This Saturday's Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman show features an interesting fight in the Middleweight division. Lumumba Sayers vs. Anthony Smith is a fight that just makes sense. Both are hard hitting strikers, both are dynamic finishers, and both are intriguing Strikeforce prospects. But when you dig a bit deeper, you discover that this is not just a fight of similarities, but instead is a fight in contrast. Let's take a look and see what we can figure out about Lumumba Sayers and Anthony Smith.
On the surface, it's easy to see thee two fighters as almost mirror images of each other. You have two strikers here; two men who are known for their ability to go for the kill (in fact, neither one has ever gone the distance in a pro fight). You also have two men who favor the striking game, but are also capable on the ground - both are purple belts in jiu jitsu, and both hold submission victories. Both have seen success and failure in Strikeforce.
And yet, there are also distinct differences in each man's style, starting with their approach to striking.
6-2 (2-1 in Strikeforce) | 6'2" | 34 years old | 74.5" reach
For Lumumba Sayers, striking can best be summed up in his nickname, "Heavy Hands." Sayers has amateur boxing experience and, well, heavy hands. His striking game is based primarily on his boxing, which he has used very effectively, most notably against Antwain Britt, who he knocked out in just 30 seconds last year.
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He is one of those fighters that can change an entire fight with one punch, as seen below in a 2010 fight against Ian Berg. It should be noted that these are the first strikes thrown in the fight.
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Sayers also uses those hands to effectively set up a more complete game. In the Berg fight, after dropping his opponent, he locked on a guillotine and got the win. He will also use his hands to transition into wrestling. On the mat, Sayers is not flashy, but he is effective, as he regularly uses his jiu jitsu to finish what he started with his hands - 5 of his 6 wins come via submission, typically set up by strikes. But he doesn't need to use strikes to get the sub, as he also has a nice submission win via armbar off his back.
Still, boxing is his base, both offensively and defensively. When on offense, Sayers sticks to the hands, rarely bringing in kicks. On defense, he uses boxing style head movement to slip punches, often ducking at the waist, and that defense is helped by footwork, as Sayers is surprisingly light on his feet for a somewhat bigger fighter. He's very confident and relaxed on his feet, as you can tell by his tall, relaxed stance.
The biggest flaw for Sayers is his hand defense, as he can drop his hands at times. That is partly what led to his lone Strikeforce loss, as he dropped his right hand, allowing Derek Brunson to land a high kick that staggered Sayers and led to the finish.
16-8 (1-1 in Strikeforce) | 6'3 | 24 years old | 75" reach
Anthony "Lionheart" Smith is also a striker, but he approaches the striking game from a different angle. Where Sayers is a boxer focused on his hands, Smith is more of a kickboxer, who integrates a lot of kicks and knees in with his punches. He is particularly strong with a straight right knee that he throws like a kick - you can see him using it nicely in the clip on the right (against, coincidentally, Ian Berg again). That knee shows a lot about his striking style; it's a somewhat flashy technique, thrown with maximum power, that utilizes Smith's long frame well. Those are the attributes that he brings to all of his strikes, including knees, kicks, and punches.
As part of his striking, Smith has a bit of an odd stance. He tends to keep his legs wide apart, his body lower to the ground. He also keeps his hands wide and sometimes low in a stance somewhat reminiscent of the Diaz brothers. With his hands not always in place, he instead uses a lot of movement to avoid strikes. He's fast on his feet, so that focus on movement tends to work for him, however, he can easily be drawn into a shoot-out, and when he does, he loses both his movement and hand defense, leaving himself wide open. This is what led to his Strikeforce KO loss to Adlan Amagov last fall. You can see an example of this to the left, as Smith opens up (against, of course, our friend Ian Berg), but abandons his defense, allowing Berg to easily drop down for the double-leg.
On the mat, Smith uses his grappling primarily to establish control. From top position, he'll use his long frame to gain the mount, then look for the ground and pound, though he'll gladly take a submission if it's there. Off his back, he tends to again use those long limbs, this time to tie up his opponent and force a stand-up. Again, that effectively sums up Smith - he has the skills on the mat, but what he really wants is to stand and trade.
A few other quick notes on Smith - he's a very active fighter, with 24 pro fights since his debut in 2008, including 6 fights last year. While his 16-8 record doesn't look too impressive, it's worth noting that he started his career going 5-6, but has since found his footing and gone 11-2, which shows real improvement.
While both men are stikers, it's Sayers who I think has the heavier shots and the better discipline. He's also more well rounded as an MMA fighter, but I don't think that will play a huge part, as I suspect these two will look to slug it out. And in those kinds of exchanges, Smith's defense will likely be his undoing, allowing Sayers to stop him with a hard punch. The big thing Lumumba has to watch for is Smith's kicks - if he keeps his hand down as he did against Brunson, Smith has the kicks to make him pay, though I don't think he has the same power in those kicks.
Lumumba Sayers, TKO, round 1