Jorge Masvidal (file photo) likely earned a title shot by slicing up K.J. Noons.
On his knees with blood streaming down his swollen face, a barely recognizable K.J. Noons stared at Jorge Masvidal in stunned amazement. No man had ever dissected him so thoroughly.
Talent has never been in question for Masvidal, but his results have not always matched his abilities. Victories over former International Fight League lightweight champion Ryan Schultz, onetime Sengoku Raiden Championship lightweight titleholder Satoru Kitaoka and UFC veterans Joe Lauzon and Yves Edwards -- he finished them all -- have been overshadowed by defeats to middlemen like Toby Imada, Rodrigo Damm and Luis Palomino. Masvidal’s failures have been every bit as spectacular as his successes.
At 26, perhaps he has finally put it all together. Masvidal was utterly brilliant in beating Noons, as he battered him with knees, jabs and combinations throughout a violent 15-minute scrap at Strikeforce “Overeem vs. Werdum” on Saturday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. He routinely beat the boxer to the punch and supplemented his striking efforts with well-timed takedowns. No other fighter at the event impressed more, and with that, Masvidal may have locked down the most significant opportunity of his career.
A closer look at the matches we want to see after Strikeforce “Overeem vs. Werdum” follows:
Gilbert Melendez vs. Jorge Masvidal: Melendez has looked like a very big fish in a very small pond of late, dominating Japanese standouts Shinya Aoki and Tatsuya Kawajiri in his last two title defenses. The 29-year-old Californian figures to be a heavy favorite against anyone Strikeforce matchmakers place in front of him, as the Cesar Gracie protégé has become arguably the most complete 155-pound fighter in the world. Melendez, who has never been finished, has avenged the only two defeats on his ledger. Masvidal staked his claim to the number one contender position by blitzing former EliteXC lightweight champion K.J. Noons. An American Top Team representative, Masvidal has never been known as a master strategist, though he showed improvements in that department against Noons. He has emerged as the latest last man standing in the Strikeforce 155-pound field, proving himself a worthy challenger to Melendez’s throne.
Justin Wilcox vs. Gesias Cavalcante: No one likes unfinished business. The first encounter between the two highly regarded lightweights ended prematurely when Cavalcante inadvertently poked Wilcox in the eye. It was over a little more than half a minute into round two, leaving the MMA world wanting more. Wilcox, who entered the cage on a six-fight winning streak, looked like the superior fighter in the first round. He briefly bullied Cavalcante to the ground and later delivered stinging punches to the head of the two-time K-1 Hero’s 154-pound grand prix winner. Cavalcante had no answer Wilcox’s right cross, but he sprawled effectively and managed to stay off his back through the first five minutes. They need to finish what they started.
K.J. Noons vs. Pat Healy: Noons will likely need considerable time to recover from the beating he absorbed against Jorge Masvidal. At 28 and faced with the first two-fight losing streak of his career, he remains one of Strikeforce’s most viable commodities at 155 pounds. Brutal though it may have been, his unanimous decision defeat to Masvidal does not figure to knock him too far down the lightweight pecking order.
Healy would provide a challenging return for the Hawaiian. A veteran of 43 fights, he has experience on his side, along with a stout wrestling base and heavy top game that could pose problems for the boxing-oriented Noons. Healy has momentum, too. He has won four of his last five bouts and raised some eyebrows with his February win over the previously unbeaten Lyle Beerbohm.
Daniel Cormier vs. Chad Griggs: Undefeated in eight professional outings, Cormier continues his steady ascent in the heavyweight division. The 32-year-old two-time Olympian hammered Jeff Monson with punches en route to a dominant unanimous decision at “Overeem vs. Werdum.” Cormier has become a competent striker in a short period of time, and his win over the former UFC heavyweight title contender drove that point home. Few mixed martial artists can match Cormier’s wrestling credentials. Griggs has shown some serious skill and drive in his three Strikeforce appearances. The Tucson, Ariz.-based firefighter was viewed as little more than a sacrificial lamb when he met former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Bobby Lashley in August. Griggs won that fight going away and followed it with decisive victories against Gian Villante and Valentijn Overeem. He has finished six consecutive opponents, putting himself in position to request more meaningful fights.
Conor Heun vs. Lyle Beerbohm: Heun showcased his considerable fortitude in outlasting Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Magno Almeida. Three times he found himself in potentially fight-ending submissions, and three times he escaped. What Heun lacks in pure talent he more than makes up for with courage and determination. He has never been finished, and three of his four career losses have come via split decision. A hypothetical showdown with the scrappy Beerbohm would likely lead to some thrilling exchanges on the feet and wild scrambles on the mat. Fans demand action, and these two always seem to oblige.