The vacant Strikeforce welterweight title will finally be on the line tonight (July 14, 2012) as former UFC middleweight contender Nate Marquardt drops down to 170 pounds to take on undefeated Strikefroce prospect Tyron Woodley in the co-main event of Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy in Portland, Oregon.
Nate Marquardt had a tumultuous end to his UFC career, having his main event cancelled and being released from the promotion for failing to have proper testosterone levels last summer. He's now officially off TRT and was signed by Strikeforce to earn is first title shot in five years.
Tyron Woodley has long been considered Strikeforce's best welterweight prospect and he's had to run a gauntlet of top opposition to finally get a crack at Nick Diaz's vacant title. The former Missouri stand-out wrestler is hoping his grappling prowess will carry him to victory tonight.
Will Marquardt make the most of his huge second chance? Can Woodley neutralize "The Great" with his wrestling and stifling top control game? What's the key to victory for both men in the co-main event?
Let's find out:Tyron Woodley
Record: 10-0 overall, 8-0 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 last 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 earned his title shot with a lackluster decision victory over Jordan Mein and will be facing Marquardt tonight.
How he gets it done: Woodley cannot and should not stand against Marquardt for very long. The Missouri wrestler is a very accomplished grappler and he's going to need all his wrestling skill if he wants to take over and become the new Strikeforce welterweight champion.
Marquardt will likely respect his wrestling early so perhaps Woodley can use this to his advantage and score a bit with striking, perhaps lull him into a false sense of security before diving in with a clinch and/or takedown attempt.
If and when he can put Marquardt on his back, Woodley needs to keep him there with stifling top pressure. On top of that, he can't just lay there or he's going to get stood up so he's got to be more aggressive with looking for guard passes and with elbows and punches on the ground.
If Woodley's conditioning can hold up for at least three rounds, as long he doesn't get finished in the championship rounds, the title will be his.
Record: 31-10-2 overall, 0-0 in Strikeforce
How he got here: Nate Marquardt, believe it not, has been fighting consistently and professionally for over 13 years now. "The Great" began his career in 1999, winning a pair of one-night tournaments before heading over to Japan to compete in the Pancrase promotion.
After losing his debut to Genki Sudo, he moved up to middleweight and went on a nice run, eventually earning a shot and winning the "King of Pancrase" title in that division for the first time in the promotion's history. Marquardt would eventually become "King of Pancrase" three times during his six year run with the promotion.
Eventually, Marquardt was signed by the UFC and after winning his first four bouts, he was given a title shot against Anderson Silva, although he would be TKOd at the end of the second round.
Since then, Marquardt was constantly on the verge of getting another shot at the belt but always fell short whether it was a goofy loss to Thales Leites, getting outwrestled by Chael Sonnen or getting outworked by Yushin Okami. He eventually made the drop to 170 pounds and was slated to headline UFC on Fuel TV 4 last year but it was discovered he had misused his TRT treatments and his ratios were too high.
Marquardt was immediately pulled from the main event, kicked out of the UFC and spent the next 9 months in MMA purgatory. Eventually, all was forgiven and he was signed by Strikeforce to vie for the promotion's vacant welterweight title.
How he gets it done: Marquardt needs to wear Tyron Woodley down. He's incredibly well-rounded with a strong ground game but he's especially dangerous on the feet with some serious knockout power. Who can forget his 21 second thrashing of Demian Maia?
Marquardt will likely be taken down at least in the first few rounds by Woodley, but he's going to have to put up as much resistance as possible in the process and really make the Missouri wrestler work for every takedown and have to work to keep him on the ground.
If he can slow Woodley down, perhaps wear him out a bit, then there are extremely good odds that he'll be able to take over completely by the third round and in the worst case scenario, ride out a decision victory. I expect lots of elbows from bottom by Marquardt, perhaps even an attempt at a guillotine choke.
Marquardt is going to be big and strong at 170 pounds so that's likely going to make Woodley's job that much harder.
Fight X-Factor: There are several factors in this bout but to me, the biggest has to be conditioning. Tyron Woodley is not exactly a cardio machine and his finishing rate is going down the toilet as of late. He's been slowing down in fights badly by the third round and if Marquardt makes him put forth significant effort, that could happen even earlier. Cardio is likely the biggest player in this bout.
The other factor is Marquardt finally competing at 170 pounds. Sure, he got down to 170 before getting released by the UFC, but he's never fought at that weight for 12 years and he'll be making his return in a five round fight. On paper, he's going to have better conditioning than Woodley but this is not a given considering how rarely he's been fighting at welterweight.
Bottom Line: You just never know with a Tyron Woodley fight. Sure, he might come out hot and pull off a quick stoppage like against Andre Galvao, but he's gotten progressively less interesting to watch as of late. It seems like as his competition level has gone up, his aggression and risk taking has gone way, way down and he's more and more relying purely on his wrestling to get on top of opponents and ride out decisions. His last fight against Jordan Mein was absolutely brutal. Marquardt hasn't exactly set the world on fire lately either, having not fought in well over a year and putting on a rather lousy main event against Yushin Okami just two fights ago. I have a bad feeling about this fight and we might be stuck watching a snoozer for 25 minutes. I pray I'm wrong.
Who will come out on top at Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!