Strikeforce Los Angeles Preview: KJ Noons Aims to Regain Elite Status Against Conor Heun

KJ Noons punches with Andre "Dida" Amade at DREAM 13. Can he regain elite status with Strikeforce with a win over Conor Heun? Photo by Daniel Herbertson, Sherdog.com

One of the busiest weeks in mixed martial arts history will begin early this week as Strikeforce: Los Angeles will take place on Wednesday, June 16th from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, California. The event will be headlined by a catchweight battle featuring devastating middleweight striker "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler and light heavyweight UFC and PRIDE veteran Renato "Babalu" Sobral. Special forces sniper turned MMA pro Tim Kennedy will also make an appearance against long-time MMA veteran and South African-born Trevor Prangley at middleweight, and Lithuanian striker Mariusz Zaromskis will return to the Strikeforce cage against Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos in welterweight action. It will air LIVE on Showtime at 11:00 PM EST.

Before those three battles take place, a lightweight contest between former EliteXC lightweight champion KJ Noons (7-1, 1-0 Strikeforce) and Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt Conor Heun (8-3, 1-1 Strikeforce) should serve as a nice starter to the evening of action. Noons has recently returned to mixed martial arts after trying to make a career for himself in the boxing world, going 4-1 in competition. He did manage to defeat Nick Diaz to attain the EliteXC lightweight title in 2007, and he defended that title against Yves Edwards in 2008 -- defeating both fighters via first round stoppages. His return came at DREAM.13 in March against Brazilian striker Andre "Dida" Amade, a fight that Noons won by unanimous decision.

Heun has been on the shelf for quite awhile as he hasn't fought since June of last year. That battle was a memorable war with former UFC fighter Jorge Gurgel at Strikeforce Challengers II, but Heun came up short against the veteran. Despite the setback, Heun still remains a very dangerous, high-paced fighter who could enter the mix at lightweight with a victory on Wednesday night.

Stylistically, I'm somewhat in the dark as to how this fight will go. Noons is obviously the easier of the two fighters to predict. He'll more than likely look to trade with Heun, pepper him with shots and mix in his heavy overhands to down him early in the fight. Heun is a bit more dynamic in that he has good wrestling and jiu-jitsu ability, but Noons has proven that he has the overall athleticism to stuff takedowns and get back to his feet.

The real question is whether Heun is ignorant to the fact that Gurgel absolutely bombed him in their fight in June of last year for at least two out of the three rounds. Gurgel is by no means a top-notch striker, but his aggressiveness and use of combinations was tough for Heun to stop. Noons will be an obvious favorite in the stand-up game, especially if Gurgel was successful.

Ring rust will also be an issue as Heun hasn't fought since last June. Making an appearance to beat up a bully on MTV's Bully Beatdown doesn't count. Noons, on the other hand, was professionally boxing during his layoff from the sport, and he was involved in a return fight at DREAM.13. One could say that all of those fights in a ring instead of a cage could hurt him, but I think I'll take activity against actual opponents trying to hurt you over being sidelined in the gym.

Heun has a chance in this fight if he can neutralize Noons' striking with quick pace and clinch tactics that eventually lead to a ground fight however. Noons hasn't really battled fighters who are more willing to hit the floor than strike, and the opponents who have a background in jiu-jitsu or wrestling have tried to stand with him instead.

I'll go with Noons in this fight as I think his speed in his striking will ultimately be the difference. Heun hasn't shown tremendous takedown ability, but I think he can implement that type of gameplan if he can wade through Noons' strikes to the clinch. He might not be a bad beat for bettors looking for some value.

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