The world’s most dangerous fighter returns Saturday night for his second test in the Strikeforce cage.
After defeating Brett Rogers in his promotional debut, WAMMA heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko will battle Brazilian jiujitsu phenom Fabricio Werdum in San Jose, Calif. (10 p.m. ET)
Here’s a breakdown of the main-card action:
Fedor Emelianenko (31-1) vs. Fabricio Werdum (13-4-1)
The 33-year-old Emelianenko has been facing substantial criticism from the MMA community, namely UFC president Dana White, for his lack of quality opponents in recent years.
However, Emelianenko recently vanquished two former UFC heavyweight champions in Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia, in addition to myriad past career accomplishments, including victories over Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mark Coleman.
"The Last Emperor," a judo black belt and multiple-time combat sambo gold medalist, knocked out his last two opponents after six straight submission triumphs.
While some observers are quick to assume Emelianenko’s best years are behind him, the Russian juggernaut is only getting better. But the same goes for the calibre of heavyweights currently gaining prominence in the sport, which leads fans and pundits alike to wonder what would happen if Emelianenko fought Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin or Cain Velasquez.
Despite being the consensus best heavyweight in the sport, the former Pride heavyweight champion is not unbeatable.
Rogers rocked him with punches on the mat in their November 2009 meeting and Hong Man Choi used his massive frame to punish Emelianenko in 2007 before succumbing to an armbar.
Facing seemingly insurmountable odds, Werdum must be at his best to prevail Saturday night.
A black belt in both judo and BJJ, Werdum is one of the heavyweight division’s most decorated submission specialists. He is coming off back-to-back victories in the ADCC competition, the world’s most prestigious grappling tournament.
After a shocking first-round knockout loss to Junior dos Santos at UFC 90, Werdum joined the Strikeforce roster where he has since compiled successive wins over Mike Kyle and Antonio Silva.
The Pride veteran holds two wins over former UFC heavyweight title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga, in addition to a submission of current Strikeforce heavyweight king Alistair Overeem in 2006.
Saturday’s tilt will be a grudge match-up as Werdum also submitted Fedor’s brother Aleksander Emelianenko in 2006.
For the first time in his career, Werdum is finally training as a complete mixed martial artist. To prepare for the stiffest test of his eight-year career, Werdum acquired the services of a nutritionist, a conditioning coach and a Muay Thai coach.
With training partners like Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, Werdum has been diligently working on his wrestling to ensure he can bring Emelianenko into his comfort zone on the mat.
If Werdum is unable to turn this encounter into a grappling contest, he is in for a short night. Emelianenko’s power, explosiveness and accurate striking will give him a considerable edge against Werdum standing. Moreover, Werdum has been rocked on numerous occasions, which leaves some doubt about the quality of his chin.
On the other hand, Werdum has a chance of overcoming "The Last Emperor" if this fight takes place on the mat. Werdum’s control, ground-and-pound and submission prowess are a legitimate threat to Emelianenko, although the Russian has proven submission skills of his own.
Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos (9-1) vs. Jan Finney (8-7)
The undisputed queen of MMA returns against a questionable opponent in the most lopsided bout on the card.
Known simply as "Cyborg," the 24-year-old female wrecking machine is a purple belt in BJJ. Initially trained at the famed Chute Boxe Academy under Rudimar Fedrigo and now anchored at The Arena team in San Diego, Santos has crushed all comers since being submitted in her first pro fight back in 2005.
"Cyborg" trounced Gina Carano to claim the inaugural female middleweight title last year and has since defeated Marloes Coenen to retain the gold.
A talented Muay Thai practitioner with heavy hands, "Cyborg" has unquestionably outmatched her last nine foes. The outcome will likely be the same against Finney, an 8-7 prospect who has competed at 135 pounds for the majority of her career.
Finney is a well-rounded competitor with solid punching power, but her options will be limited against the Brazilian powerhouse.
Cung Le (6-1) vs. Scott Smith (17-6)
In a thrilling rematch from their showdown last December, Le is looking to erase the memory of his first professional loss against "Hands of Steel."
The Vietnamese-born Le is a Tae Kwon Do and sanshou specialist whose biggest victory was a third-round stoppage of Frank Shamrock in 2008.
After putting his MMA career on hold to pursue acting, Le showed signs of a potentially exploitable chin in his return against Smith last December. At 38, Le’s durability may not be what it once was.
When they collided at Strikeforce: Evolution, Le utilized a plethora of kicks to punish Smith throughout rounds one and two. In the third, Smith caught Le with a flush right hand, which lead to a dramatic knockout.
Smith, 31, lived up to his nickname "The Comeback Kid" yet again. The UFC veteran has made a career of stopping opponents in spectacular fashion. Benji Radach had him on the verge of breaking in their 2009 fight, but Smith connected with a punishing right hand in the third round to win by knockout. Kyle Noke was having his way against Smith in their 2008 bout until Smith landed a beautiful punch in the second stanza. In what was perhaps the most spectacular come-from-behind knockout of his career, Smith stopped Pete Sell in their 2006 UFC battle.
Given his track record, it would be unjust to count Smith out. The former WEC light heavyweight champion is far more experienced than Le and he is no stranger to overcoming adversity.
Conversely, Le put forth an impressive performance against Smith in their first meeting. If he can continue to land accurate body kicks and defend intelligently against Smith’s heavy hands, he should be able to rebound in a pivotal middleweight fight.
Josh Thomson (16-3) vs. Pat Healy (23-15)
This intriguing lightweight bout is not quite as one-sided as some oddsmakers might lead you to believe.
The American Kickboxing Academy product Thomson will be favored on paper. Formerly the Strikeforce lightweight champion, Thomson lost his belt to Gilbert Melendez in a classic rematch last December.
With wins over Melendez, Hermes Franca and Duane Ludwig, Thomson is a world-class wrestler and kickboxer.
Healy is also a seasoned veteran, having defeated the likes of Dan Hardy and Paul Daley. Currently riding a three-fight winning streak, the Northwest Elite product is looking to make his case for a Strikeforce lightweight title shot.
Much like his opponent, Healy is a threat in all aspects of the game. While Thomson is expected to have superior wrestling, Healy could hold his own in the striking exchanges.