The Strikeforce middleweight title is on the line tonight (July 14, 2012) as current champion Luke Rockhold takes on former title challenger Tim Kennedy in the main event of Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy in Portland, Oregon.
Luke Rockhold has come on very strong as of late, stepping up and taking the title from Ronaldo Souza in a hard-fought battle and then destroying Keith Jardine to win his first title defense. The young American Kickboxing Academy fighter has all the tools to be one of the best in the world and he'll be hoping to put them all on full display tonight.
Tim Kennedy had a shot at Strikeforce gold but came up short. Afterwards, he went right back to work and won a pair of fights against two of the most dangerous strikers in the promotion to earn his shot at the belt. Now, he's just hours away from potentially fulfilling his dream of being a champion of a major promotion.
Will Rockhold continue to progress? Can Kennedy stifle the youngster's meteoric rise up the middleweight ranks? What's the key to victory for both men tonight?
Let's find out:Luke Rockhold
Record: 9-1 overall, 8-0 in Strikeforce
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Luke Rockhold transitioned to MMA after competing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and after having an amateur wrestling background. While most of his professional wins in the sport have come by way of submission, he'progressed nicely in his all-around skillset.
Rockhold signed on with Strikeforce for his third professional fight, quickly becoming a local favorite due to his propensity of having exciting fights that ended early. Rockhold continued to fight progressively more difficult opponents under the Strikeforce banner and continued to finish them in the first round.
Veteran Cory Devela couldn't last 30 seconds against Rockhold, quickly being overwhelmed with punches before succumbing to submission. Former Ultimate Fighter castout, Jesse Taylor, was choked out in less than four minutes as well.
Rockhold defeated UFC veteran Paul Bradley, twice dropping the Minnesota fighter standing and finished him off with some gruesome knees to the body that completely sucked out Bradley's will. He was expected to fight several of the top fighters in the promotion but was repeatedly delayed due to injuries suffered in training. He finally got his shot at the big time when he challenged "Jacare" Souza for the Strikeforce middleweight title this past September and he walked away with a decision victory.
When a scheduled title defense against Tim Kennedy fell through, veteran Keith Jardine's name was called upon. Now, the bout against Kennedy is finally on and ready to go down tonight.
How he gets it done: Rockhold has a four inches on Kennedy in height and his 77 inch reach is one of the best in the diviison. The American Kickboxing Academy fighter is very quick and his striking has been improving by leaps and bounds. Expect to see lots of body kicks with the occasional head kick or spinning back kick thrown in if he feels the time is right.
Missing weight by half a pound initially is a slight cause for concern, but Rockhold has never had a conditioning issue in the past so I'm not expecting any problems tonight.
The big thing to look out for is Tim Kennedy shooting on him and hoping to take this fight to the ground. Even thought Kennedy may not even have an advantage on the canvas, I wouldn't put it past him to at least attempt a takedown in every single round of the fight.
If Rockhold can fend the takedowns off, his speed should be able to help him land jabs and kicks repeatedly on Kennedy, who will likely be chasing him all night long.
Record: 14-3 overall, 5-1 in Strikeforce
Key Losses: Ronaldo Souza (Strikeforce: Houston), Jason Miller (HDNet Fights: Reckless Abandon)
How he got here: Tim Kennedy actually began training in MMA at a very young age alongside Chuck Liddell and John Hackleman at The Pit. After lengthy amateur career, he would lose his professional debut to Scott Smith via cut.
Kennedy would make his big splash at Extreme Challenge 50, winning three fights in one night to capture the tournament title and defeating Jason "Mayhem" Miller in the process.
The native Texan would not capitalize on his huge impression, instead enlisting in the military and become an Army Green Beret, deploying overseas and not fighting for three years.
Upon his return to fighting, Kennedy would win three straight bouts before losing a rematch to a much improved Jason Miller. After not fighting in 2008 due to overseas commitments, he would make his Strikeforce debut in 2009, easily handling UFC veteran Nick Thompson.
After two more impressive victories, he would be given an opportunity to win Jake Shields' vacated middleweight title against Ronaldo Souza. The fight would take place primarily in the stand-up and Souza surprised many with his aggression, winning a unanimous decision and taking advantage of Kennedy's concern of his ground game which never allowed the Green Beret to really open up.
After a great showing against Melvin Manhoef this past March, Kennedy asked for a fight with Robbie Lawler to get him back in the title picture. He got his wish and made the most of it, winning a decision and earning a shot at the belt.
How he gets it done: Kennedy will want to avoid standing ion the edge of the pocket with Rockhold, as the Californian poses a big threat with his length, especially with his kicks.
The clinch is Kennedy's friend, as are takedown attempts. Anything he can do to make Rockhold uncomfortable in there and perhaps second guessing a kick or strike attempt is really important for Kennedy's success.
Kennedy also is known for having a tremendous gas tank so if he wants to take advantage of that, he has to fight with a sense of urgency in all five rounds and really work hard to tire the champion out. If he can't wear Rockhold down, perhaps eventually putting him on his back,then it could be a long night for him.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest factor for this bout is likely Tim Kennedy's long layoff. He was set to fight Rockhold for the belt earlier this year but a freak toe injury forced him out of the bout and forced Keith Jardine in. Rockhold has been consistently getting in the cage and fighting for the past year while Kennedy has been forced to sit on the sidelines and watch.
Is Kennedy going to have the conditioning to go another five full rounds after such a long layoff? Will he be as sharp as he was? If not, how quickly will he adapt and get into a groove? These are all very important questions if you're a Tim Kennedy fan tonight.
Bottom Line: Both of these middleweights are exciting fighters who enjoy going forward and being aggressive. While Kennedy wasn't the most entertaining in his last bout, he's made up for that with some very fun and exciting performances before that in the Strikeforce cage. Both Rockhold and Kennedy are expected to go forward and work their striking. I don't think either man can take the other down so I'm expecting an (up to) five round stand-up affair. Depending on if you thought Rockhold vs Souza or Kennedy vs Souza for five rounds was entertaining, then you should enjoy this fight.
Who will come out on top at Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!