In the first of 2 rematches set for the Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier main card, former light-heavyweight champion Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante seeks revenge versus Mike Kyle for a 2nd-round TKO loss back in 2009. Heavyweight Grand Prix finalists Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier meet in the show's main attraction, which airs live on Showtime at 10:00 p.m. ET.
Rafael Cavalcante (11-3) is a member of the world renowned Team Nogueira where he trains alongside the Nogueira brothers, Lyoto Machida and Anderson Silva. He's a sizzling Thai specialist with a black belt in BJJ and currently ranked as the 13th-best light-heavyweight in the consensus world rankings. "Feijao" made his Strikeforce debut against Kyle on the Lawler vs. Shields card with a 7-1 record, his lone loss being a Disqualification for cracking Marcio "Pe De Pano" Cruz with an illegal kick during his 2-piece stint in the IFL.
After Kyle handed him a crushing knockout for his first real taste of defeat, Cavalcante destroyed Aaron Rosa and Antwain Britt to earn a shot at Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal's Strikeforce title. Overcoming slanted betting odds and Lawal's relentless wrestling, Cavalcante exploded with a clinch knee and a follow-up barrage of punches to finish Lawal in the 3rd-round. His title reign would be a short one, as high-profile UFC crossover Dan Henderson would land the infamous "H-Bomb" to overtake the throne. Cavalcante rebounded with a 2nd-round TKO of Yoel Romero in his last, maintaining his reputation as one of the sport's best finishers with his 10th TKO win. Cavalcante has yet to go the distance.
More Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier Dissections
Mike "Mak" Kyle (19-8) deserves a lot of credit for turning his career around. After accruing a bad rep for his unsportsmanlike conduct and a forgettable entrance into Strikeforce (drew with Krzysztof Soszynski, submission loss to Wayne Cole), Kyle has notched wins in 9 of his last 12 with defeats to top-shelfers Antonio Silva (TKO) and Fabricio Werdum (submission) and a No Contest against Travis Wiuff. His tenure with "Crazy" Bob Cook at the American Kickboxing Academy has been evident in his vastly improved, piston-like boxing and enhanced fight I.Q.
Kyle started out as a rugged brawler with huge punching power, but has harnessed that foundation into a more composed and calculating mixed martial artist with fluid deliverance of his striking heft. He's still a bit of a wild card, having lost to most of the top competition he's encountered, but Kyle's gameness and vicious hands present a viable threat to any 205er.
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Cavalcante is much more diversified than Kyle in every aspect except wrestling, so this confrontation boils down to his ability to avoid Kyle's one-shot power. However, Kyle has added a litany of skills to maximize his striking, giving him more than the typical puncher's chance. His stance and punches are tighter, he uses good footwork and circling to set up his big right hand and he pumps out a busy and snapping jab to control the tempo from the fringe.
Kyle is also a tall (6'3") and long (76" reach) light-heavyweight with a few inches on Cavalcante in each category. The concept of Cavalcante eating another good-night punch is far from incomprehensible -- both of his career losses are by TKO and "Feijao" rarely implements his top-tier submission game because he's comfortable striking and isn't known as a wrestler. His largest advantage lies on the mat, as Kyle has been prone to elite submissionists in the past but does well in protecting the weakness through his striking and takedown defense.
I would strongly suggest that Cavalcante try to catch him off-guard with a takedown while they're exchanging. He might not have world class wrestling, but Cavalcante definitely has the explosiveness, timing and intelligence to spring a double on Kyle and wreak havoc with submission attempts. Even though he's considerably more technical on the feet -- with roundhouse kicks, boxing and a clinically volatile Thai clinch -- standing with Kyle leaves the door open to taste his power.
There's no question that "Feijao" deserves the nod here for being the more complete fighter, but a single punch can outweigh that in a heartbeat.
My Prediction: Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante by submission.