Gilbert Melendez has long established himself as one of the sport’s top lightweights. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Sherdog.com staff and contributors put their reputations on the line with bold predictions for the Strikeforce “Melendez vs. Masvidal” main card on Saturday at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego. The event airs on Showtime at 10 p.m. ET/PT:
Strikeforce Lightweight Championship
Gilbert Melendez vs. Jorge Masvidal
Todd Martin: You can never count out a quality fighter in MMA with small gloves and all the different ways to win. With that said, I just don’t think Masvidal is in Melendez’s league. Melendez has always been a better wrestler and ground fighter. Recently, Melendez has added a fearsome striking game, to boot, and I don’t think he’ll have any problem standing with Masvidal. Melendez will get the better of the striking and then finish Masvidal on the ground.
Tomasz Marciniak: Although the K.J.Noons fight showed us Masvidal is a dangerous striker, I think he’s out of his depth against Melendez. Even if he were to trouble the champ standing, he won’t be able to fend off the wrestling and takedowns. Masvidal is also likely to tire out before five minutes are over, let alone 25. This is Melendez’s fight to lose. I like the champion to retain his belt with a TKO stoppage in the middle rounds.
Freddie DeFreitas: “Gamebred” has a distinct power advantage on the feet. However, I wouldn’t be too quick to hand the overall advantage standing to Masvidal. Melendez has never been a one-punch knockout striker, but his ability to quickly turn a flurry of strikes into a takedown in the blink of an eye will provide fits for his opponent. Masvidal has been a notoriously slow starter, and, if he is to have any success against Melendez, he needs to show zero hesitation in pulling the trigger and quickly establish himself on the feet early on in the fight. That being said, I think Melendez has too many weapons at his disposal and, in the end, can dictate where he wants this fight to go. Give me Melendez to retain his title with a submission in the fourth or fifth round.
Tristen Critchfield: A lot of the talk in the days leading up to this bout has centered on Melendez’s eventual departure to the UFC. Before he can worry about that, “El Nino” needs to focus on Masvidal, a veteran who gave an impressive performance against Noons his last time out. Masvidal has well-rounded standup, as he is able to mix punches, knees and kicks effectively. He should have the edge here against Melendez, whose striking has improved but isn’t his calling card. Melendez will use his punches to set up takedowns, where he can wear down “Gamebred” with his tremendous pace. This will ultimately prove to be the difference in the fight, as Melendez has experience going the distance and Masvidal does not. Masvidal will be competitive early, perhaps getting the best of some exchanges on the feet, but eventually Melendez outworks his foe and gets a fourth-round submission.
Strikeforce Women’s Featherweight Championship
Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos vs. Hiroko Yamanaka
Lutfi Sariahmed: How seriously am I supposed to take this division? Cyborg is talking about moving down for one reason: there is more significant competition at 135 pounds than where she currently competes at 145. The division was created around two fighters: Gina Carano and Santos. Now, Strikeforce is suffering the repercussions of that. Cyborg has fought women that were ill-suited for the weight class. Yamanaka is probably the first fighter that’s well-suited for the weight class. Can she compete with Cyborg? Nope. Give me Cyborg with another successful defense.
Jordan Breen: Hopefully Hiroko's past as a dominatrix has primed her for some level of physical brutality, because it is coming her way. Yamanaka is competent, but hardly comparable to Cyborg. This fight is going to be another example of a high-level athlete beating up a sound-but-unremarkable fighter. Santos' power could end it early, else we're looking at the sort of bust-up that should end by the late second, early third.
Tony Loiseleur: Yamanaka has come a long way since her days as a dominatrix moonlighting as a freelance fighter in Japan. Hers is a somewhat positive story in the otherwise depressing Japanese women’s MMA world, in that, unlike her contemporaries, she eventually found a gym and team in Master Japan that have invested in developing her into a serious fighter. Most of her contemporaries are unable to progress in their careers or develop their skills, thanks to the prevailing patriarchy and heteronormative expectations placed upon women in Japan; the conception being that female athletes in niche sports like MMA aren’t worth the same attention and investment that male athletes are due, especially since married life and domesticity are just around the corner. At this point, Yamanaka is an outlier to that kind of life trajectory, and it has shown in her last eight one-sided victories. Is this enough to best Cyborg? While it may be a sign that she has outgrown the Japanese circuit, no, it’s not enough for Santos. I expect there to be fireworks early from both women, especially as Santos fights to navigate Yamanaka’s big height and reach advantage. However, as with all of her fights, Cyborg will continue to pressure with wild punches until Yamanaka wilts and gets beat up. It will be a first for the Japanese fighter, but I can’t imagine anyone else but Cyborg doing it.
Gegard Mousasi vs. Ovince St. Preux
Brian Knapp: Mousasi’s stock has dipped sharply in the last year and a half, and he has no one to blame but himself. As such, this is an important fight in his career, as he has yet to establish himself on American soil. He has no easy task here, as St. Preux is a physical force in the cage. Mousasi will need to use his experience and conditioning to his advantage in this one, all while avoiding the thunder the former University of Tennessee linebacker brings with him. He will have a decided advantage on the ground, particularly if he can find his way on top. I expect Mousasi to score a submission late in the fight.
Loiseleur: While many have been quick to abandon Mousasi after his loss to Muhammed Lawal and his draw to Keith Jardine in his last two Strikeforce fights, all those two showings taught us were that Mousasi’s wrestling defense is not sufficient against elite wrestlers and that carelessness can cost one a win. As good as St. Preux may be on the feet, Mousasi is better. St. Preux also doesn’t present the same threat in the wrestling department that Lawal did. I expect Mousasi to win rounds and maybe even get a finish by the third frame.
Breen: We have a battle of consistently inconsistent light heavyweights here. Both Mousasi and St. Preux can take over a fight with their striking offense, Mousasi a more technical, precision striker, and St. Preux a thumper who can rip off brutal kicking offense and punching combinations. Yet, both fall asleep at the wheel at times, as Mousasi tends to start slow and have lapses in concentration, while St. Preux seems to need to catch a breather after his first couple salvos of offense. It will probably make for a topsy-turvy fight with some ebb and flow, but look for Mousasi -- he of a strong chin and good fitness, if questionable takedown defense -- to earn a close decision.
Sariahmed: This is the most competitive bout on the Strikeforce card in my eyes. OSP gets a real stern test, and Mousasi will give us a more definitive statement about what fighter we should expect to see moving forward. My initial thought is this is going to be too steep of a climb for OSP to make. It’s an appropriate time for the bout, but Mousasi is too good. The Red Devil fighter has legitimate wins over even more legitimate competition and can be just as dynamic a striker as OSP. If St. Preux decided to fall back on his wrestling, Mousasi could deal with that, too. Mousasi should take this in a close bout that goes to the final bell.
K.J. Noons vs. Billy Evangelista
Martin: It’s hard to have a lot of confidence in Noons with the way he has looked his past two fights, but this really should be a good matchup for him. Evangelista tends to rely on his striking, and Noons’ technical boxing will be tough for him to deal with. I see the fight going three rounds and Noons outpointing Evangelista for the decision.
Marciniak: Noons has a love affair with his boxing, and it’s enough to carry him through this fight. I was never much impressed by Evangelista, who has mediocre striking and mediocre takedowns: too little in my mind to get the job done against Noons, who will put his hands on him standing. The Hawaiian will get a clear-cut decision victory.
DeFreitas: Evangelista is a good wrestler, just not a great one, and therein lays his biggest problem in facing Noons. Noons knows the takedowns attempts are going to be flying at him; he has pretty much come to expect that in every fight and has done a fairly good job on the defensive side lately. Evangelista has good hands. Unfortunately for him, Noons’ are much, much better, which basically compounds matters for Evangelista. Noons wins by knockout in the third.
Critchfield: Noons has some of the most skilled boxing in MMA. His ability to use angles and feints to set up punches is far beyond most opponents at his level. Evangelista, who has been solid but not spectacular in his most recent outings, will be outmatched in this area, as well. Evangelista will want to mix up his attacks to keep Noons guessing because once his foe gets comfortable he is hard to stop. He’ll want to use his striking to set up takedowns because Noons is at his least dangerous on his back. All this is easier said than done, however, so expect Noons to win by knockout or technical knockout in round two.
2011 Picking & Grinning Standings
Jordan Breen: 163-67
Tristen Critchfield: 159-71
Todd Martin: 158-72
Tomasz Marciniak: 155-75
Freddie DeFreitas: 154-76
Brian Knapp: 154-76
Rob King: 152-78
Guilherme Pinheiro: 151-79
Tony Loiseleur: 149-81
Lutfi Sariahmed: 149-81