Photo by Dave Mandel at Sherdog.com
One of the things I and many other MMA fans loved about Strikeforce was that every now and then their matchmaking harkened back to the Pride Era. When I think about the philosophy of Pride matchmaking, it reminds me of the difference between The Avengers and say, The Dark Knight Rises (the UFC corollary I guess).
Sure it feels proper for each fight to be have a broader narrative, subtext, and even pathos. But sometimes we don't care about what a win or loss means for a prospect's career, and whether his/her future hangs in the economic balance, and in turn, how that affects his/her well being. No, sometimes, we just want a prepackaged ass-whipping. Sometimes, we just want to have fun.
Of course, by fun I mean watching what happens when I certified killer enters the ring with, say, a professional wrestler (i.e. someone who doesn't actually fight for a living the way a professional fighter does). Don Frye vs. Takayama is to prizefighting what Deep Blue Sea is to filmmaking. And just like cinema needs a break from Oscar-Bait in order to make movies about genetically engineered sharks with the capacity to make cream of wheat out of Sam Jackson, MMA needs a break from qualified matchmaking.
I'm talking now about Ovince St. Preux vs. T.J. Cook; a battle between a prospect and a journeyman. A fight that is less Deep Blue Sea, and more Shark Night 3-D: matchmaking that while less trashy in principle, will nonetheless result in a violent disaster all the same.
St. Preux has not necessarily lived up to the hype. With 11 wins, and 5 losses (4 of them coming early in his career), he's an adolescent in MMA years, but he's had the opportunity to shine on the big stage. With his rangy, diverse striking, and competent ground game, he's everything on paper you'd want in a contender.
By contrast, T.J. Cook has qualified himself on the Midwestern Mediocrity circuit. His record is a respectable 12 wins and 4 losses. Cook isn't a bad fighter, but his opposition hasn't been stellar, and even against mediocre fighters, he's struggled. There's not much to breakdown, but there's still plenty worth observing. How much has ‘OSP' learned from his bout with Gegard Mousasi, for example?
It was always hard to tell what OSP was really capable of. Sure he looked good against Jason Day, and Joe Cason, but how would he fair against a legitimate threat?
What makes this bout so uninteresting as a contrast of styles is that we already know the answer to that question. St. Preux didn't look especially great against Gegard Mousasi, but for all of Gegard's faults, we know he's a talented, powerful striker, and a capable grappler.
St. Preux wasn't able to put together his trademark standup, which is a mixture of everything. He can throw knees like jabs as he display against Cason, and he's good at using his range to land the straight and overhand, like he did against Radach, but against Mousasi his lack of fundamentals were on display. However, he showed some real grit in taking shots, and producing offense after weathering each storm.
Again, I would never claim it was a great performance, but it was a gusty one. St. Preux was able to trade with Gegard in the grappling department, scoring mount at one point in the transition.
OSP is a prospect worth our attention. As for Cook, there's not much to say about him. As you can see in this footage of him in his bout with the 7-6 Ariel Gandulla, he's a boxer with not a terrible amount of boxing skill. Gandulla had him dead to rights late in the 3rd, but to Cook's credit, he withstood the punishment and went on to win by KO.
If there's a shine to Cook's game, it's his resolve. In his loss to Billy Vucick, he managed to get out of bad positions early with sheer will. Of course, it wasn't enough, nor will it be against OSP. All of Cook's losses are by submission, and it should be noted that Vucick is an unimpressive 4-4. Cook's game hasn't changed much, so expect this to be a one-sided affair. Cook's resume doesn't have the carnival flare of having built accomplishments off a pro wrestling script like the old Pride days, but expect the same outcome.
Prediction: Ovince St. Preux by TKO, round1.