In the wake of Zuffa's acquisition of Strikeforce nearly year ago, women's mixed martial arts (MMA) has been in a kind of promotional purgatory. With an uncertain future, due to no clear directive on what the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bosses intend moving forward, the women of Strikeforce are left to make their own fate in what is a "use-it-or-lose-it" proposition.
For nascent women's scene, that's the bad news.
But the good news is that Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey, who will headline the Strikeforce event tomorrow night (March 3, 2012) at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, have a huge opportunity to create one hell of a fight this weekend, given their past performances, in a battle for "Takedown's" 135-pound. title.
Women's MMA may well need their own version of Forrest Griffin-Stephan Bonnar I to send a message that they're a viable commodity. Given Tate's inspiring submission win over Marloes Coenen to win the belt in July, and Rousey's four wins in a combined 2:18, this figures to be a barnburner. Especially given the trash talk leading up to the fight, adding some promotional spice to a main event that is a must-win for both, as well as the future of women's MMA, if it's going to keep its place on the big stage.
The fact that they are both very attractive doesn't hurt, either.
The Strikeforce: "Tate vs. Rousey" fight card is also rounded out by a lightweight showdown between K.J. Noons vs. Josh Thomson, while welterweights collide in Paul Daley vs. Kazuo Misaki. Former Middleweight champion Ronaldo Souza takes on Bristol Marunde, with longtime fan favorite Scott Smith against Lumumba Sayers.
Miesha Tate vs. Ronda Rousey
Strikeforce women's 135-pound title
"Sometimes hype just ain't enough," quips a smiling Pulver. The ultra-talented Penn did well early, and nearly submitted the champ with an armbar at the end of the second round, only to be stymied by the horn sounding. As the bout progressed, Penn's unfamiliarity with deep waters (he'd won his previous three fights all inside the first round) became obvious, and Pulver's experience proved the difference.
For Tate to keep her belt, she's going to have to pull a Pulver.
Her advantage in experience is probably the biggest edge she's got. While her wrestling is decent compared to most of the women she's fought, Rousey's world-class judo is another level altogether. And though Ronda's professional fight career has been impressively brief, check any highlight reel of her in tournaments, or just training. She moves with a blend of incredible power, technique and finishing instinct that puts her on another level.
However, winning big is a lot easier than going deep, especially the first time you're in a long fight -- Rousey still hasn't gone past 49 seconds in her Mike Tyson-esque career -- and the adrenaline dump of a high-stakes bout can scuttle the best conditioning. Throw in the fact that Tate's been there, and you have a real "if-then" conundrum. Every round starts standing, and how the pair negotiate the standup phase of the game is a big factor as well. We haven't seen enough of Rousey to know where her kickboxing stands, but she's an outstanding athlete and figures to be able to do enough to close the distance and uncork some big-time judo tosses and takedowns.
Tate's best gameplan is to avoid Rousey's early onslaught, where she'll probably try and get the champ to the mat. In Penn's case, hype just wasn't enough; his lack of seasoning and familiarity with how to pace himself in a long fight proved his detriment. However, in Rousey's case, I think the hype is legitimate. Her athleticism, takedowns and overall pace should be enough to wear down Tate en route to a third-round submission in an exciting fight.
Prediction: Rousey via submission
K.J. Noons vs. Josh Thomson
With fans spoiling for champ Gilbert Melendez to jump to the UFC, being a Strikeforce lightweight is like riding coach on a jet where the first-class passengers are having all kinds of fun, except you can't hear or see anything because they've drawn the curtain in the aisle. That said, Noons and Thomson represent two the promotion's elite 155-pounders, and have put in consistent showings in recent bouts.
Noons' ability to strike from diverse angles and effectively inside the pocket are reminiscent of camp-mate Dominick Cruz. He'll skip around, mix in uppercuts and shoulder-rolling counters, while often making opponents miss. Thomson is an outstanding athlete with a strong collegiate wrestling background, and at his best, can push a high pace in virtually any kind of fight. He's one of the more talented lightweights not in the UFC, and has been bucking for a Melendez rubber match since dropping a hard-fought decision in their second fight in Dec. 2009.
Style-wise, this bout favors Thomson. Many of Noons' recent opponents have been content to try and outpoint him, letting K.J. operate from a standing position, but Thomson's excellent takedowns and imposing pace are great weapons to dictate where the fight goes. Noons' takedown defense is solid, but it won't be enough, especially as Thomson's constant pressure takes away K.J.'s best weapon - the ability to bob, duck and weave in the pocket while looking to force exchanges. Josh will have him in takedown-defense mode, and when he does stick Noons to the mat, he'll work him over and wear him out. Both have very solid chins and are exceptionally durable, but Thomson's pace, pressure and imposing wrestling will wear down Noons en route to an increasingly brutal and one-sided third-round technical knockout from strikes on the ground.
Prediction: Thomson via technical knockout
This is a real clash of styles. With Daley, perhaps the game's most destructive one-shot puncher, you have some guarantees. He'll always come to press the fight, he'll usually crumple whomever he lands cleanly on, and he can be very inconsistent, performance-wise. Daley reminds you of a guy in the American League who can crush the fastball but catches hell with curves.
Misaki is a slick, wily type with a ton of experience, and has fought extensively at middleweight, to boot. He uses movement exceptionally well before springing in and striking, and since Daley doesn't look for takedowns, this could prove an advantage for Misaki, whose speed and decent grappling give him a real chance to take advantage of Daley's fairly one-dimensional approach.
Daley's best chance is to time Misaki with his huge punches as the Japanese battler springs in, and use his good takedown defense to keep clear of the ground. When nailed, Daley's opponents tend to panic and get desperate for these, which only seems to make Daley work harder to stay on his feet while unloading heavy artillery. Misaki isn't likely to crack under pressure, however. He's fought and beaten too many good people. Look for him to flit in and out in the first round while largely avoiding Daley's bombs, and to take it to the mat in the second, where he'll work patiently to improve position and wear Daley down. In the third, he'll have a scare or two before repeating the trick, riding and punishing Daley to a clear-cut decision win.
Prediction: Misaki via decision
Ronaldo Souza vs. Bristol Marunde
Souza looks to return from his upset loss to Luke Rockhold in his last outing, which cost "Jacare" his Strikeforce middleweight belt. The defeat was a stark turnaround from his previous match, where he used his otherwordly grappling and top control to wear down and ultimately submit Robbie Lawler in a masterpiece performance.
Marunde isn't a well-known name, but he's got a 12-6 record, and that in itself is misleading regarding his current skill level. He went 3-5 after turning pro, with losses to the likes of Benji Radach, Matt Horwich and Art Santore, also KO'ing Rich Attonito in that stretch.
Since then he's gone on a 9-1 run and tightened up his striking, and put it all together. He'll need to against Souza, who can dominate virtually anyone on the ground from the top. Along with Roger Gracie, Jacare and Marcelo Garcia comprise the holy triumvirate of the world's greatest no-gi submission grapplers, and his pedigree makes him a feared opponent from any position on the mat.
This is definitely the kind of fight where a guy in Marunde's position can score the upset, particularly if he can outland Jacare on the feet early. Souza's standup is actually pretty good for a jiu-jitsu ace, as he'll willing toss punches and use kicks, while looking to actually hurt foes with his quick and capable hands. Marunde will have very little chance if he can't win the standing battle, as that will give Jacare too many options. Bristol's got to sprawl and brawl and hope that Jacare has overlooked him somewhat, which may have been the case against Rockhold. However, losing his title may well have motivate the Brazilian appreciably, and the guess here is that he knows he can't just show up and steamroll people with his grappling. I like Jacare in a real war here, as they battle back and forth with both guys getting hurt in spots, but Souza eventually landing a submission from the guard in the second.
Prediction: Souza via submission
Scott Smith vs. Lumumba Sayers
Some red meat for the fans here, as these two sluggers figure to kick off the televised portion of the card in a big way. Returning to middleweight after a dismal pair of showings at 170 lb., Smith has made some of the most exciting comebacks in the history of the sport. An aggressive bomber with dynamite in his fists, his penchant for getting hurt and then roaring back made him a fan favorite. Despite this reputation, however, Smith's got more skills than a crude slugger. His punching is concise, and his wrestling is a good trait he has but never uses, at least not in recent years, as he's become the face of many of classic bloodbath.
However, the many wars and knockout losses may be adding up for "Hands of Steel." A blowout defeat to Paul Daley was preceded by the brutal KO loss in his rematch with Cung Le, and Sayers, a willing brawler himself, has some pop in his shots. If Smith's chin has endured too many miles, Sayers is in a great position to exploit it.
Having seen Smith fight since his days on the small-show circuit, I'm not impressed with Sayers' standup. He tends to wing his money punch - an overhand right - and is fond of forcing his way in against opponents with his chin in the air. Smith should be able to capitalize on this by landing his own shorter shots inside the arc of Sayers' bombs. If Lumumba tries to take it to the ground, that might be his best chance to win, but Smith's takedown defense is pretty good, and he's also a very good dirty boxer in close. Sayers has a good opportunity here against an aging veteran, but Smith is still a very strong fighter at 185 and should have the firepower to pull out a first-round knockout in a rollicking brawl.
Prediction: Smith via knockout
That's it for now. Be share to express your opinions on the upcoming Strikeforce fight card, as well as share your predictions, in the comments section below.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the Strikeforce main card action below on fight night, which is slated to air at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime. The latest quick updates of the live action will begin to flow earlier than that around 8:00 p.m. ET with the "Prelims" bouts on Showtime Extreme.