Diaz-Noons grudgematch highlights Strikeforce card

Nick Diaz and Sarah Kaufman are set to defend their Strikeforce welterweight titles this Saturday night in San Jose, Calif.

In one of the promotion’s most heated grudge matches in recent memory, Diaz is seeking retribution against K.J. Noons for a contentious 2007 loss. Meanwhile, the 135-pound queen Kaufman has been granted her wish as she will finally get an opportunity to flaunt her abilities on a major Showtime telecast.

Here’s a closer look at Strikeforce’s line-up for Saturday night:

Nick Diaz (22-7) vs. K.J. Noons (10-2)

Since losing the now-defunct EliteXC lightweight title to Noons in November 2007, the 27-year-old Diaz has won seven straight, including fights over competitors in three different weight divisions.

Riding the longest winning streak of his career, the current Strikeforce welterweight champion has evolved into one of the preeminent pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.

The southpaw Diaz has been particularly impressive since joining the Strikeforce roster in 2009, stopping Frank Shamrock, Scott Smith and Marius Zaromskis. In his most recent bout under the Dream banner in Japan, Diaz submitted the legendary Hayato Sakurai in the first round.

During his UFC run, Diaz had compiled memorable victories over Robbie Lawler, Drew Fickett and Gleison Tibau. In his only appearance for Pride, Diaz submitted Takanori Gomi with a gogoplata in a bout widely considered among the greatest in history, only to see the result changed to a no contest due to a positive marijuana test.

A well-respected BJJ black belt, Diaz is a member of Cesar Gracie’s squad where his training partners include Jake Shields and Gilbert Melendez. Despite his world-class ground game, Diaz embraces every opportunity he gets to trade fists standing.

Under Richard Perez, Diaz has inherited the traits of a solid boxer with an ability to eat punches and dish out more than he takes. Diaz fearlessly engages opponents in striking exchanges and usually gets the better of them, primarily due to his punch output. His fight against Smith last June saw him set CompuStrike records for total strikes thrown and landed in a round, scoring with 207 of 397 total strikes thrown compared to Smith’s 31 of 93.

The controversial loss to Noons was Diaz’s only setback since his stint in the UFC and he is eagerly awaiting his opportunity to even the score.

The 27-year-old Noons completely disregards any threat presented by Diaz’s hands. Having compiled a 12-2 pro boxing record, Noons claims to be the top practitioner of the sweet science in mixed martial arts. The brash Hawaiian has gone as far as challenging pound-for-pound greats Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao to boxing contests.

Noons is unbeaten since a February 2007 knockout loss to Charles Bennett with key wins along the way over the likes of Yves Edwards, Andre "Dida" Amado and Jorge Gurgel.

The quick and precise striker appeared to have Diaz’s number in their first meeting, but the end result could have been drastically different if the ringside doctor had allowed Diaz to continue the fight.

Since the defeat, Diaz has been on a stellar run. Noons, meanwhile, was out of action for nearly two years before returning this past March.

A key factor in this bout will be the significant size difference. Although they both weighed 160 pounds for their first fight, Diaz has always been the more physically imposing athlete. Now a staple in the welterweight division, Diaz is proving to be bigger than most fighters in his class. He will possess a clear height and reach advantage over Noons, who is making his first appearance in the 170-pound division after achieving moderate success at lightweight.

Despite excelling on the mat, it is likely Diaz will valiantly trade punches with Noons. But if he winds up on the receiving end of Noons’ accurate blows, he can always pursue a takedown. Once on the ground, it’s his world — Gracie jiu-jitsu.

Simply put, Diaz has many more tools at his disposal. He will treat fans to a stand-up clinic with Noons before eventually taking the fight where he is most comfortable and applying a fight-ending submission to retain his title.

Josh Thomson (17-3-1) vs. Gesias Cavalcante (15-3-1)

What is shaping up as a possible Strikeforce lightweight eliminator could be the most competitive encounter on the card.

Thomson, 32, has enjoyed a successful run in the lightweight division, capturing the Strikeforce title from Gilbert Melendez in 2008. Melendez has since reclaimed his crown and Thomson is inching his way closer to an eventual rubber match.

Anchored at the American Kickboxing Academy, the San Jose native will have undivided support from the hometown crowd on Saturday night.

Thomson is a well-rounded fighter with solid kickboxing, wrestling and submission skills. On paper, he is a handful for anyone at 155 pounds. Since 2001, Thomson’s victims have included Rob McCullough, Hermes Franca and Duane Ludwig, though he has dropped fights to Clay Guida and Yves Edwards. Most recently, Thomson submitted durable Team Quest product Pat Healy in the third round.

Cavalcante, 27, will be representing another world-class mixed martial arts academy as he will bear the American Top Team name on his trunks.

The former two-time K-1 Hero’s grand prix winner has achieved his greatest success in Japan, defeating the likes of Rani Yahya, Caol Uno and Vitor Ribeiro. The Brazilian recently rebounded from a two-fight losing skid against Shinya Aoki and Tatsuya Kawajiri by trouncing Katsunori Kikuno at Dream 15.

Like his American adversary, Cavalcante possesses skills in all areas. The difference could be Thomson’s solid wrestling base. Cavalcante struggled to defend Kawajiri’s takedowns at Dream 9 and Thomson is a similar type of fighter.

That being said, Thomson should be slightly favored to prevail by decision. However, Cavalcante could always connect with one clean bomb to put the former titleholder to sleep.

Sarah Kaufman (12-0) vs. Marloes Coenen (17-4)

Female welterweight supremacy will be on the line when Kaufman gets her wish to defend the title on a major Strikeforce card.

The 25-year-old Canadian champion is unbeaten in 12 career bouts. After three decision wins over top contenders Miesha Tate, Shayna Baszler and Takayo Hashi, Kaufman finally turned heads with a highlight reel knockout slam of Roxanne Modaferri this past July.

The British Columbia native, who trains under Adam Zugec at Zugec Ultimate Martial Arts, is a BJJ purple belt. However, Kaufman’s greatest weapons are her fists. She has outslugged and overwhelmed most of her opponents, although Coenen presents an interesting challenge.

The 29-year-old Golden Glory product is a longtime veteran of the fight game with key wins over Yoko Takahashi and Modafferi.

Despite coming off a loss to female middleweight queen Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos, Coenen is a deserving title challenger and she will have considerable edge in the 135-pound weight category.

The Dutch submission specialist will possess a substantial size and reach advantage over Kaufman. Unlike most of Kaufman’s opponents thus far, Coenen is a multi-dimensional fighter.

Having developed a strong stand-up game at Golden Glory training with some of the world’s premier kickboxers including Semmy Schilt and Alistair Overeem, Coenen is also a world-class submission player dubbed "Female Rickson," a compliment comparing her to the legendary Rickson Gracie.

But Coenen doesn’t have the power to trade strikes with Kaufman. The 21-fight veteran should be expected to give Kaufman a much stiffer test, but she will be punished standing and the effects will likely take their toll as the fight enters championship rounds.

Tyron Woodley (6-0) vs. Andre Galvao (5-1)

With a combined 12 pro bouts between them, the future is bright for both of these welterweight prospects.

Woodley, 28, submitted his first five opponents before encountering a rigid test in the form of SportFight veteran Nathan Coy this past May. Woodley ended up winning a razor-thin split decision to keep his unbeaten record in tact.

In addition to dangerous submission skills, the American Top Team-trained fighter is a former Big 12 wrestling champion.

Galvao, 28, came into MMA with high expectations after a number of World Jiu Jitsu titles and three ADCC medals. It appeared as though the Brazilian would live up to the hype, submitting his first three opponents, including John Alessio in the first round of the Dream welterweight grand prix.

However, Galvao would suffer his first pro defeat at the hands of Jason High in the second round of the tournament. He went on to beat Luke Stewart by controversial split decision in his Strikeforce debut earlier this year and followed it up with a stoppage of compatriot Jorge Patino in August.

Woodley’s wrestling and submission defense should be the difference maker. Galvao’s submission prowess is not to be taken lightly, but Woodley should do well enough mixing up his game to earn the judges’ nod.