This Saturday night (Dec. 19) Strikeforce will continue its "Evolution" into one of the premium mixed martial arts brands in the United States when it returns home to the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California with its last event of the 2009 calender year.
The main card, featuring the return of former 185 pound champion and Sanshou master Cung Le, who will make his first appearance in the Strikeforce cage since demolishing Frank Shamrock back in March of 2008, will air live on Showtime beginning at 10 p.m. ET on fight night. Le will match up with hard hitting brawler Scott "Hands of Steel" Smith.
The card will also showcase a lightweight title fight rematch between long time rivals Josh "The Punk" Thomson and Gilbert "El Nino" Melendez in the night's co-main event.
Highly touted Japanese fan favorites "King Mo" Lawal and "Jacare" Souza are set to make their promotional debuts as well. They'll square off against grizzled veterans Mike Whitehead and Matt "The Law" Lindland, respectively.
To help get you better prepared for the festivities, I've laid out some quick analysis and predictions for the four most anticipated main card bouts set to hit the Showtime airwaves on Saturday night.
Check it out:
Unless there is a major drop off in skill level since Cung Le's last fight, this one seems pretty cut and dry. Scott Smith is going to stand and trade with Cung Le, and Cung Le is going to do what he's done to all 6 of the fighters before Smith that have chosen that strategy, which is knock him out.
Scott Smith is a tough-guy, brawler type that loves to get into a good slobberknocker, but he's asking for trouble if he tries to step up to that plate in this fight because Cung Le is without a doubt the most dangerous and multi-dimensional striker he has ever faced.
This isn't Terry Martin or Kyle Noke or even Benji Radach (Smith's last three wins), this is Cung Le. Those guys, for better or worse, are punchers. Cung Le will punch you, but he's not a puncher. He's a striker.
He's going to come at Smith with kicks and punches from angles that he's never dealt with before. He's going to attack Smith's body, his legs, his head, and any other opening he finds. And believe me, he's going to find plenty of openings.
Look for this one to get ugly for Scott Smith in a hurry.
Final prediction: Cung Le by technical knockout.
Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Josh "The Punk" Thomson (16-2) vs. Gilbert "El Nino" Melendez (16-2)
Last time these two former training partners matched up, "The Punk" picked "El Nino" apart on his feet for five rounds en route to a clear cut decision win. It was without a doubt a disappointing night for Melendez, who some people thought had superior stand up and a definite advantage on the ground heading into the contest.
Training with Cung Le and the American Kickboxing Academy crew, I can't imagine Thomson's striking has done anything but improved since that fight. I still expect him to be the better point scorer on fight night in the stand up department.
However, I have Gilbert winning this fight, and here's why. First, his cardio and focus have improved by leaps and bounds (read our interview with him from a couple months back for proof). He seemed to wear down fast in their first fight. Actually, he seemed to almost be tired, or at least off his usual pace, right from the opening bell. That sluggishness clearly allowed Thomson to set the tone early and continue to execute his gameplan for basically the entire fight.
It was really kind of a weird fight, and one that Melendez didn't seem all that interested to be a part of. An energetic, more focused "El Nino" with a bigger gas tank will no doubt change the style of the rematch. There is going to be a lot more takedowns and ground work in this one, as opposed to the first fight, which was basically a one sided kick boxing match.
You can still expect to see plenty of stand up exchanges, but I think this rematch is going to show a lot more of the range of these two fighters. And in the end, I feel that Melendez is the more well rounded of the two.
Everybody knows that Melendez is a talented fighter. The question there for a while seemed to be his dedication. A great example of how much that has changed is to look at last fight where he avenged a previous loss by absolutely destroying Mitsuhiro Ishida. He was out-worked and out-classed by Ishida on New Year's Eve 2007, but things were completely different in the rematch this August.
If the Gilbert Melendez that fought Ishida in August comes out on Saturday night, look for a completely different fight in this one too. There's no denying this one is going to be highly competitive and very close, but my money is on "El Nino." I think he does enough to win a unanimous decision.
This will easily be the fight of the night though.
Final prediction: Gilbert "El Nino" Melendez via unanimous decision.
185 lbs.: Matt "The Law" Lindland (21-6) vs. Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (10-2)
Jacare is a very exciting prospect for Strikeforce. His jiu jitsu is world class, and he's already made a name for himself with a few nice showings over in Japan. Still though, and I know this won't be the popular opinion, I don't like this match up at all for him.
Lindland is a veteran's veteran. He's been around forever and he knows his way around every inch of that cage. Plus he's done very well against submission specialists in his career. He's clearly not the same fighter that he used to be, but I still feel like this is a favorable match up for him.
Jacare is extremely dangerous from anywhere on the ground, especially off his back, but Lindland has made a living off of negating his opponents strengths with his hard nosed wrestling and ground and pound. Like Souza, Lindland is also very technical on the mat. He just handles his business in a different way.
I just don't see Lindland giving up a submission in this fight. If there was a huge difference in strength then maybe, but Jacare is not going to over power Matt Lindland.
I do think it's certainly possible that old man Lindland could get tired and careless late in the fight, which might open up some submission attempts for Jacare.
But I'm sticking to my guns and taking Lindland by blanket.
Final prediction: Matt "The Law" Lindland via unanimous decision.
265 lbs.: Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal (5-0) vs. Mike Whitehead (24-6)
This is another fight that I sort of have that feeling like the guy that's being featured (Lawal) has a halfway decent chance to lose. I'm not going to pick the upset here, but Mike Whitehead is a dangerous veteran who won't be phased by "King Mo's" flashy entrance or intimidating physique.
Whitehead is nothing spectacular, but he's very smart and he has a ton of experience. This won't be a walk in the park for Lawal. Now, with all that said, Mo's strength, athleticism and wrestling should be enough to win this fight. I'm just thinking this will be more like the Ryo Kawamura fight than the Mark Kerr fight.
If Strikeforce wanted to show off their new star's talent, they certainly picked an odd match up for his debut on Showtime. Like I said, think more Ryo Kawamura than Mark Kerr. Mo will win, but the people seeing him for the first time aren't going to get what they came for.
Final prediction: "King Mo" Lawal by unanimous decision.
That's a wrap.
Remember that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE blow-by-blow, round-by-round coverage of "Evolution," beginning with the SHOWTIME telecast at 10 p.m. ET on Dec. 19. In addition, we will deliver up-to-the-minute quick results of all the under card action as it starts to flow around 8:15 p.m. ET.
It’s going to be a fun night of fights so don’t miss it. And remember to check us out for all the pre, during and post-fight "Evolution" coverage you can handle.