Two of the most talented welterweight fighters in Strikeforce will meet this Saturday night (January 7, 2012) as undefeated Missouri wrestling standout Tyron Woodley takes on rising Canadian prospect Jordan Mein on the main card of Strikeforce: "Rockhold vs. Jardine" in Las Vegas.
Woodley has risen from Strikeforce Challenger to can't miss prospect over the past year and it all culminated with his victory against former title challenger and UFC standout Paul Daley earlier in the summer. "T-Wood" is hoping to finally earn a crack at Nick Diaz's vacated welterweight title with a victory over a fellow top prospect.
Jordan Mein is on an absolute roll. He stepped up his competition level in 2011 and steamrolled everyone in his path with victories over Joe Riggs and Marius Zaromskis on the Canadian circuit before blasting Evangelista Santos in his Strikeforce debut to instantly leap into the mix of contenders. Mein is primed and ready for a major upset on Saturday night.
Will Woodley be able to outgrapple the scrappy Canadian? Can Mein set a pace that his opponent won't be able to keep up with? How does each man secure a victory on Saturday night?
Let's find out:Tyron Woodley
Record: 9-0 overall, 7-0 in Strikeforce
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Tyron Woodley was a standout wrestler at Missouri, earning All-American honors twice while competing and training alongside fellow superstar wrestler and eventual Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren.
Woodley took it slow with his MMA career, fighting seven times as an amateur and winning all seven easily due to his excellent wrestling base. After a quick 2-0 start as a professional on the local circuit in fights that lasted less than two minutes combined, Woodley was invited to participate in his first Strikeforce Challengers event.
Woodley steamrolled through his first three Challengers opponents, submitting each one in less than two rounds. After a tough scrap against Oregon wrestler Nathan Coy that Woodley barely squeaked by with a split decision, he would crush top Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist Andre Galvao in his first appearance on a non-Challengers Strikeforce show.
Woodley would fight one last time on the Challengers series against fellow top prospect Tarac Saffiedine out of Team Quest and he would pass this test with flying colors, utilizing his dominant top control wrestling to keep "Sponge" on his back for three straight rounds while avoiding any flashy submissions and sweep attempts.
He drew former top UFC and Strikeforce contender Paul Daley this past summer and was able to eventually put "Semtex" on his back over the course of three rounds, although it was not nearly as easy as some had anticipated. He's hoping to get a shot at the vacant welterweight title with a victory on Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Woodley has done some very smart things in preparation for this fight. He brought in Thiago Alves to help him prepare for Mein's stand-up attack and he brought in Jason High, the last man to defeat Mein.
Alves is one of the best strikers in the welterweight division and should do wonders for helping Woodley hang in the stand-up department while High should be able to provide pointers and weaknesses in Mein's game that he can take advantage of.
Standing is a bad idea against Mein, as it's his strongest attacking option. If Woodley wants to put a stamp on this fight, he needs to come out and put the Canadian on his back with authority. He can't be content with takedowns, though, as if he sits in Mein's full guard, he's going to be eating a large quantity of elbow attacks. Expect to see Woodley be a little more aggressive on the canvas, looking to pass guard or drop some nice ground and pound.
Most important for Woodley is to not explode out of the gate and blow all his energy early. He gets off to great starts, but then he hits an adrenaline dump and has trouble recovering in the later rounds. He can't afford to get tired against Mein so hopefully, he paces himself at the beginning of the bout.
Record: 23-7 overall, 1-0 in Strikeforce
Key Wins: Evangelista Santos (Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov), Marius Zaromskis (Score Fighting Series), Joe Riggs (Wreck MMA)
Key Losses: Jason High (Rumble in the Cage 40), Mike Ricci (Ringside MMA: Rivalry)
How he got here: Jordan Mein has been a very busy young man. At just 21 years old, he's already been competing in MMA for over five years. He stumbled out of the gate with his first ever opponent being current top UFC prospect Rory MacDonald and after a 3-4 start to his career, he found his groove.
Mein competed entirely in Canada for the next four years, slowly progressing up the ladder facing stiffer and stiffer competition. After dropping a decision to Jason High at his father's Rumble in the Cage promotion in 2010, he hasn't looked back since, going on a tear that included the likes of UFC veterans Joe Riggs, Josh Burkman and former Dream champion Marius Zaromskis.
He caught the attention of Zuffa after the Zaromskis victory and was given a tremendous opportunity against former Strikeforce title challenger and overall ferocious Brazilian Evangelista Santos this past September. He hung with the veteran for two rounds and then pulverized him in the third with a brutal onslaught of elbows to score the biggest victory of his career.
Now he'll get a chance to become an instant contender if he can knock off Woodley, who's currently sitting atop the welterweight mountain in Strikeforce.
How he gets it done: Mein has to find a way to do his damage in the striking department without exposing himself to easy takedowns. Mein has a decent submission game, but it's highly unlikely that he could pull anything off against a wrestler of Woodley's caliber unless "T-Wood" is completely exhausted.
Speaking of that, perhaps Mein's biggest advantage is his gas tank. If he can make Woodley work extra hard for every takedown and push a very high pace, he could force the Missouri alum to sap his energy in the process. Woodley has dealt with conditioning issues late in fights before and Mein is precisely the type of fighter that can take advantage of a situation like that. Hell, he did it in his last fight when "Cyborg" slowed down drastically.
In the stand-up, Mein needs to keep his distance and keep Woodley moving. Standing still is a no-no as that won't do anything to tire Woodley out. If he can press the American Top Team product into the fence, he can do some damage with his strong Muay Thai game and he can also wear Woodley down as battling in the clinch is something that consumed a significant amount of energy.
Mein needs to draw this fight into the third round and then explode.
Fight X-Factor: The X-Factor for this fight has to be conditioning. Jordan Mein should not have an issue in that department, even if he's fighting from his back for much of the first two rounds. The big question mark will be if Tyron Woodley can last all three rounds and remain dominant. Conditioning issues plagued him against Nathan Coy, a fight he barely squeaked by with split decision and it almost cost him in the final two minutes against Paul Daley, a fight he'd been controlling with ease before being too tired to score the takedowns.
Mein can smell blood if his opponent begins to falter, so Woodley hopefully has been putting in the extra work to make sure he doesn't gas out in the later stages.
Bottom Line: This is a very interesting match-up between, in my eyes, the two best current welterweights on the Strikeforce roster. Why it isn't for the title is beyond me, but viewers should treat it as such. These are two extremely talented prospects currently sitting atop the division. This bout has potential for terrific swings of momentum, back and forth striking exchanges and lots of ground work. There's a possibility it slows down if Woodley isn't aggressive after takedowns, but that's a risk you're going to have to take. On paper, this should be a very good one.
Who will come out on top at Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Jardine? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!