Saturday night in San Jose, California, Strikeforce is running their first major show since Fedor Emelianenko wowed fans in Chicago (and the millions watching on CBS). The show, broadcast live on Showtime, looks to be solid from top to bottom. Heavy has a crew on the scene, so expect much more this weekend, but first, a look at what to expect.
Jonathan Snowden: When I interviewed King Mo, I was impressed with his brash demeanor, but I'm even more impressed by his wrestling pedigree. He's also a fan of the sport and committed to improving his game in all areas. If he is going to be a prospect worth watching, this is a must win fight. I think he takes it in the first and makes a statement.
Brett C. Jones: This will certainly be Lawal's toughest test to date, as Whitehead enjoys a tremendous advantage in both experience and quality victories. Whitehead and Lawal each bring impressive wrestling credentials into this fight, and I feel that will preclude either fighter from taking the other down for the majority of the fight. On the feet, Whitehead is probably the more disciplined boxer, but it's tough to argue with Lawal's results thus far, as he's knocked out four of his five opponents. I feel that Lawal will have a distinct advantage in speed, and that could make all the difference in the fight. Lawal should be the more aggressive fighter, and coupling that with his quickness should allow him to beat Whitehead to the punch more often than not.
Muhammad Lawal via unanimous decision
Jeremy Botter: Lawal is one of the hottest and most interesting prospects in the light heavyweight division. He's left a trail of destruction in his wake thus far in his early career, and I expect the same in this bout. Whitehead is a journeyman - a well traveled and experienced journeyman, but a journeyman all the same. Lawal finishes this bout early. Mo Lawal by TKO, round one.
Spencer Kyte: "King Mo" takes a much-needed step up in competition. For all the choreographed ring entrances, the crown and the cape and all the boisterous talk, Lawal is legit and will take another step towards proving it Saturday night against the much-traveled Mike Whitehead.
Whitehead reminds me a lot of Paul Buentello; a guy almost everyone has heard of from one place or another, but he's never really beaten anyone of note. He beat Ben Rothwell seven years ago and beat Krzysztof Soszynski in the IFL when the Canadian was fighting at heavyweight. Other than that, he took a Unanimous Decision from Kevin Randleman in June, but "The Monster" is 3-9 in his last 12 fights.
King Mo by TKO, Round 2
King Mo 4, Mike Whitehead 0
Jonathan Snowden: Lindland looked like a fighter on his last legs in his past two contests, struggling with Fabio Nascimiento and getting KTFO by Vitor Belfort. Still, this is a fight tailor made for him. He is good enough to control Jacare and dictate where the fight takes place. I see a cautious Lindland cruising to a decision against a dangerous grappler.
Brett C. Jones: When I look at this matchup, my first reaction is to pick Souza to beat Lindland. When I look at the resumes of each fighter, however, I was changing my mind pretty quickly. Lindland's downfalls are powerful and aggressive strikers and fighters who have a significant size advantage. He's only been submitted twice in his career: once by Fedor Emelianenko who falls into the "significant size advantage" category, and once by Murilo Bustamante back in 2002. Since the lost to Bustamante, Lindland has face some great jiu jitsu practitioners: Ricardo Almeida, Ivan Salaverry, Niko Vitale, David Terrell, Travis Lutter, Joe Doerksen, Nino Schembri, Fabio Leopoldo, Jeremy Horn, and most recently, Fabio Nascimiento. Lindland did not beat all of them, but he was not submitted by a single one of them. To be fair, Souza is a best grappler of the bunch, having won the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championship in 2005. Then again, Jacare has never faced a great wrestler, let alone an Olympic Silver Medal-winning wrestler. I hate to go against my instinct, but I think Lindland's resume speaks for itself.
Matt Lindland via unanimous decision
Jeremy Botter: Matt Lindland's greatest strength will also be his downfall in this bout. The former Olympian will obviously want to use his wrestling pedigree to control Souza on the ground. The problem? Souza is one of the best jiu-jitsu players in the world, a former winner of the Abu Dhabi championships. Lindland will try to ride out a decision, but he won't make it past the second round without being submitted. Jacare Souza by submission, round two.
Spencer Kyte: While "The Law" doesn't really have to worry about getting KTFO like he did last time out against Vitor Belfort, I can't shake that image from my head. Lindland just feels like a guy who has a bunch of other interests and commitments who fights every once in a while and that is never a good thing.
On the other hand, "Jacare" has a lot to prove with his move to Strikeforce. He'd surely like another crack at "Mayhem" or a shot at Jake Shields' middleweight title, and being nearly a decade younger than Lindland with a tremendous BJJ game is just too much for me to bet against the Black House member.
Souza by Unanimous Decision
Matt Lindland 2, Jacare Souza 2
Jonathan Snowden: Melendez is the popular pick and he's a brilliant fighter. It's easy to forget, however, just how thoroughly Thomson dominated the first encounter. There exists the possibility of ring rust-it's been more than a year since Thomson was physically ready to step in the cage. But if he's anywhere near fit, there's no reason to think this should play out differently than fight number one.
Brett C. Jones: The way in which Melendez so thoroughly dismantled both Rodrigo Damm and Mitsuhiro Ishida since losing to Josh Thomson shows me just how determined and prepared he is to avenge his loss. In fact, by beating Ishida, Melendez has only to beat Thomson to avenge all blemishes on his record. It's tough to imagine Melendez not being a more aggressive fighter when he faces Thomson this time, considering both of the aforementioned victories as well as his lack of aggression in their first bout. I also have concerns bout Thomson's leg, which, granted, may be completely healed by now, but it's tough for me to conclude that when a rematch with Melendez has been postponed twice. I'm sure the ankle is better, otherwise Thomson would once again not be cleared to fight, but is it at the level it needs to be in order for Thomson to fight at his best? Those concerns, coupled with the ring rust Thomson is likely to have to deal with, having not fought in over a year, makes it difficult for me to see the champion retaining his title.
Gilbert Melendez via unanimous decision
Jeremy Botter: This bout is a long time coming, and that time span is going to weigh heavily against Thomson. He's been out of the cage for a long time, and there's no telling what kind of ring rust he's accumulated while healing from various injuries over the past year. Coming off a year-long stint on the sidelines is tough enough, and even more difficult when facing someone like Gilbert Melendez. This one will likely go all five rounds and should be a good fight, but Thomson will come up with the short end of the stick. Gilbert Melendez by unanimous decision.
Spencer Kyte: Love this fight and can't wait to see it.
"El Nino" has looked really good since Thomson beat him for the belt in June 2008, dominating Rodrigo Damm and avenging his loss to Mitsuhiro Ishida. The kicker for me in this one is the always dangerous "Ring Rust" that you would assume will impact Thomson's performance.
He hasn't fought since defeating Ashe Bowman in September 2008 and has had numerous injuries to deal with in the interim. Walking in off a 15-month layoff to face a battler like Melendez is a tough task.
Melendez by TKO, Round 3
Melendez 3, Thomson 1
Jonathan Snowden: Scott Smith has been in some memorable battles, memorable enough for the mind to play tricks on some people. He is an action fighter, sure, but one drummed out of the UFC for failure to perform. Le should be able to beat a glorified journeyman. If not, well, there's always a Best of the Best sequel to fall back on.
Brett C. Jones: If Smith's trainer's are worth a damn, they'll have coached Smith to get inside on Le's devestating kicks and take him down. This was a strategy that appeared to be effective for Frank Shamrock except that Shamrock's hubris led him to stand with Le. If Smith makes the same mistake, he will lose. The question is: do I think Smith will make that mistake? Well, I can't remember the last time Scott Smith took someone down, so I suppose I do think Smith will spend whatever time he lasts in the fight clipping Le's toenails with his teeth.
Cung Le via TKO, round 2
Jeremy Botter: This fight is tailor-made for two things: an exciting fight and a quick and brutal knockout. Smith has extremely heavy hands, but he'll have no answer for Le's blistering kicks and unique San Shou throws. Cung Le by TKO, round two.
Spencer Kyte: How this is the Main Event is beyond me. Seriously.
Yes, Cung Le is charismatic, has been in some crappy movies and has cool San Shou striking skills that make the crowd "Oooh" and "Aaah," but he hasn't fought in nearly two years and is facing Scott friggin' Smith.
"Hands of Steel" is as tough as they come and can knock anyone out with one punch. That said, no matter how many times he rallies from the brink of defeat or puts on exciting performances, he's still the same journeyman who lost to Patrick Cote and Ed Herman.
Le via TKO, Round 2
Le 4, Smith 0