Strikeforce, we bid you adieu. Au revoir. Adios. Peace out, ninja.
Unfortunately, the respectable, somewhat established #2 fight league that came in like a lion will go out like a lamb with Saturday's Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine eventFighting Championships, propelled by their ever-increasing momentum and ground-breaking change in format from MTV2 to Spike TV, will assume the second place mantle in the global MMA landscape, and happily fatten up their roster as a legitimate and appealing UFC alternative.
Despite its scintillating allure and inarguable professionalism, I need to clarify that the title graphic is not the official Strikeforce poster for this event. Following the half-assed, seemingly cobbled together theme that overshadows this entire show, the only semblance of a poster I could find that was large enough to meet our site's image requirements was tweeted by main-eventer Nate Marquardt, and was a sloppy cell phone pic of a Strikeforce poster duct-taped to some random wall.
As my final disclaimer, this piece has intentionally been deemed a standard preview rather than a detailed Dissection, as the drastically lopsided match ups warrant more of a general overview than an in-depth analysis. The following is the complete lineup for the show:
We saw an outpouring of fighters changing weight classes in 2012, but none were as eye-catching and impressive as Marquardt's drop to 170. The former King of Pancakes and top UFC middleweight contender ended a 1.5 year hiatus from competition and made both his Strikeforce and welterweight premiere on the "Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy" event against Tyron Woodley in July of 2012. At stake was the welterweight title that Nick Diaz vacated en route to the Octagon, and Marquardt steam-rolled the then-undefeated wrestling phenom to secure the strap with an electric medley of punches and elbows for a 4th-round TKO.
Flaunting an astonishing 14-year tenure in MMA, Marquardt has always been lauded as an ultra-game veteran with an astounding overall array of polished technique. From a style perspective, his wrestling game was unfit to repel prestigious middleweight grapplers Chael Sonnen and Yushin Okami, and, though he performed valiantly off his back, his guard prowess was not effective enough to balance the scales. However, Marquardt's welterweight debut was punctuated by easily stifling the (2-time D1) All-American-caliber takedowns of Woodley, much of which was facilitated by Marquardt's daunting size and strength when squeezed into welterweight proportions.
His first and last Strikeforce title defense will come against 26-year-old Tarec Saffiedine, a well-rounded Team Quest prospect who hails from Belgium. Barring a decision loss in his 2nd MMA outing, "The Sponge" has only been defeated by stellar Judoka Dong Sik Yoon in a short-notice middleweight bout at DREAM 12 in 2009 and by Woodley in the headliner of a Strikeforce: Challengers card in 2011; both by decision. He's yet to be finished in MMA.
Saffiedine boasts a rare conglomeration of attributes with an early foundation in Shihaishinkai karate that later bloomed into a full-blown MMA arsenal when Team Quest was the only camp to answer his emails requesting an appropriate training forum. He's beefed up his wrestling -- both offensively and defensively -- as well as his submission grappling to complement his striking specialty. While Saffiedine is an artful stand-up fighter with an atypical arsenal and excellent timing, balance, angles and footwork, he does lack the type of show-stopping power to disrupt a juggernaut like Marquardt, who's a beast with short-range hooks and uppercuts at phone-booth range.
Since Saffiedine's blue-belt-level BJJ relegates a submission win as nearly impossible against such a commanding sub-grappling whiz, that leaves his creative fringe-striking and sound cage motion as his best bet to frustrate Marquardt. In plain terms, I see Saffiedine being out-matched or overwhelmed in almost every other aspect, especially when factoring in his absence of fight-ending power. My suggestion would be for Saffiedine to float around on the far-fold of striking range and cull from his footwork and quickness to plug away with a busy jab and his dynamic kicks in open space.
If he can pester Nate from a distance, by any combination of sneaking methodical strikes through his guard or being excessively elusive, he will avoid fighting to Marquardt's strengths, force him into a defensive mode and possibly coax him into carelessly barging into range, at which point he can capitalize on the over-compensation. From a prediction or betting standpoint, it's too hard not to side with the re-shaped Marquardt here, who has the potential to cause serious commotion in the UFC welterweight class.
My Prediction: Nate Marquardt by decision.
Forgive me if I gloss over this pair of heavyweight match ups, as they epitomize the downside of this event. As I mention liberally in my yet-to-be-released video Tete-a-Tete with Kid Nate, both Staring and Guelmino are plenty deserving of a shot in the A-leagues. Staring traded leather with Alistair Overeem for years at Golden Glory and has now joined his training partner with the blossoming Blackzilians camp in the states. He'll carry in a 6-fight win streak and has won 9 of his last 10 since losing to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in a 2009 Jungle Fight show. Guelmino definitely looks the part, for whatever that's worth, is riding a 7-fight roll, and has also won 9 of 10 after falling to a top-shelfer in Semmy Schilt.
While we've seen far more confounding and contentious entries to the big leagues, these newcomers are relatively unknown, untested against elite competition and debuting against the best heavyweight competition outside of the UFC's playground. Catch-as-catch-can pioneer Josh Barnett is still a Herculean challenge and one of the greatest heavyweights to grace the sport, and Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier recently solidified his unreal potential with career defining wins over Antonio Silva and Barnett to accrue the Strikeforce heavyweight strap.
This is MMA, so yes ... hell could freeze over and either could lose. But these are both some of the most obscenely lopsided contests you'll see in any established fight league and I expect dual and definitive 1st-round stoppages.
My Prediction: Daniel Cormier by ground-and-pound massacre / Josh Barnett by catch-wrestling clinic.
Mousasi lit the Strikeforce cage afire when he made his promotional and middleweight debut after a storied career overseas as a middleweight, and blitzed the venerable Renato Sobral with a highlight-reel KO in a matter of seconds. Mousasi has a vicious boxing game that he applies with extreme ferocity, and it's backed by a Judo-accented clinch game and a grappling acumen that was stable enough to sweep and control Hector Lombard back in Pride. Both are under-rated facets of the Armenian's game.
Since Mousasi would rely on his striking all night if he could, he might have his hands full with the rangy and technical boxing of Kyle. The former heavyweight has honed his striking into a sharp and devastating punching onslaught replete with a long, piston-like jab that he flings out while shuffling left to center up his home-run right hand. Though Kyle has fallen short to most of the elite competition he's encountered, he's cemented that his punching power has the ability to alter the course of the fight with one touch.
Mousasi would be well advised to employ his wrestling, which would nullify Kyle's tremendous striking power and allow him to transmit his own via top-side ground-and-pound. If he decides to stand and trade here, he could be in for a rude awakening. It's not that Kyle is better standing, but he can surely match Mousasi much better on the feet than he can off his back. I'll play it safe with the favorite but don't overlook Kyle's gameness -- his height, length, power and vastly improved boxing could make this one interesting.
My Prediction: Gegard Mousasi by submission.
These last contests salvage the show into at least worth-watching status. Sure, "Jacare" and Mousasi are the clear favorites, but their opponents are fully equipped to produce a surprising challenge and even pull off the upset. And Herman is the most appealing underdog on the card. It's very easy to note that "Short Fuse" has 5 submission losses and tapped out to the likes of Jason MacDonald, Joe Doerksen and Kazuo Misaki before picking Souza, one of the most venomous sport grapplers to cross over to MMA, to do the same.
Despite his demonstrative accolades in the gi, "Jacare" has yet to prove that he's as much of a sub-threat in the deep-end of the pool as the aforementioned list of fighters. Given, he could prove to be just as effective or ten-times more so, but it's no coincidence that his scathing ground game hasn't been as much of a force as his level of opposition has increased. As of now, the best fighters Souza has submitted are Robbie Lawler and Matt Lindland -- both animals in their heyday, but not outright convincing victims by contemporary standards.
Herman is an excellent litmus test: he's scrappy as hell, I think he has slightly better technique and much more power in the striking department, and he's definitely the better wrestler. Since successful takedowns will only play into Souza's hands if he engages, Herman has a great shot to play spoiler by lancing "Jacare" with crisp, straight boxing as he charges in and using his wrestling as a form of control. Herman's counter-wrestling and counter-throws are phenomenal, so as long as he doesn't dive into Souza's guard and ejects cleanly after the takedown, he can accrue points on the score cards, negate Souza's bread and butter and force him to rely on his striking to win.
To make things interesting, I'm going to side with Herman in this one. While I'm not confident he can survive in extended grappling exchanges, I do think he can persevere through brief ones and combine his wrestling and striking to snare the decision upset.
My Prediction: Ed Herman by decision.