Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Jardine will welcome MMA fans to 2012 with the first premiere event of the year. The show goes down this Saturday, January 7, from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and will be headlined by newly crowned middleweight champion Luke Rockhold in his first title defense against savvy veteran Keith Jardine.
Rounding out the live broadcast are bouts pitting middleweights Robbie Lawler vs. Adlan Amagov, light-heavies Muhammed Lawal vs. Lorenz Larkin, and welterweights Tyron Woodley vs. Jordan Mein and Tarec Saffiedine vs. Tyler Stinson. Three preliminary fights are slated to take place before the main card goes live on Showtime at 10 p.m. ET. Those matches are:
We'll take a walk through the match ups and fighter backgrounds (with gifs!) in the full entry.
Nah-Shon Burrell is only twenty-one years old and less than two years deep in experience. He made his Strikeforce debut on the Overeem vs. Werdum undercard having won five of his six career fights, all by TKO. He has sharp kickboxing and displayed solid wrestling and submission defense in his decision victory over Joe Ray.
Burrell got back to his typical form in the follow up performance with a second round TKO of Lukasz Les on the Challengers 18 prelims.
James Terry was an All American wrestler at Pima College in Tucson, AZ. He's been honing his kickboxing under Cung Le and presents a formidable double-threat with striking and takedowns. After Tarec Saffiediene handed him his second loss in a decision, Terry won two more as a welterweight and then made a successful test-run against Josh Thornburg at a catchweight of 165-pounds (left).
His lightweight debut was against accelerating AMC Pankration grinder Caros Fodor, who just knocked out Justin Wilcox. Terry dropped a unanimous decision to Fodor but, in his last outing, got back on track with a first round KO of Magno Almeida (the fighter that broke Conor Heun's arm).
The six-piece combination above shows Terry's frightening comfort with his striking. Keep in mind -- this is a guy with a background in wrestling. Back to welterweight for this bout due to short notice, Terry will have a strong edge in past opposition against Burrell. Actually, he should have the edge almost everywhere, but Burrell is a good-sized welterweight who has all the makings of a superstar if he can surpass his biggest test in Terry.
My Prediction: James Terry by decision.
Villante, who was once on the cusp of a career as a football player in the NFL, saw main card action in the opening round of the Heavyweight Grand Prix against Chad Griggs (right). He more than held his own in heated exchanges early before Griggs popped him for a first-round stoppage.
Smith is another exciting newcomer with only one loss to Devin Cole on his ten-fight record. Of his nine wins, eight were by submission with one TKO, and eight were finished in the opening round. He was a collegiate All American wrestler and 2012 marks the start of his third year of professional MMA.
The edge in high-level experience goes to Villante, whose natural athleticism and D-1 wrestling background make him tough to manipulate. He also has dangerously heavy hands, finishing five of his eight wins by TKO with two submissions.
Smith is a little bit of an unknown with a very formidable submission grappling game. I'm fairly high on Villante and was initially leaning toward a quick stoppage for him. Smith might prove to be another lurking talent in the division and his takedowns and ground acumen will be tough to fend off, so I'll switch up my pick and take a chance on Smith.
My Prediction: Trevor Smith by submission.
Ricky Legere Jr. (13-4) vs. Christopher Spang (4-0)
Legere will be making his debut under the Strikeforce banner and Spang is in his second go-around after defeating Joe Ray by decision. Spang, a Swede with a 2-0 pro boxing record, is an undefeated J-Sect fighter and pretty tall for a 170-pounder at 6'2". His older brother, Andreas Spang, is also a successful MMA fighter (7-1) who just earned a first round TKO in his Strikeforce debut on the Challengers 20 card.
Legere spent the bulk of his career in King of the Cage and is the more seasoned fighter; each of his four losses are fairly respectable (Waachiim Spiritwolf, Quinn Mulhern, Bobby Green and Adam Lynn). He trains alongside the likes of Tony DeSouza, Georgi Karakhanyan, Gabe Ruediger and Darrell Montague at Millennia MMA and rides a three-fight roll into this encounter.
I expect Spang's freakish talent to compensate for Legere's superior experience, though this will be his biggest leap in competition. He uses his reach well and has a nice set of hands.
My Prediction: Christopher Spang by TKO.
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com