In the opening bout of the Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum main card on Saturday night, former Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson (16-3-0-1, 7-2 SF) will look to rebound from his loss at the hands of newly-crowned champion Gilbert Melendez as he battles IFL veteran and long-time journeyman Pat Healy (23-15, 0-0 SF). As aforementioned, Thomson dropped an unanimous decision to Melendez back in December after defeating him roughly a year-and-a-half before the title change. Thomson's ankle breakage during training for an April 11, 2009 rematch with Melendez sidelined him for most of the year, thus Thomson has only had two fights since his initial championship win.
Healy has been far more active as he's amassed a 5-2 record over the last two years. In that time, Healy burst Canadian Ryan Ford's bubble as the next potential talent at welterweight while also putting on a solid performance against NCAA Division I wrestler Bryan Travers at Strikeforce Challengers VIII in May. He also owns notable career victories over Carlos Condit, Paul Daley, and Dan Hardy, although those fighters have becoming much more skilled as the years have progressed.
Thomson's lengthy layoff may have been a culprit in his loss to Melendez in December, and he'll need to continue wearing off that rust that only two fights in two years has given him. Against such an active, seasoned veteran like Pat Healy, Thomson could have some real problems engaging in an all-out ground war despite being well-versed in the grappling department. Healy shouldn't be taken lightly by any means, and the fact that he has been able to wrestle with some better amateur wrestlers in the context of mixed martial arts makes him a dangerous threat on the ground.
The biggest concern for Healy will be in the striking department as Thomson has shown solid stand-up skills in past battles. Most notably, his victory over Gilbert Melendez in 2008 was a highly-effective display of kicking prowess that took Melendez completely out of his game. The use of front kicks, body kicks, and leg kicks in an unpredictable pattern took the wind out of Melendez's sails over three rounds, and if Thomson can mimic that past form -- Healy will have a tough time trying to press forward to land punches or shoot for takedowns.
The question becomes whether we'll see the less effective Thomson from his more recent bout with Melendez or a diverse kicking version of Thomson from the past. Some have thought that perhaps Thomson's ankle injury hurt his ability to kick Melendez is the most recent fight, and there may be some truth to that thought. If that is the case, that takes a very effective weapon out of Thomson's arsenal and gives Healy less to think about when wading into Thomson's strikes to secure takedowns.
Thomson should have the edge in the striking department as he showed tremendous heart in the back-and-forth exchanges with Melendez, and his takedown defense has never been a huge deficiency in his overall skill-set. Regardless, he'll more than likely need to rely on that takedown defense to stop Healy's propensity to grind out decisions from the top.
I'll bank on Thomson winning this match-up as I think he'll outclass Healy on the feet and have a respectable enough takedown defense to stop the blanket. I think Healy does get Thomson down at some point, but we're talking about a guy who trains with some of the best at American Kickboxing Academy. He'll be more than prepared for the challenge.