This Saturday night (April 9) at Strikeforce: "Diaz vs Daley," current Dream lightweight champion Shinya Aoki will take on Lyle "Fancy Pants" Beerbohm in what promises to be an entertaining display of grappling.
The Yuki Naki-trained Japanese submission expert, Aoki, is looking to redeem himself after a poor showing in his Strikeforce debut, a failed title shot against current lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez via decision.
Beerbohm is also looking to rebound from the first loss of his career, a spirited defeat via decision to Pat Healy at Strikeforce Challengers 14 this past February.
Japanese mixed martial artists have had to fight the stigma that they can't compete against their American counterparts, especially when fighting in the States. Japanese stars: Aoki, Kid Yamamoto and Michihiro Omigawa were all unsuccessful in their stateside fights this past year.
Will Aoki be able to restore some of his nation's MMA honor? Which fighter will get back on track in the division? Who has the fanciest pants?
Check out our preview after the jump:
Record: 26-5 (1 No Contest) overall, 0-1 in Strikeforce
Key Wins: George Sotiropoulos (Shooto-Champion Carnival), Eddie Alvarez (Dynamite!! 2008), Tatsuya Kawajiri (Dream 15)
Key Losses: Gilbert Melendez (Strikeforce Nashville) Yuichiro Nagashima (Dynamite!! 2010)
How he got here: Aoki was formerly ranked a top five lightweight in the world. His poor showing against Gilbert Melendez at Strikeforce Nashville last April put an end to that. The Japanese submission wizard responded with three consecutive victories in Japan including a very painful heel-hook victory over current Strikeforce Lightweight Title challenger Tatsuya Kawajiri. Aoki was all set for a rematch with Melendez until he humiliated himself and MMA against kickboxer Yuichiro Nagashima this past New Year's Eve in a special rules match.
Aoki insulted the rules of the fight, taunting and stalling his opponent during the kickboxing round until time expired. Once the MMA rules began, Aoki dove directly into Nagashima's knee and was knocked out cold. The Dream Lightweight Champion was so embarrassed he considered quitting the sport. With the financial problems in Japanese MMA, Aoki instead decided to take another fight for Strikeforce in America.
How he gets it done: It isn't rocket science figuring out what Aoki wants to do in this fight. The Yuki Naki-apprentice has sixteen career submission victories and the lone knockout on his record was a doctor stoppage via cut. Aoki has little to no stand-up game whatsoever. He needs to get this match to the ground however he can, top or bottom, and aggressively work for submissions. When one submission is defended, he needs to immediately throw another and another at Beerbohm until he wears him down and finishes the fight.
Record: 16-1 overall, 3-1 in Strikeforce
Key Wins: Vitor Ribeiro (Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery) Duane Ludwig (Strikeforce Challengers 2), Rafaello Oliveira (ShoXC Elite Challenger Series)
Key Losses: Pat Healy (Strikeforce Challengers 14)
How he got here: "Fancy Pants" was riding the momentum of a sixteen fight win streak until Pat Healy put a detour on his fast-track to a title shot this past February in one of 2011's most entertaining fights. Beerbohm was an accomplished high school wrestler who's career was side-tracked with a crippling addiction to Methamphetamine. The Washington native turned to mixed martial arts and credits the sport with saving his life. He has a knack for getting creative in the cage with unique submissions, sweeps, and reversals.
Beerbohm jumped at the opportunity to compete against a high profile opponent like Aoki in what will certainly be the biggest fight of his career on the national stage. A victory would easily put him back on the short-list of Strikeforce lightweight contenders.
How he gets it done: Wrestling may have brought Beerbohm to this point, but it will likely be his striking that wins him this fight. "Fancy Pants" holds seven career knockouts and his opponent has been prone to having his switch flipped in the past. The SikJitsu fighter will likely want to use his wrestling defensively and pound Aoki with strikes. If the fight does go to the ground, Beerbohm will need to avoid taking risks and control the Pride of Japan from top position. Gilbert Melendez frustrated Aoki with a strong base, spectacular submission avoidance and defensive striking. Beerbohm has the well-rounded skills to do the same.
Fight "X Factor:" The biggest factor in this bout will be how each fighter responds to their recent losses. Beerbohm suffered the first loss of his career. Sometimes that's a blessing in disguise as fighters feel a weight has been lifted from their shoulders and other times a fighter is never the same again. Aoki has lost before but Nagashima's knee caused the third complete knockout of his career. No one's ability to take a punch improves over time and it will be interesting to see if he's still the same hyper-aggressive grappler that took on and defeated some of the best lightweights in the world.
Bottom Line: While Beerbohm may have a few more ways to win this fight, he's never faced anyone even remotely of Aoki's caliber. When the Japanese grappler is on top of his game, he can submit anyone in the world. Beerbohm has shown tremendous resiliency when previously placed in submission holds but Aoki is absolutely ruthless. He has no second thoughts about breaking bones, tearing ligaments, dislocating joints or choking his opponent unconscious. Make no bones about it. If the Dream champion can secure a tight submission hold, he's going to squeeze and torque until the referee rips him off.
Lastly, at 32 years old, "Fancy Pants" is no spring chicken. He will likely come into this fight with a sense of urgency and that's a mind-set that should have hardcore fight fans salivating.
Who will come out on top at Strikeforce: Diaz vs Daley? Let us know in the comments below!