Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier goes live this Saturday from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California. The promotion's alpha-heavyweight will finally be determined in the headlining bout of Josh Barnett vs. Daniel Cormier and the lightweight belt of Gilbert Melendez will be on the line in the last leg of his trilogy with Josh Thomson. Welterweights see action on the main card in the Nah-Shon Burrell (8-1) vs. Chris Spang (4-1) match.
Spang comes from a family of fighters, as his father was a pro-boxer and his brother, Andreas Spang, just knocked out Brian Rogers (on short notice) and faces Maiquel Falcao in the finals of Bellator's Season 6 Middleweight Tournament. The 24-year-old Spang is an undefeated pro-boxer himself (2-0 with 2 KOs) and an understudy of the great Skipper Kelp and John Lewis at J-Sect in Las Vegas. In MMA, he's notched 2 KOs and a single submission and decision. Spang stepped up when Bobby Voelker withdrew from the card with an injury.
More Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier Dissections
At just 22-years-old, Burrell is building a name as a rising phenom for his exceptional athleticism and natural fighting instincts. He trains out of Philadelphia's Fight Firm and, with less than 2 years of experience, has amassed 6 KO wins and 2 decisions. Burrell has a long and lean physique that's complemented by considerable strength and agility. He was a bit of an unpolished diamond but has now been displaying huge strides with his boxing -- which has become rather sharp and quick -- his defensive grappling and overall fight awareness.
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Burrell is typically the rangier fighter in the cage but will encounter an unusual disadvantage in height (6'1" vs. 6'2") and reach (73" vs. 76.5") against Spang. Though Spang only has 5 MMA fights, he will have the more refined kickboxing and grappling arsenal. He started training in the pure striking arts at a young age and has a technical medley of boxing and Muay Thai, and his ground game is deceivingly effective after spending time rolling with BJJ whiz Robert Drysdale.
Both fighters have struggled against wrestling-based opposition, as Burrell just eked out a split decision over the multi-dimensional James Terry that could've gone either way and Spang dropped a unanimous decision to Ricky Legere Jr. in his last. Burrell's god-given gifts will probably give him the wrestling edge; a factor that could be pivotal if he has trouble getting inside on Spang's faraway kicks and fundamental footwork. Striking diversity goes to Spang, who will unleash push kicks and roundhouse kicks to augment his technical boxing; speed and strength goes to Burrell, who is a freakishly athletic specimen.
Spang's short notice in replacing Voelker is likely behind the strong push for Burrell on the betting lines, who ranges between -250 and -300 to win. This along with the imposing physical strength of Burrell and surging momentum of Burrell gives him my vote, but I think Spang is a live dog here. Having the edge in height and reach, in addition to the more technical striking and submission game, is a formidable challenge for Burrell to overcome. If Burrell can't slice his punches through or deal with Spang's distance, he'll be forced to fall back on shooting takedowns from outside, which is not necessarily his bread and butter.
My Prediction: Nah-Shon Burrell by decision.