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Strikeforce predictions, preview and analysis for 'Diaz vs Daley'

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Strikeforce: "Diaz vs. Daley" is set to go down tomorrow night (April 9, 2011) live from the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, California.

MMAmania.com will provide LIVE updates with blow-by-blow, round-by-round commentary of the main card action on fight night, which is slated to air at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.

Anchoring the main card in the ever-vigilant city will be a Strikeforce welterweight title bout between two surprisingly civil trash-talkers. Current champion Nick Diaz returns to action barely two months removed from his last title defense against Evangelista Santos to defend his belt against UFC castaway Paul Daley, who's gone 4-0 since his release from the Las Vegas fight promotion.

Can "Semtex" redeem himself on MMA's second biggest stage? Or will it be "business as usual" for Nick Diaz tomorrow night?

The Strikeforce lightweight title is also up for grabs as champion Gilbert Melendez returns from nearly a one year layoff to defend his belt against Japanese challenger Tatsuya Kawajiri.

Will cage rust be a factor for "El Niño?" Or will he continue Japan's recent streak of poor American debuts?

The MMA world will surely be buzzing on Sunday morning.

I've also included the current betting lines for each fight so you can get a feel for what the money has to say about the chances of each combatant.

Now, enough with the formalities ... let's get to it:

170 lbs.: Nick Diaz (24-7) vs. Paul Daley (27-9-2)

Brian's breakdown: The Pride of Stockton, Diaz has stymied opponents with his constant barrage of pitter-patter strikes, mixing in power punches when an opening is available. His Kryptonite has been strong, top-control wrestlers or powerful grapplers.

Paul Daley is neither.

The Cesar Gracie-trained fighter has been matched up with strikers and more strikers since his debut with Strikeforce almost exactly two years ago. In fact, the largest threat to Diaz's title, Jay Hieron, was released from Strikeforce after the wrestler scored his second consecutive win in the promotion.

Diaz has mopped the floor with the likes of Marius Žaromskis and Evangelista Santos as well as avenging a previous doctor stoppage loss to KJ Noons, but the British power-puncher Daley may present his biggest threat on the feet.

Paul Daley is nothing if not consistent. "Semtex" made waves in his UFC debut, TKO-ing Martin Kampmann in just two and a half minutes. The Brit earned a number one contender's match after a highlight reel knockout of submission-wizard Dustin Hazelett at UFC 108 but his next opponent Josh Koscheck exposed his weaknesses.

Takedown defense, argg! The bane of a UK fighter's existence!

After a heated trash talking battle between Daley and Koscheck, "Kos" proceeded to make love to Daley for three consecutive rounds. After the final horn sounded, an irate Daley threw a cheap shot at Koscheck and punched his ticket out of the promotion as UFC President Dana White made an example of him.

Daley possesses some of the welterweight division's strongest punches and nowhere was that more evident than his Strikeforce debut this past December with a knockout of the year candidate against Scott Smith.

A sharp hook from "Semtex" forced Smith to do the "Rick Flair flop" for real.

It will be very interesting to see how these two dangerous strikers attack each other in the cage. Both men have unique and completely different styles and if it stays standing, we could be in for fireworks.

How does this fight play out?

Say what you want about Nick Diaz, but he's a brilliant tactician inside the cage. He kneed Marius Žaromskis' legs along the fence until they were linguine and he picked apart a technical boxer like KJ Noons and put him on the defensive for the final three rounds.

Diaz can take a punch better than anyone in the sport and Daley may have finally found a chin he can't crack. Both men may have the same reach, but Diaz uses his to perfection, keeping opponents on the outside until they let down their guard and he goes in for the kill.

Daley needs to get inside to land his power strikes and he may have a problem wading in without getting tagged.

And don't forget that if all else fails standing, Diaz has world class jiu-jitsu to fall back on. Daley has zilch.

Betting lines (as of April 8):

Diaz: -220 ((Bet Now))

Daley: +175 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Diaz via unanimous decision

155s.: Gilbert Melendez (18-2) vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri (27-6-2)

Brian's breakdown:  Gilbert Melendez squeaked out a decision the first time these two men fought in Pride and, on paper, he's improved significantly more than "Crusher" in the nearly four and a half years since.

Since they last fought, Melendez is a completely different fighter. He's no longer a wild striker willing to eat a punch to land a haymaker. "El Niño" has put in the time and now has some of the best technical striking in the division. He kept Josh Thomson on the end of his jab for four rounds to dominate their rematch at Strikeforce: "Evolution" and he will look to do the same thing on Saturday night.

The only thing not making me pick Melendez outright is the nearly full year layoff he's had since last defending his title against another Japanese contender Shinya Aoki at Strikeforce in Nashville.

His opponent, Kawajiri, has fought twice since Melendez last defended his title, losing to Aoki via vicious heel hook at Dream 15 and coming back strong to defeat Strikeforce lightweight contender Josh Thomson at Dynamite!! 2010 on New Year's Eve.

The Japanese challenger has a lot on his mind coming into this fight. This will be his first ever fight outside of Japan as well as his first in the cage. His fellow countrymen have not exactly performed up to expectations in the past year when debuting in the States.

Kawajiri is a strong grappler, but if anything, he's at a stalemate with Melendez if the fight goes to the ground. He dropped the Cesar Gracie fighter the first time they fought but "El Niño" has surpassed him by leaps and bounds since.

Barring a freak accident on fight day or a violent illness, this is Melendez's fight to lose.

Betting lines (as of April 8):

Melendez: -220 ((Bet Now))

Kawajiri: + 175 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Gilbert Melendez via TKO

205 lbs.: Gegard Mousasi (30-3-1) vs. Keith Jardine (17-9-1)

Brian's breakdown: Former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi is going to make a statement on Keith Jardine's face on Saturday night.

If you're a fan of "The Dean of Mean," it would be smarter to play a drinking game and take a shot every time commentator Mauro Ranallo says "unorthodox" when describing his striking-style. That way, by the time he's in a heap on the canvas, you'll at least be blacked out and never remember it.

The UFC veteran's striking may be odd, but he also leaves huge holes in his defense and it's simply not something you can afford to do against a K-1 level striker. If Thiago Silva, Ryan Bader, Wanderlei Silva and Houston Alexander can sneak a punch through, so can Mousasi.

The "Dreamcatcher" is on the warpath to take back his title and Jardine is simply a road block that must be passed. He dominated the Dream light heavyweight grand prix and defeated Japanese kickboxing legend Kyotaro since Muhammed Lawal wrestled the belt away from him just under a year ago.

Mousasi's biggest weakness has been his ability to defend takedowns against elite wrestlers and I guarantee he's been drilling his defensive wrestling in the year he's been away from Strikeforce.

Jardine has the master of gameplans, Greg Jackson, in his corner but he's not an Olympic-level wrestler like "King" Mo Lawal. Expect him to utilize some leg kicks and the clinch for a while but honestly, Jardine cares more about dropping down to middleweight than being a light heavyweight contender for Strikeforce.

The outcome of this fight means significantly less to him than for Mousasi and it will show in the cage on Saturday night.

Betting lines (as of April 8):

Mousasi: -400 ((Bet Now))

Jardine: +300 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Mousasi via knockout

170 lbs.: Shinya Aoki (26-5) vs. Lyle Beerbohm (16-1)

Brian's breakdown: This bout, to me, is the most intriguing of the evening as two fantastic grapplers known for their flashy britches will step into the cage together.

Shinya Aoki likely possesses the most ruthless submission game in the sport. If he gets a hold of Beerbohm's leg, he'll likely be taking it with him back to Japan and mounting it on his wall.

Aoki last fought in America nearly a year ago in a rather bland performance fighting Gilbert Melendez for the title in a match where the Japanese submission wizard seemed content to butt-scoot across the cage.

Expect a different Aoki on Saturday night. Since losing the title fight, he dominated his opposition in Japan including a first round submission over Saturday night's lightweight title challenger Tatsuya Kawajiri.

Only an embarrassing knockout to Yuichiro Nagashima in a special rules kickboxing/MMA exhibition match has prevented Aoki from a rematch with Melendez.

Lyle "Fancy Pants" Beerbohm is a fantastic wrestler with creative submission skills. He's a quick learner and even pulled off training partner Cody Mckenzie's "McKenzie-tine" in one of his last fights.

He will need all his submission knowledge to survive fifteen minutes with Aoki on Saturday night.

Beerbohm is not a large lightweight and his size disadvantage cost him in his last fight with Pat Healy. Despite a spirited effort, he was out-muscled for three rounds and was handed the first loss of his career.

For once, a Japanese fighter may be larger than his opponent. "Fancy Pants" will likely try to counter Aoki's grappling and strength similar to the way he fought "Shaolin" Ribeiro by clinching against the fence.

If Beerbohm does use his wrestling offensively, he'll need to keep his elbows in tight and try to avoid giving Aoki even a millimeter of space to work with. He'll constantly be one mistake away from immense pain and he knows it.

Make no bones about it, the American can win this fight if he sticks with his gameplan and avoids giving the Japanese jiu jitsu-ace an opening. 

Aoki hates being punched in the face as well so perhaps Beerbohm will use his wrestling defensively to keep the fight standing.

We'll find out on Saturday night

Betting lines (as of April 8):

Aoki: -230 ((Bet Now))

Beerbohm: +180 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Shinya Aoki via submission

That's a wrap, folks.

Remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and coverage of Strikeforce: "Diaz vs Daley."

What do you think? Now it's your turn ... let us have it in the comments section and share your thoughts and picks for tomorrow night's event.

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