A seasoned veteran will test a rising prospect at light heavyweight this Saturday night (December 17, 2011) as former Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi takes on rising star Ovince St. Preux on the Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal main card.
Mousasi lost his title in April of 2010 and he wants it back. Since losing the belt, he's won the Dream light heavyweight grand prix to claim their belt, he's beaten K-1 striker Kyotaro in a kickboxing match and he controversially drew with Keith Jardine. He would love to score a big victory and potentially reclaim the vacant title.
Ovince St. Preux has gone 5-0 in Strikeforce, making his debut with the promotion on the night Mousasi lost his title. He ran a gauntlet of three seasoned veterans in three months to leap into the stratosphere of top prospect and he cemented that status with a 72 second knockout of previously undefeated Joe Cason earlier this summer. He's finally ready to take on his first legitimate challenge.
Will Mousasi's experience and talent give him the decisive edge he needs? Can "OSP" continue his incredible Strikeforce run with a monumental upset? How does each dangerous light heavyweight earn a victory on Saturday night?
Let's find out:
Record: 31-3-2 overall, 2-1-1 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'll be looking to right that ship against Ovince St. Preux.
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 OSP will be in.
Ovince St. Preux
Record: 11-4 overall, 5-0 in Strikeforce
Key Losses: Virgil Zwicker (TCC 1)
How he got here: Ovince St. Preux got off to an inauspicious start to his MMA career, dropping bouts to the likes of future UFC fighter Rodney Wallace, future Bellator fighter Nik Fekete and future Strikeforce competitor Virgil Zwicker in his first seven fights. Since that time though, he's been unstoppable.
Despite just a 4-4 record at the time, he made his Strikeforce debut in April of 2010, knocking his opponent out in just 47 seconds. What really turned some heads was his eight second knockout of UFC veteran Jason Day just three months later.
"OSP" went to work in Strikeforce, scoring an impressive three wins in three months, all decisions over Antwain Britt, Benji Radach and Abongo Humphry where he showcased his superior wrestling, grappling and ground and pound skills to overwhelm his opposition.
After taking six months off, St. Preux returned this past July and destroyed Rufousport fighter Joe Cason in just over a minute to remain undefeated in five Strikeforce bouts. With that victory, the Strikeforce big wigs decided it was time to throw him to the sharks at 205 pounds and St. Preux accepted a bout with the former champion.
How he gets it done: First and most importantly, St. Preux needs to stand with Mousasi as little as possible. I don't care how much he feels his striking has progressed. Standing and trading with the K-1 level striker is a really, really bad idea.
I think Ovince St. Preux would benefit greatly from a Rick Story-esque gameplan of constant pressure. He can't let Mousasi get comfortable so if he stands with him, he needs to be moving forward aggressively and cutting off escape routes, looking to pin him against the fence, throw short flurries of strikes while actually looking for takedown opportunities.
I doubt he could trade submission attempts with Mousasi, but OSP has a very solid ground game and he's a terrific athlete so if he can put the former champ on his back, he has a great shot at implementing the gameplan that "King Mo" used to win the belt and an overmatched Keith Jardine used to earn a draw. His top control has to be tight, however, as Mousasi has improved lately with his ability to get up from takedowns.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor is the huge jump in competition for Ovince St. Preux. He's spent the majority of his time facing off against tough prospects, but this is the real deal. Gegard Mousasi is one of the best light heavyweights in the world and it will present a whole new breadth of challenges to OSP. We're going to find out exactly what he's made of in this bout, but he's still a very raw fighter. If he hasn't shored up his technique in the five months since his last fight, he could get overwhelmed quickly.
Bottom Line: Whether he's ready or not, Ovince St. Preux is strong and athletic enough to potentially cause some problems for Mousasi. Despite the huge experience differential, this is still a very compelling match-up. Mousasi has potential to destroy OSP standing, but St. Preux also has potential to control "The Dreamcatcher" on the canvas. There are definitely some possibilities for this fight to be exciting wherever it goes so stay tuned. This one could b ea blowout or a thriller depending on St. Preux's readiness for a jump in competition level.
Who will come out on top at Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!