Strikeforce: Rockhold-Jardine preview
The first major mixed martial arts event of 2012 takes place Saturday in Las Vegas as Strikeforce presents a card highlighted by a middleweight championship showdown between Luke Rockhold and Keith Jardine.
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The five-fight main card features a number of well-travelled veterans and fast-rising prospects with results that could have potential title implications for some of the competitors involved.
Here's a closer look at what's in store:
Luke Rockhold (8-1) vs. Keith Jardine (17-9-2)
The American Kickboxing Academy product Rockhold will have his first middleweight title defense against the UFC veteran Jardine, who'll compete at 185 pounds for the first time in his career.
Rockhold, 27, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt under Dave Camarillo, shocked many observers with his unanimous decision triumph over Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza to win the Strikeforce belt this past September. Prior to earning a title shot, Rockhold had rattled off wins over Cory Devela, Jesse Taylor and Paul Bradley.
Judging from his performance against "Jacare," Rockhold has made significant leaps in his overall mixed martial arts game as he exhibited a solid striking repertoire and excellent wrestling. There are few top middleweight contenders remaining in Strikeforce, which explains why he's paired with a mid-tier light heavyweight making his divisional debut.
Jardine, 36, is no stranger to longtime UFC fans as he competed for the promotion between 2005-10, amassing key wins over Forrest Griffin, Chuck Liddell and Brandon Vera, while dropping fights against Stephan Bonnar, Wanderlei Silva, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Thiago Silva, Ryan Bader and Matt Hamill.
The Greg Jackson-trained fighter is noted for his unusual style, which is often described as awkward and herky-jerky. Jardine's footwork and stance is quite unique and often poses some problems for his opponents, but his inconsistency is apparent when assessing his mixed martial arts record.
Since being released from the UFC, Jardine dropped a decision to journeyman Trevor Prangley and fought Gegard Mousasi to a contentious draw in a fight many believe he should have lost.
Jardine is being rewarded with a title shot primarily due to his name value, but he's still a well-rounded fighter who can very well capitalize on this opportunity.
However, there are too many factors working against Jardine in his sophomore Strikeforce outing. Since it's his first time at 185 pounds, it remains to be seen how the weight cut will impact his performance. Furthermore, his conditioning has been questionable in the past and his gas tank could have averse reactions to the first five-round fight of his career.
Rockhold's first title defense should be a breeze as he picks Jardine apart from bell to bell, breaking him down with a wide array of strikes and dominating in the clinch. As the fight enters deep water, Rockhold will put an exhausted Jardine on his back and sink in a fight-ending choke.
Verdict: Rockhold via Submission, Round 4
Robbie Lawler (18-8, 1 NC) vs. Adlan Amagov (9-1-1)
A veteran looks to spoil the rise of a top prospect as Lawler fights for the 28th time, this time against Amagov, who is 2-0 since joining Strikeforce last year.
Lawler, 29, the former EliteXC, Icon Sport and Superbrawl middleweight champion, is no stranger to top competition. Since his debut in April 2001, he's competed for both UFC and Pride, earning notable wins over Chris Lytle, Joey Villasenor, Frank Trigg, Murilo Rua, Scott Smith and Matt Lindland along the way.
Based at Matt Hughes' H.I.T. Squad, the "Ruthless" boxer possesses dangerous knockout power and an underrated wrestling base. The San Diego native is looking to rebound from successive setbacks against Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and Tim Kennedy and hopes a win over a rising prospect could put him back into title contention.
Amagov, 25, defeated Ronald Stallings and Anthony Smith in his 2011 Strikeforce bouts. Known for his flashy kicks, Amagov has demonstrated strong takedown defense since his debut on North American soil, which could prove pivotal against Lawler.
The Russian now calls New Jersey his home and trains with AMA Fight Club alongside the likes of the Miller brothers, Mike Massenzio and Charlie Brenneman.
Lawler's experience and punching power should be the difference makers Saturday night as he lands more significant shots and brutalizes Amagov with strong hooks, earning a decision after three hard-fought rounds.
Verdict: Lawler via decision
Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal vs. Lorenz Larkin (12-0)
In a light heavyweight tilt showcasing two bright prospects, former Strikeforce champion "King Mo" will try to hand Larkin his first professional loss.
The 30-year-old Lawal is one of the most accomplished freestyle wrestlers in mixed martial arts. The former NCAA Division I All-American is a three-time US national champion, a former Big 12 Conference champ and a gold medalist at the 2007 Pan American Championships.
After dominating his early career bouts in Japan, Lawal joined Strikeforce in 2009 and scored a major upset over then-champion Gegard Mousasi to win the 205-pound title in April 2010. Lawal lost the belt in his first title defense against Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante, but rebounded with a resounding first-round knockout win over grappling guru Roger Gracie this past September.
Lawal has surrounded himself with quality teammates from day one, training with the likes of Jason Miller, Fabricio Werdum and Renato Sobral. Most recently, "King Mo" has been training with the San Jose-based American Kickboxing Academy.
The 25-year-old Larkin has made a seamless transition to mixed martial arts from his roots in boxing and kung fu, implementing a crowd-pleasing style with many unorthodox kicks.
Larkin is graduating from the Strikeforce Challengers series, where he defeated Scott Lighty, Gian Villante and Nick Rossborough.
If Lawal chooses to engage Larkin in a stand-up affair, it could make for a compelling clash. However, he knows better than to give Larkin a striker's chance and should thus rely heavily on his wrestling background to dictate where the fight goes.
Larkin has a ton of potential, but he will have a hard time fighting off his back for three rounds against Lawal, who is hell-bent on redemption against "Feijao" and a shot at the vacant Strikeforce light heavyweight championship.
Verdict: Lawal via decision
Tyron Woodley (9-0) vs. Jordan Mein (23-7)
Strikeforce's premier welterweights will see action as the undefeated Woodley looks to keep his streak alive against the Canadian youngster Mein.
Woodley, 29, is coming off the biggest win of his career as he defeated Paul Daley by decision last July. The Missouri native has other notable wins over Rudy Bears, Nathan Coy, Andre Galvao and Tarec Saffiedine.
The former NCAA Division I All-American and Big 12 Conference champion has finished five of his nine career victims by submission, adjusting well to the grappling aspect of the sport as he trains at American Top Team in Florida under Ricardo Liborio's watchful eye.
Mein, 22, has vanquished several internationally recognized fighters over the past two years, including Joe Riggs, Josh Burkman and Marius Zaromskis. In his Strikeforce debut this past September, Mein stopped Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos.
Based at the Canadian Martial Arts Centre in his native Alberta, Mein was taken under the wing of his father Lee Mein at a young age, already competing an astounding 30 times as a professional.
Mein represents the new breed of mixed martial artists with a well-rounded game and seemingly endless potential. A win over Woodley would position Mein as the best welterweight on the roster and a top contender for the title vacated by Nick Diaz.
However, Woodley's wrestling base will be difficult for the young Canadian to overcome. Mein had trouble with Jason High's wrestling in their August 2010 bout, dropping a unanimous decision.
If Woodley maintains constant pressure and repeatedly plants Mein on his back, he should be aggressive enough to earn the nod on the judges' cards. Mein's resilience, scrambling ability and rangy strikes will earn him a few points with the judges, but Woodley will likely come out on the triumphant end.
Verdict: Woodley via decision
Tarec Saffiedine (11-3) vs. Tyler Stinson (22-7)
In another intriguing welterweight contest, the dynamic Belgian striker Saffiedine meets the Team Punisher product Stinson.
The 25-year-old Saffiedine has been impressive in his North American campaign, earning victories over the likes of James Terry, Nate Moore, Brock Larson and Scott Smith.
After starting out as a striker and earning a black belt in Shihaishinkai, a style of karate that combines striking, judo throws and grappling, Saffiedine has rounded out his game by joining Team Quest in California and training under the wing of former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson.
Saffiedine is eager for a rematch with Tyron Woodley, who edged him in their January 2011 bout. With another win Saturday night, Saffiedine could very well make his case as a top contender for the vacant welterweight title.
Stinson, 25, starched Eduardo Pamplona just 15 seconds into his Strikeforce debut last July. Since his first professional bout in 2006, he's earned notable wins over Eric Marriott, Drew Fickett, Yasubey Enomoto, Matt Delanoit and Nate James.
Stinson's been susceptible to submissions in the past, as it was his downfall in losses against Delson Heleno, Dan Hornbuckle and Steve Carl. The Belgian banger is fully capable of giving Stinson all he could handle standing, but he'll likely try to exploit the American's one glaring weakness.
After a few heated exchanges, Saffiedine should secure a takedown and latch onto an arm to pull off the win.
Verdict: Saffiedine via Submission, Round 1