Opening up Saturday night's Strikeforce main card, Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Andre Galvao (5-1, 2-0 SF) aims to put any doubts to rest as to whether he can be one of the best welterweight talents in the sport as he battles two-time NCAA All-American wrestler Tyron Woodley (6-0, 4-0 SF). Both fighters have been fighting within Strikeforce's progressive plan to bring along prospects steadily with tougher challenges from fight to fight, and both have remained undefeated under the Strikeforce banner.
Galvao, one of the world's best Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners in mixed martial arts, has the record that would indicate he's faired well against the competition Strikeforce has pitted him against, but a more meticulous look at his in-cage performances would say otherwise. Former UFC fighter Jason High was able wrestle Galvao to a split decision at DREAM.10 to give Galvao his first loss, and he narrowly defeated Luke Stewart and Jorge Patino in both appearances under the Strikeforce banner. While his grappling prowess is certainly a danger to his opponents, Galvao's striking remains a work in progress that is also serving as a major weakness that could put his hopes of entering the upper echelon of the division on hold.
Woodley, on the other hand, has been quite impressive since his undercard billing at Strikeforce: Lawler vs. Shields back in June of 2009. He's used his NCAA All-American wrestling background in combination with a diverse set of submissions to topple most of the competition put in front of him. Nathan Coy provided the only true challenge to his rise in the ranks, but Woodley narrowly edged out the Portland native via a split decision back in May. While many fans felt Coy did enough to win the fight, I don't forsee Woodley having the same problems against Galvao on Saturday night.
While Galvao has a lot of hype around him due to his accomplishments in the grappling arena, Tyron Woodley has all of the momentum coming into this showdown. If you recall the events that transpired at Strikeforce: Houston back in August, Galvao was nearly knocked out in the first round against Jorge Patino. While Patino is known for his toughness, most felt Galvao would have the edge on the floor and dominate a ground battle. Unfortunately, it turned into an almost insurmountable climb from the depths of unconsciousness to victory. I say "almost" because Galvao successfully did just that... came back and won in the third round via TKO.
It was an impressive win, but the first round scare proved that Galvao is no phenom when it comes to transitioning from Brazilian jiu-jitsu to mixed martial arts. He has certainly progressed at what I'd like to think is a normal rate, but the combination of Woodley's strength and wrestling background provides a style that he's seen once before in a losing effort. Unfortunately for Galvao, I think Woodley is a better wrestler than Jason High, the man who is attributed to Galvao's lone loss.
Galvao's striking leaves me cringing when he's involved in exchanges, mainly because he hasn't quite learned how to defend his chin well, and his grappling hasn't quite transitioned as well as we would have hoped. Conditioning can also be a problem, and Woodley will have plenty in the tank to outwork Galvao in this fight. Woodley will probably try to strike a bit in this fight, but as it wears on... I expect his work rate to wear out Galvao. Woodley via decision.