Continuing the card's theme of established star versus hungry up-and-comer, Dutch-Armenian kickboxer Gegard Mousasi meets physical leviathan Ovince St. Preux in a Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal 205-pound tilt.
Gegard Mousasi (31-3) is one of the most contentiously ranked fighters in MMA, currently seated in the ninth spot on December's consensus world rankings. He initially cemented himself as a middleweight in the overseas market, beginning with Pride FC's "Bushido" series and, later, in Dream's Middleweight Grand Prix, where his four impressive victories earned him the promotion's middleweight title. Global recognition accompanied his achievements, and Mousasi was netted by Strikeforce to debut on American soil. In addition to the adversity of diving in at the top of the food chain, the Golden Glory fighter declared that he'd also be competing twenty-pounds higher at light-heavyweight.
In the biggest fight of his life, with his career and reputation hanging in the balance, Mousasi lazily shuffled into the cage to face then-Strikeforce champ Renato Sobral wearing a look of almost bored indifference. Sixty seconds later, "Babalu" was counting sheep and Mousasi was fidgeting with a shiny new belt around his waist. After clobbering two more victims, Mousasi incurred his third career loss when he was devoured underneath the takedowns and top-play of Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, forfeiting the strap in the process. He has since notched three first-round stoppages along with a hotly debated draw with Keith Jardine.
Ovince St. Preux played defensive end and linebacker for the University of Tennessee from 2001-2004. As you'd imagine from an athlete of that caliber, his strength-to-agility ratio is exceptional. Having wrestled at a young age, St. Preux took up martial arts training after graduating from college and, when he couldn't secure a spot in the NFL, started to gravitate towards MMA. "OSP" lost his first two fights, racked up three consecutive wins, then dropped three straight. As a footnote: several defeats were against respectable opposition (Rodney Wallace, Nik Fekete, Virgil Swicker) and his first two wins were accomplished by head kick KO and the rare calf-slicer submission.
Overall, the first half of his career was quite commonplace. The second half was not.
St. Preux's been a busy man, accruing eight wins in a row and within a time-span of just twenty-one months. He's launched himself into the spotlight and up the contender ladder by accenting his résumé with quality victories over former UFCers Jason Day (KO) and Benji Radach (decision).
Match up analysis in the full entry.
Despite his billing as a kickboxer, Mousasi handles the vast majority of his customers with his hands. He started boxing at age fifteen and, just one year later, became an amateur boxing champion in the Netherlands. His roots also stem back to the art of Judo, which gives him a solid clinch and excellent balance, and his tenure at Golden Glory has been integral in enhancing his stand up and tying everything together.
Because his first two defeats were by armbar, Mousasi's submission grappling used to be a question mark, but he went on to triangle Denis Kang (a BJJ black belt with sixteen submission wins) and prove that he was far from a grappling novice. A persistent finisher, Mousasi now has a total of ten submissions on his record with a monumental eighteen wins by TKO, going the distance in only five of his thirty-six fights.
When you break down Mousasi's only shades of mortality, commonality lies in takedowns and the ground game. Thus, his machinations are all designed to maximize the fight-ending capabilities of his boxing. His footwork, defense, clinch and grappling are generally actuated to get him or keep him in the free-movement phase where he can blaze combinations.
That spin makes St. Preux an intriguing challenge and a live underdog. The southpaw is shockingly diverse for such an inexperienced fighter, popping off stiff and straight punches on the feet while demonstrating a capable arsenal of sub-grappling and takedowns. Along with his imposing physicality and sponge-like ability to evolve, St. Preux seems to have a natural instinct for mixed martial arts.
With a long reach measurement (79"), his competency standing could allow him to hold his own and set up his takedowns or clinch advances with strikes rather than telegraphing them or shooting with desperation. OSP has been pleasingly aggressive and offensive-minded on the mat but shifting a little more focus to control and defense might pay dividends if he can ground Mousasi. If he can maintain a semblance of controlling where the fight takes place and avoiding a three-round shootout on the feet, he's a legit threat to pull off the upset.
I think the dramatic increase in competition will play a role here. Mousasi has been a busy fighter as well, only at a much higher level, and has only been held down by Lawal, who is an accredited wrestler. Mousasi's sweep and scrambling skills are top-notch and his striking and submissions are utterly volatile. I don't think St. Preux's athleticism and freakish potential can make up for Mousasi's finesse, composure and fine-tuned technique.
My Prediction: Gegard Mousasi by TKO