The headliner of tonight's Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy event, which airs on Showtime at 10:00 p.m. ET, is newly anointed middleweight champion Luke Rockhold defending the strap against the staunch and durable Tim Kennedy. Filling the hole left by Nick Diaz' UFC departure, undefeated wrestler Tyron Woodley meets Nate Marquardt to crown a new welterweight champion and bouts pitting Roger Gracie vs. Keith Jardine and Lorenz Larkin vs. Robbie Lawler round out the main card.
Rockhold was a ridiculous underdog going into his title bout with Ronaldo Souza. Rockhold not only upset the BJJ phenom but racked up some style points for his whirling dervish of strikes, namely the highlight-reel-worthy Tornado kick, and displayed the same admirable prowess in his follow up TKO of Keith Jardine.
At a time when most assumed that Kennedy and "Jacare" would dominate the scantily populated division, an unexpected newcomer burst into the spotlight with functional creativity, considerable size for the weight class, sound marketability and a venomous medley of striking and submission grappling. This title defense, however, stands as his biggest test to date.
Other Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy Dissections
It sounds corny and cliche, but the military marketing is befitting of Kennedy's hard-nosed and blue-collar style. He has a very spartan-like approach to combat; an unflinching confidence and no-bullshit demeanor. Kennedy doesn't do anything elaborate or flashy -- he just punches you in the face and occasionally plants you on your ass and does it some more.
He's a decent boxer and throws on balance, keeping his stance low and coiled to spring for takedowns. The catalysts for his double and single-leg shots is more timing, power and explosion than technical finesse. He's a gorilla on top, imposing nonstop pressure with a downpour of short, cleaving punches and elbows, frenetic guard passing or suffocating control.
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Against the short but respectable list of talented guard players he's faced ("Jacare," Jason Miller and Nick Thompson), Kennedy's submission defense has been thoroughly stable. Plus, he shows up to fight every night and is as durable as they come.
The challenge for Kennedy -- who's like a Sherman tank with limited but effective movement and weaponry -- is out-gunning a multi-dimensional adversary with more range and better mobility. Kennedy's striking is serviceable but his bread and butter is his takedown and top-control game. If he can't enforce his strength, he'll be relegated to using his back-up arsenal to duel with a dynamic and unpredictable striker, while also being on the short end of the range, quickness, and diversity factors.
Kennedy's straight-forward ruggedness is the hallmark of his style, but it might be a little too primitive and predictable for the polished ruckus that Rockhold brings. On the feet, Kennedy keeps his balance well but that leaves him rooted to the ground and an available target for leg and body kicks. He launches quick and deep for takedowns but doesn't employ a lot of set-up or angles and his repetitive patterns make him easier to read defensively. His striking defense is average; his left hand protects his chin well but his right strays down and a southpaw with cracking roundhouse kicks -- like Rockhold -- is tailor-made to penetrate his guard.
The ideal achievement for Kennedy would be to nail a good amount of his takedowns and batter Rockhold with grinding blows while muffling his attempts to submit and/or scramble. However, even if can succeed, Rockhold is not just a legit submission grappler, but a 2-time winner of the BJJ World Championships. Additionally, Rockhold's size, smarts, under-rated wrestling and Judo background makes him tough to push around.
My Prediction: Luke Rockhold by decision.