons vs. Josh Thomson: Noons is returning after a much needed victory against Billy Evangelista (11-2) and is on a fast path to the Strikeforce lightweight title if he can eliminate another possible challenger. Thomson once held the strap himself but has been out of action since 2010. He has to get the ball rolling at Noons’ expense to even be considered a viable contender again. Noons has excellent hands but was not afraid to let his kicks and takedowns go in his last outing which proved crucial to gaining the judges’ nod against Evangelista. Thomson has always been well-versed in all facets of the game and is one of the few fighters to trouble current champion “El Nino” Gilbert Melendez (20-2) effectively both standing and wrestling. Noons might see it best to exploit his experience in the stand-up department to try and keep the former Strikeforce champion honest with the threat of a takedown. The opposite stands for Thomson. As a jack-of-all-trades, he is a lot better off getting close to Noons and working inside to drive the fight to the mat where his submission IQ can take over. Thomson’s absence from action will likely be the deciding factor overall for this match-up. If ring rust has built up too much, Noons should have easy pickings as the fight goes on. Noons via Unanimous Decision
Miesha Tate vs. Ronda Rousey: While the names of “Conviction” Gina Carano (7-1) or ”Cyborg” Cristiane Santos (10-1) have become synonymous with Women’s MMA, the battle between Tate and Rousey has risen to become one of the most pivotal MMA fights within the entire women’s bracket. The Women’s Welterweight Champion, Tate, is relentless when it comes to securing takedowns and she holds notable wins over Marloes Coenen (19-5) and “Warrior Princess” Zoila Gurgel (11-1). As for Rousey, her Olympic-level Judo has lead her to success within the cage with all her bouts ending violently in under two minutes by Armbar, as “The Jewel” Julia Budd (2-2) can surely attest. With Rousey’s first outing in a championship fight, there are a myriad of variables to consider with conditioning to be looked at instantly. Rousey has always found a way to lock a victory within the first round but if Tate can push the fight into deep waters, Rousey may start to slow down. Furthermore, her takedown defense has yet to be seen. Her Judo game has made her a nightmare offensively but how well that can translate to stuffing Tate’s takedowns or forcing a fight back up can determine how smooth the fight will end. Lastly, Tate has been active only once in the past year whereas Rousey accumulated her entire pro-career within that time frame. Her experience should grant her an edge yet Rousey’s activity in such a short amount of time virtually cancels it. Of course, the realm of striking can make or break the fight for either fighter if neither can land their shot. Rousey is most likely going to go for the clinch in order to utilize her Judo however “Takedown” Tate will want to shoot in for the single-leg. As tensions between these femme fatales are at an all-time high, expect them to storm out of the gates looking to implement their will, but all momentum is behind Rousey. Rousey via Submission (Armbar), Round 1