Two light heavyweight prospects who recently had five fight winning streaks snapped will attempt to get back on track this Saturday night (August 18, 2012) as Ovince St. Preux takes on T.J. Cook in the opening bout of the Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman main card in San Diego, California.
Ovince St. Preux burst onto the scene in 2011, winning five straight fights in Strikeforce and instantly becoming one of the promotion's best young prospects. He got thrown to the wolves in his last fight, taking on Gegard Mousasi, and he would lose a unanimous decision. Now, he's trying to start another streak and T.J. Cook is in his way.
T.J. Cook does not want to be a sacrificial lamb. The 29 year old Floridian is a knockout artist who was also on a solid five fight winning streak before Trevor Smith stopped him in his tracks at Strikeforce Challengers 20. Cook is looking for the biggest victory of his career after receiving a tremendous opportunity.
Will OSP return to his winning ways? Can Cook completely dismantle St. Preux's hype train? What's the key to victory for both men?
Let's find out:Ovince St. Preux
Record: 11-5 overall, 5-1 in Strikeforce
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 Gegard Mousasi, but he was outgunned over the course of three rounds, losing a decision.
Now, he's taking a step down to try and get back on track against T.J. Cook.
How he gets it done: St. Preux should try to avoid standing with Cook. Yes, he's got some power in his kicks and punches, but when he's got such a big advantage on the ground, why risk it?
I think Ovince St. Preux would benefit greatly from a Rick Story-esque gameplan of constant pressure. He can't let Cook 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.
OSP has a very solid ground game and he's a terrific athlete so if he can put the former Cook on his back, he has a great shot at pulling off the submission, whether it's a simple choke or St. Preux's patented calf slicer.
Record: 12-4 overall, 1-1 in Strikeforce
Key Wins: none
Key Losses: none
How he got here: T.J. cook started small, competing at both welterweight and middleweight before finally settling down as a 205-pounder.
Based out of Florida, he won the first seven fights of his professional career before a string of three losses in four fights in a one year stretch had him doubting himself.
He gut-checked and, while not fighting regularly, he managed to string together five wins in a row from 2008-2011 including his debut on Strikeforce Challengers 17 over Lional Lanham. He had his string snapped by Trevor Smith at Strikeforce Challengers 20 last November and has not competed since.
He'll get a huge opportunity to score a significant victory and get some major exposure when he opens the main card against top prospect Ovince St. Preux.
How he gets it done: Cook should have a very simple gameplan, and that is avoiding the ground against St. Preux while trying to stay standing and land with power. Cook has some dynamite in his hands as evidenced by the nine knockouts on his record in 12 total victories.
His problem? He's been submitted in all four of his losses.
Look for Cook to keep his distance, try to utilize footwork and create openings. St. Preux has been hit on the feet before, but he showed a pretty durable chin in handling Gegard Mousasi for three rounds in a losing effort. Even if he can't knock St. Preux out, he could at least land enough on the feet to win a decision.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight, much like St. Preux's last fight against Mousasi, is the huge step up in competition for Cook. He's fighting a much more difficult opponent than the last man who beat him, Trevor Smith (who was stopped via strikes in the first round by Gian Villante earlier this year). Cook was not featured on the Strikeforce Challengers events, but now he's getting a nationally televised bout on Showtime against one of Strikeforce's best prospects at 205 pounds.
If he wilts under the bright lights, it could be a really rough night for him.
Bottom Line: In all honesty, this is St. Preux's fght to lose. He's got some freak athleticism and a rapidly improving overall skill-set. If he can take this fight to the ground, the fight is his. If he can't dump Cook on his back, there's potential that he gets knocked out. It's as simple as that. This means that the fight could be very quick and has a very strong possibility of being exciting.
Who will come out on top at Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!