A former light heavyweight champion will take on one of the heaviest hitters in the division this Saturday night (Jan. 12, 2013) as Gegard Mousasi takes on Mike Kyle on the upcoming final Strikeforce main card in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Mousasi has not competed in a year, last knocking off top prospect Ovince St. Preux in December of 2011. He's been rehabbing some injuries after contemplating a turn at the Olympics but he's finally healthy and ready to (hopefully) enter the UFC with some solid momentum behind him.
Mike Kyle is one of the most powerful light heavyweights on the Strikeforce roster, smashing several of his opponents with his heavy right hand. He has competed for Strikeforce at both heavyweight and light heavyweight, but it's been 205 pounds which has brought him success. If he can knock off Mousasi, he'll definitely punch his ticket to the UFC.
Will Mousasi begin to fulfill the potential that fans have been hoping to see for years? Can Kyle pull off the upset on the heels of one of his weakest performances? What's the key to victory for both men?
Record: 32-3-2 overall, 3-1-1 in Strikeforce
Key Losses: Muhammad Lawal (Strikeforce: Nashville)
How he got here: Still just 26 years old, Gegard Mousasi has fought professionally in MMA 36 times and he's also 5-0 in professional kickboxing bouts. He got an early start with martial arts, training in judo, boxing, kickboxing and eventually MMA.
Originally competing at middleweight, he would catch the eyes of Pride talent scouts, who enlisted him in their welterweight (185 pound) tournament. Although he would be upset by Akhiro Gono in the quarterfinals, "The Dreamcatcher" would score one of the most impressive victories of his career with a unanimous decision against Hector Lombard in the alternate bout.
After bouncing around several promotions, Mousasi signed up for the Dream middleweight tournament, defeating everyone in his path including Denis Kang, Melvin Manhoef and eventually Ronaldo Souza in the finals to be crowned the Dream middleweight champion.
Mousasi moved to light heavyweight for his Strikeforce debut, knocking out Renato Sobral to claim the title but his reign would be short-lived as he would be upset by "King Mo" Lawal at Strikeforce: Nashville in April of 2010. Since then, he's been successful fighting in Japan but fought to a controversial majority draw against Keith Jardine in his lone fight on US soil. He was fed prospect Ovince St. Preux in his last bout over a year ago and walked away with a decision victory, although he left something to be desired.
After injuries and potentially contemplating competing in the Olympics, he's finally back and ready for Mike Kyle this weekend.
How he gets it done: Mousasi has so many weapons, that's what makes him very dangerous. They key for him will be to find a rhythm in his striking. His stand-up is as lethal as any fighter at light heavyweight in the world due to his K-1 kickboxing background. He's got tremendous power and he is very technical and precise with his stand-up.
With his judo background, he wouldn't mind if this bout were to go to the clinch as he's got some very nice tosses in his arsenal and he's very good at hurting his opponents whether they are against the ropes or a fence.
What Mousasi does not want to do is spend this fight on his back. Sure, he's aggressive with submissions and strikes from there, but it's not a favorable position. Look for him to try to utilize his footwork to keep a proper distance and keep striking. The longer this fight goes, the more comfortable he's going to get and the more trouble Kyle will be in.
Record: 19-8-1 (2 no contests) overall, 3-3-1 (1 no contest) in Strikeforce
How he got here: Mike Kyle has had a very strange career arc. He stepped up and faced some very difficult opposition early in his career, losing bouts to the likes of Dan Bobish, Paul Buentello and Justin Eilers in his first 11 fights.
He had a very difficult 0-3-1 stretch from 2006-2008, most notably his incredibly bizarre actions in a WEC title fight against Brian Olsen where he refused to quit attacking his opponent after the referee tried to pull him off and he was disqualified and suspended for an extended period of time.
Since then, he's gone 8-2 with one no contest and his only losses have been when he stepped up to take on Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Silva at heavyweight. He nearly pulled off a huge upset against Silva, rocking "Bigfoot" on the feet early but failing to finish the big man on the ground.
Kyle has looked very strong at 205 pounds, but has been plagued by injuries as of late. only fighting once in the last year and a half. He's was quickly dispatched by Feijiao Cavalcante in his last fight, but after a positive steroid test for his opponent, the result was overturned and he's looking to score one of the biggest victories of his career against Gegard Mousasi.
How he gets it done: Kyle doesn't have an advantage over Mousasi on the ground or in the clinch, but he does have some serious power in both hands and has a decent chin.
If Kyle wants to score an emphatic victory over "The Dreamcatcher" he's got to utilize his fast hands and crack Mousasi on the chin. Kyle has fight-ending power as evidenced by his multiple knockouts and his ability to drop even Antonio Silva.
Footwork will be key for Kyle to find an opening against Mousasi. Perhaps he can take advantage lunging in if the Armenian backs away straight as he's been prone to do on occasion. The one thing that's most important of all is if he hurts "Feijao" he can't let him off the hook. He has to aggressively attack and put him away as he might not get another opportunity.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be the fact that Mousasi has not competed in over a year. He's still young (27) and very capable, but having that long of a layoff has to affect you. Time and time again we've seen fighters return from a layoff of a year or longer and they look sluggish, rusty or just plain out of it. If Mousasi is a step slow, he could get caught with a big shot. Yes, he's got elite striking skills, but Kyle is powerful enough to make "The Dreamcatcher" pay should he make a mistake.
Bottom Line: This fight has a boatload of potential whether it's a quick stoppage for either man or a more drawn out and grueling