The UFC's sibling promotion is rolling out a stellar card tonight and expressing the slightest bit of disinterest is as uncultivated as kicking a puppy. (Just kidding, PETA -- I'm on the mailing list.) If you're inevitably "meh" about the widely under-appreciated Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy event, here's the haps on its allure:
Luke Rockhold, one of 2011's biggest breakout stars, defends the middleweight strap against Special Forces sergeant Tim Kennedy, who represents the champ's stiffest test to date.
- Division 1 All-American wrestler and Big 12 champion Tyron Woodley welcomes former UFC middleweight contender Nate Marquardt to 170-pounds to crown a new Strikeforce welterweight champion.
- On the heels of his 1st MMA loss, absurdly decorated and prestigious BJJ player Roger Gracie makes his 6th appearance in the cage and his 1st as a middleweight against wily scrapper Keith Jardine in the Jackson/Winklejohn veteran's sophomore effort at 185.
- 2 of the most electrifying strikers in the sport christen the card as Lorenz Larkin, the creative kickboxer who's making his middleweight premiere, faces battle-hardened slugger Robbie Lawler.
To summarize: that's 4 legit up-and-comers, 3 reputable fighters debuting in a new weight class, 2 world championship bouts, 2 of the most exhilarating bangers in the game, 1 world class submission grappler, 1 elite wrestler, 1 genuine "warrior" -- both in and out of the cage -- and 1 captivating hairdo with sweeping locks that even avid homophobes would break character to compliment.
Other Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy Dissections
Gracie was already pretty much the best pure sub-grappler in the sport but now he'll also be one of the biggest middleweights at 6'4" tall with a noodle-like 79" reach. His size has somewhat compensated for his still burgeoning fundamentals in striking and wrestling, and few can hope to even survive with him on the mat. His first 4 wins were all by submission but his 5th was a 1st-round KO -- though an unintentional head butt may have occurred -- to Muhammed Lawal.
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Jardine is the oft-censured anomaly with unconventional, broken-rhythm striking who made waves in the Octagon with upsets over Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell. This is another underdog who's being overlooked a little: he's lambasted for having a fragile chin but power-punching is far from Gracie's forte, he was expected to go unconscious immediately against Gegard Mousasi but gave the KO-artist a healthy run, he cut 19-pounds the day before he was clipped by Rockhold and few realize that his initial fulcrum in MMA was wrestling.
The latter explains why, if you can recall Jardine being on his back, it was due to a blitz of strikes rather than a takedown. The combination of Gracie's striking inexperience, Jardine's whacked-out, seizure stand-up and his under-rated wrestling make him a live dog here. The elements that still inspire me to stick with Gracie (hesitantly) are his enormous height/reach advantage and the poor circumstances (dueling in Gracie's elite guard) that will result from any Jardine takedowns. However, it's entirely conceivable for Jardine to nail takedowns and then disengage immediately betwixt landing his bear-paw punches and stuffing Gracie's shots.
My Prediction: Roger Gracie by submission.
Larkin, who's making his middleweight debut, is coming off a quasi-loss to "King Mo" in which he was manhandled and beaten on, but the TKO loss was overturned due to Lawal's post-fight drug test, which was flagged for steroids. The move is interesting for "Monsoon" -- he was not tall but still a burly and wide-bodied specimen at 205 and his quickness -- which will be leveled out more at 185 -- was integral to his showtime kickboxing repertoire.
Larkin wields an exciting and kicking-based striking acumen replete with jumping roundhouse kicks, Capoeira kicks and spinning back kicks, and his straight boxing is deadly as well. He's the type of fresh prospect who obviously has a stellar grasp of striking mechanics and excels at adapting atypical techniques that stem from traditional martial arts, categorizing him alongside a rare and esteemed group such as Lyoto Machida, Cung Le, John Makdessi and Katsunori Kikuno.
Lawler is flat-out old school, hard-nosed and hot-headed. He helped to lay the groundwork for MMA boxing by using the essence of the sweet science as a foundation but injecting it with raw brutality and unbridled aggression for maximum efficiency. Offensively, Lawler has the perfect blend of fundamentals and fury. He often leads with leaping hooks, he throws all of his power into every shot but doesn't get too sloppy and still maintains good balance, he mixes up his strike selection well and uses angles and head movement to set up his shots.
Lawler's technical brawling has struggled against precision kickboxers in the past; namely Pete Spratt and Melvin Manhoef, both of whom nearly dismembered Lawler with low kicks, disrupted his flow with long kicks from a distance and held their own in the pocket with boxing exchanges. Lawler is also not a bad wrestler and may want to surprise Larkin with a few takedowns, even if only to keep him guessing.
There's no question that one touch on the chin is all Lawler needs, but I envision him struggling with the elaborate footwork and rangy kicks of Larkin. I can't stress the importance of quickness enough, as Lawler's hands are both heavy and fast. Larkin will have to make up for losing a little quickness by capitalizing on his size and range advantage by keeping Lawler on the fringe with footwork, distance-based kicks and avoiding a fight at phone-booth range at all costs.
My Prediction: Lorenz Larkin by decision.