Strikeforce middleweights Scott Smith (17-6-0-1, 3-1 SF) and Cung Le (6-1, 6-1 SF) have been down this same road before back in December of last year. Le was the promotion's golden ticket as his exciting style and growing movie career provided the perfect appeal to bring in viewers. Scott Smith provided the perfect opponent. A gritty and determined power puncher who didn't hide the fact that he would stand in the pocket and wing bomb after bomb until he connected and incapacitated his opponent. For years, it's been Smith's calling card, and he's provided some memorable "flips of the light switch" in his career, perhaps the most memorable being his knockout of Pete Sell at The Ultimate Fighter 4 Finale.
The roles have somewhat diminished since their first battle. After Smith was completely dominated by the diverse kicking attack of Le over the course of two rounds, Le began to tire. Smith, with possibly only a small amount of hope remaining, unleashed a barrage that miraculously knocked out Le. Smith has defined a career as the ultimate comeback kid, and it's fitting that one of his nicknames is exactly that... "The Comeback Kid". Instead of seeing the rematch as another showdown between the rising star and the scrappy veteran, Smith has put some doubt into those thoughts with his performance in December.
Following the loss, Le's age and inability to put Smith away were topics of discussion among fans. At 38 years of age, he's easily in the category of fighters who will never be considered the best in the world by any stretch of the imagination. Even if he were to attain the Strikeforce Middleweight crown, it's tough to fathom fans clamoring for his arrival in the UFC. Furthermore, Le's propensity to try to finish opponents in spectacular fashion may have hurt his chances against Smith, and it may have actually given Smith the opportunity to recover in order to land the blows that crushed Le in the third round.
Rematches are always tough to gauge due to the fact that each fighter has an idea of what to expect from their opponent, but this rematch isn't especially difficult in that Scott Smith uses the same style in every single fight. There is almost no chance we see a Scott Smith who out-wrestles Le and puts on a submission clinic, and that hurts his chances here.
Expect much of the same from Cung Le as he displayed in the first bout. Unpredictable kicking from range, and a lot of front kicks that disrupt Smith's ability to unload overhands on Le's chin. I think Le's major mistake in the first fight was his love affair with body kicks, and he could have easily landed way more damaging leg kicks in this fight. As long as Le doesn't close distance and lazily defend his chin in those encounters, he should be able to finish Smith at some point.
The safe bet is Cung Le in this match-up, but it's hard not to pick Scott Smith. The man is the epitome of what every fan loves to see in a mixed martial artist. Gutsy performances like that of his knockout of Pete Sell and Cung Le are exactly what get fans emotional about this sport, and there will always be a spot in mixed martial arts for fighters like Scott Smith and Chris Leben. Perhaps not the best fighters, but possess the uncanny ability to entertain.
Maybe we'll see something different from Smith. Perhaps he'll try to wrestle, but I'd be willing to bet we'll see him unload overhands and hope for the knockout. With that said, I'm picking Scott Smith purely based on my biased love for the guy as a fighter. I'm not overly confident he'll win, but how can you not root for "The Comeback Kid"?