Opening the main card on Saturday evening in Columbus, Ohio, undefeated lightweight standout Billy Evangelista (11-0-0-1) will hope to continue making a case for his placement in more prominent match-ups as he battles Sengoku and Bellator veteran Jorge Masvidal (20-6). Evangelista has only recently began to fight recognizable names, defeating both Jorge Gurgel and Waachim Spiritwolf in two consecutive Strikeforce Challengers' appearances in the last two years. Spiritwolf offered the most adversity, throwing overhand bombs that nearly flattened Evangelista. Evangelista evaded Waachim's attempts to end his undefeated streak, however, cruising to an unanimous decision victory on the scorecards.
Masvidal has consistently kept himself in the lightweight picture over the past few years by fighting a bevy of notable lightweights along with moving up in weight to fight Paul Daley in September. He's amassed a 4-3 record over the course of the last three years, leaving some doubt whether he will ever be able to match the skills of the top lightweights outside of the UFC. For now, the 26-year-old has been content with earning a steady paycheck while also attempting to make himself relevant. Strikeforce could provide a means to accomplishing that goal.
Masvidal is one of the most well-rounded opponents that Evangelista has faced in his career. A scrappy veteran who has proven knockout power in his hands, Masvidal also possesses good enough grappling skill to be a threat on the floor. He's never been overly technical in either area however, making him vulnerable to opponents who can stuff takedowns and out strike him. Against grapplers however, Masvidal is well-known evading submissions and crushing his prey with brutal ground and pound.
Evangelista is a striker who relies heavily on his takedown defense to keep the fight where he's strongest. Every fight up until Saturday's match-up with Masvidal has been easy to predict in terms of how it would play out, and the opponents that Strikeforce brought in for him have been willing to stick to that style of fight. Masvidal may not be so willing.
I've had a tough time trying to formulate exactly how this fight will go down. Evangelista's takedown defense and boxing game are formidable, but one has to wonder how good he actually is when he's fighting a stale strategy in every fight. His opponents haven't truly tested his ground tactics, and when they have -- they haven't been good enough to capitalize. Masvidal, in my opinion, is a more explosive takedown fighter than many of his past opponents, and he has brutal power from top control. If he brings this to the ground, Evangelista could be in for a major setback. I'll go with Masvidal via TKO, but Evangelista is probably the safer bet.