Two former lightweight champions will duke it out this Saturday night (March 3, 2012) as former Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson battles former EliteXC lightweight champion K.J. Noons in the co-main event of Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey in Columbus, Ohio.
Josh Thomson has been completely off the map as of late, having suffered significant leg injuries which have kept him sidelined for a significant portion of his recent Strikeforce career. He's finally healed up and hoping to earn a trilogy fight with Gilbert Melendez if he can defeat Noons convincingly.
K.J. Noons had a very up and down run in Strikeforce thus far, winning most of his lightweights fights but then losing a welterweight title shot against Nick Diaz and then getting thrashed by Jorge Masvidal. He bounced back last December and needs a strong showing against Thomson if he wants to earn another title shot.
Can Noons bring back his boxing and put on a solid striking display against "The Punk?" Will Thomson overcome his injuries and get back into Strikeforce lightweight contention? What's the key to victory for both men on Saturday night?
Let's find out:
Record: 18-4 (1 no contest) overall, 9-2 in Strikeforce
Key Wins: Gilbert Melendez (Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Thomson), Pat Healy (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum), Nam Phan (Strikeforce: Triple Threat)
Key Losses: Gilbert Melendez (Strikeforce: Evolution), Tatsuya Kawajiri (Dynamite!! 2010), Yves Edwards (UFC 49)
How he got here: Josh Thomson, now 33 years old, has been competing in mixed martial arts professionally since 2001. After just six fights, he was already making his UFC debut in 2003, which was right before the promotion shut down the division for a few years.
"The Punk" went 2-1 in the UFC before transitioning to Strikeforce where, after losing a title fight against Clay Guida in his debut, he was able to take over the division with an eight fight winning streak which included capturing the title and defending it twice, even defeating Gilbert Melendez in a thrilling five round battle.
Unfortunately for the American Kickboxing Academy product, Thomson would suffer a series of leg injuries which forced Strikeforce to create an interim championship, and he would lose his title to Gilbert Melendez in his return. Since losing hit belt, Thomson has narrowly squeaked past Pat Healy and JZ Cavalcante and was defeated by Tatsuya Kawajiri.
He's had his Strikeforce return delayed by another long string of injuries but is finally healthy and hoping to get back on track against Noons.
How he gets it done: Josh Thomson is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. He's got a very well-rounded game and, when healthy, he's one of the most dangerous lightweights in the world.
In the stand-up department, he should really focus on bringing back those brutal push kicks which were so effective in the first fight with Gilbert Melendez. He got away from them in the rematch and he hasn't really gone back to them much, but they are really powerful and can keep Noons off-balance.
I'd highly recommend he not stand and trade punches with Noons as he'll just be asking for trouble.
Thomson would be wisest of all to work his clinch game and eventually try to score some takedowns, perhaps after wearing "King Karl" down a bit in the stand-up or after getting up close and personal. He's got a terrific gas tank and has been known to take over fights late if need be. I don't think this fight will be any different if cardio becomes a factor.
Record: 11-4 overall, 3-2 in Strikeforce
Key Losses: Nick Diaz (Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Noons 2), Jorge Masvidal (Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum)
How he got here: Karl James Noons is one of the few fighters who has been successful at both boxing and MMA. Originally getting into combat sports as a kickboxer near the turn of the century, he got submitted in less than 30 seconds in his second MMA fight back in 2002.
After that, K.J. focused primarily on boxing for awhile but would make his return to mixed martial arts, achieving the highlight of his career thus far by defeating Nick Diaz via TKO (cuts) to become EliteXC's inaugural lightweight champion. After defending his title against Yves Edwards, Noons would be stripped of his belt for refusing to give Nick Diaz a rematch.
Noons would then sign with Strikeforce two years later and after winning his first two fights in the promotion, he was given a title shot against welterweight champion Nick Diaz in a much anticipated grudge match. The fight with Diaz was electric and both men hurt each other on several occasions but Diaz would go on to outstrike Noons and win the later rounds to take a unanimous decision victory and retain his title.
Noons dropped back down to the lightweight division to battle Jorge Masvidal for a lightweight title shot, but Masvidal had his way with him, beating him soundly in all areas and earning the title shot. Noons ended his two-fight skid by squeaking past Billy Evangelista this past December.
How he gets it done: Despite years of training in MMA, it would still be best for Noons to stick to his roots which is his pure boxing. Whether it's at a distance working his jab or in the pocket where he can land his crosses and hooks, that's where he's most comfortable. What he needs to be careful about this time, however, is not to simply use boxing head movement. All that juking and ducking could have him lean right into a head kick some flashy strike to the face that he normally wouldn't see in the squared circle.
Noons have developed some decent defensive countermeasures over the years so look for him to be prepared to sprawl or push off if Thomson tries to clinch or shoot for a takedown. He needs to avoid getting tied up at all costs and then get right back to work with his striking. If he gets bogged down in anything else, he could be in trouble.
He also has to watch his conditioning. Thomson pushes a pretty hard pace and he does his best work when fighters are tiring out, taking over against the likes of Pat Healy and even Gesias Cavalcante due to fatigue.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be age and injuries for Josh Thomson. He's been delayed time and time again by repeated leg injuries throughout his career in Strikeforce and they really seem to be accumulating badly as of late. He didn't even fight in 2011 due to the setbacks.
This could affect his movement, his ability to avoid Noons' power strikes and perhaps even his conditioning. Noons could very easily push a strong pace early and try to overwhelm "The Punk" before he can shake the cage rust off. Also, at 33 years old, Thomson is nearing the age when skills really begin to deteriorate for the lower weight classes. His days could be numbers as a top lightweight.
Bottom Line: I expect a competitive affair between two of the most high profile lightweights in the Strikeforce 155 pound division. Noons is the former EliteXC champ and Thomson is a former Strikeforce champ and both would love a crack against Gilbert Melendez, Thomson in particular. "The Punk" would like nothing more than an opportunity to earn a rubber match with his big rival, who he's split two fights with prior. Both Noons and Thomson are capable of putting on extremely entertaining bouts when healthy and in shape so I expect nothing less than an exciting back-and-forth battle. There's a lot on the line as if the winner of this fight doesn't put on a strong enough showing, the Pat Healy - Caros Fodor winner could swoop and and take the title shot so they have plenty of motivation so bring it.
Who will come out on top at Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!