In case you haven't noticed, Ronda Rousey has become the new face of women's MMA, and she'll be looking to maintain that role in a Strikeforce title fight against former champion Sarah Kaufman on Saturday night.
Rousey, a former Olympic medalist, is undefeated in her first five MMA bouts and has exploded in popularity since defeating Miesha Tate to claim the Strikeforce women's bantamweight title. In the five months that have passed since that win, Rousey has appeared on the cover of ESPN Magazine and was invited as a guest on Conan and TMZ.
There will be plenty of eyes on Rousey heading into Saturday's event, which means there will be plenty of discussion surrounding this fight card. These are the hottest topics heading into Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman.
In her most recent appearance, Hiroko Yamanaka was quickly stopped by Cristiane Santos. After it was discovered Santos had failed a pre-fight drug test, however, the result was changed to a no-contest and the Brazilian was stripped of her Strikeforce title.
As a result, Yamanaka remains undefeated in her past eight official fights.
The Japanese fighter has also made a move to the bantamweight division for a bout with Germaine de Randamie on Saturday. Still considered one of the world's top female fighters, Yamanaka could quickly return to the Strikeforce title picture should she win impressively this weekend.
However, even in Strikeforce's shallow women's bantamweight division, a win over the 2-2 de Randamie likely won't earn Yamanaka another title shot. The fact that Yamanaka is competing in the the fight card's opening bout almost guarantees that.
Adlan Amagov entered his most recent fight against Robbie Lawler with only one loss in his first 11 appearances. The young Russian striker was expected to cause some problems for the brawler, but he found himself on the receiving end of Lawler's flying knee less than two minutes into the bout.
On Saturday, Amagov will have a chance to turn things around against Keith Berry, who holds an unimpressive 11-9 record and is still searching for his first Strikeforce victory.
Despite his loss to Lawler, Amagov has the potential to reach great heights in this sport. Training under Greg Jackson, Amagov has a strong support system that will help him learn everything he can from his first professional loss since being submitted in his MMA debut.
Following a win over the relatively unknown Anthony Smith, a bout with Lawler was simply too big of a step up in competition for Amagov at the time. Ultimately, Amagov will grow from that experience, though, and could be given a shot in the UFC when the Showtime-Strikeforce deal comes to a close.
At the moment, if they even recognize him at all, fans know Matt Ricehouse as the fighter who handed Ryan Couture his only loss to date. However, Ricehouse has picked up another win since his victory over Couture and will be looking to improve to 7-0 on Saturday night.
It won't turn him into a household name, but a victory over Bobby Green would mean Ricehouse's arrival as a title contender in Strikeforce's shallow lightweight division. Green holds wins over the likes of Charles Bennett and Daron Cruickshank, and he has only suffered one loss against a fighter who hasn't competed in either UFC or Strikeforce.
Miesha Tate is one fight removed from being a Strikeforce champion. At 25 years old, she could also play a major role in the future growth of women's MMA. With the current lack of depth in the women's bantamweight division, Tate could even be one impressive win away from earning a rematch with Ronda Rousey or Sarah Kaufman for the Strikeforce title.
Yes, Tate had her arm mangled by Rousey in less than one round in March. However, prior to the fight-ending submission, Tate gave Rousey the toughest test she has had thus far in MMA. Even if they felt strongly the outcome would be the same, fans would line up to see a Rousey-Tate rematch.
Nonetheless, Tate finds herself competing against Julie Kedzie on Showtime Extreme during the preliminary card of Saturday's event. This should not be the case.
Strikeforce has elected to include fighters such as Lumamba Sayers, Anthony Smith, Ovince St. Preux and T.J. Cook on Saturday's main card. The promotion wants to put these fighters on display as future contenders. That is clear, but they are doing so at a significant cost.
In the male divisions, there is a clear decline in talent between UFC and Strikeforce fighters. Casual fans tuning in to see elite male fighters have been shrugging off Strikeforce events ever since the promotion was purchased by Zuffa. However, in some ways, Strikeforce can still be considered the "major leagues" for female fighters.
Given the right matchups and proper promotion, it has been proven that female bouts can draw significant audiences. If Strikeforce continues subjecting its top female contenders to preliminary cards, though, fans will have no reason to be excited about the opponents who Rousey competes against and the promotion will lose its competitive advantage in women's MMA to an organization like Invicta.
A winner of his first five Strikeforce bouts, Ovince St. Preux was given a huge opportunity to become one of the biggest breakthrough fighters of 2011 with a December bout against Gegard Mousasi. St. Preux came up short in a decision loss to Mousasi, but he did show the ability to go the distance with a top-flight opponent.
Against T.J. Cook, St. Preux will have a chance to put his talents on display, but he will need to put the loss against Mousasi behind him in order to do so. St. Preux's response to his first Strikeforce defeat will say a lot about what the future holds for him.
Only a dominant victory over Cook would suggest St. Preux has what it takes to make the most of his next step up in competition in the future.
Lumumba Sayers and Anthony Smith are both riding two-fight winning streaks. However, coming off of a submission win over Scott Smith, Sayers would appear the heavy favorite to extend his winning streak when the two fighters meet at Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman.
Known in part for his incredible come-from-behind win against Pete Sell in November 2006, S. Smith is notoriously hard to put away, but Sayers was able to force a tap from the UFC veteran in 94 seconds. Sayers stopped S. Smith faster than any other fighter has been able to. Among others, S. Smith has fought Nick Diaz, Cung Le, Paul Daley, Robbie Lawler, Ed Herman and Patrick Cote.
Sayers may never reach the level that any of those fighters have, but he has a chance to make a name for himself if he can prove his win over S. Smith was no stroke of luck. If the same Sayers shows up on Saturday, A. Smith will be in for a rough night.
Roger Bowling is a dangerous welterweight. The Strikeforce veteran has knocked out two UFC veterans, Seth Baczynski and Shamar Bailey, and appeared to be on his way toward becoming a 170-pound contender heading into an October 2010 rematch against Bobby Voelker.
Following a decision win in a fight that was stopped early due to an accidental eye poke, Bowling got off to a strong start in his rematch with Voelker, landing some big shots in the first round and seemingly winning the round on the scorecards. However, Voelker was able to withstand Bowling's attacks before exacting revenge with a second-round knockout.
The exciting finish would shortly lend itself to a rubber match between the two fighters, in which Bowling once again bested Voelker in the opening round. As strong as Bowling looked in the first stanza, he was unable to hurt his rival with his heaviest shots, and that left the door open for Voelker to eventually complete another come-from-behind knockout with knees from the clinch.
Voelker still accounts for the only two losses in the 13-fight career of Bowling, who has picked up two straight victories since the aforementioned rubber match. On Saturday, Bowling will receive his first big step up in competition since his meeting with Voelker, as he meets Team Quest product Tarec Saffiedine.
In his fights with Voelker, it was clear that Bowling has trouble with heavy-hitters who possess solid chins. Since Saffiedine has only recorded one knockout in his career, this fight will provide Bowling a chance to prove his losses to Voelker were largely due to a bad stylistic matchup. If he can beat Saffiedine impressively, Bowling should regain his standing as one of the brightest prospects competing under the Strikeforce banner.
It's been almost one year since Ronaldo Souza lost his Strikeforce title in a controversial fight with Luke Rockhold, but "Jacare" is still in search of his rematch with the American Kickboxing Academy fighter. With a win over Derek Brunson on Saturday night, Souza may get his chance to reclaim the belt.
Brunson is coming off of a loss to Kendall Grove, but Strikeforce's lack of true contenders in many of their divisions means Souza won't need a win over an elite opponent to separate himself as more deserving of a title shot. Given the fact that Rockhold asked for a rematch with Souza after his most recent title defense against Tim Kennedy, "Jacare" probably won't even have to beat Brunson impressively to secure a place in a championship bout.
Souza may have some concern about Brunson's knockout power, considering two of the Brazilian's three losses have come via knockout, but he won't have to survive on his feet for long. Brunson was a collegiate wrestler and trains at top camps under Greg Jackson and Renzo Gracie, but that won't be enough for him to avoid going to the ground with an elite submission grappler like Souza.
For the first time in his career, Brunson will be forced to tap, which will set up a second meeting between Rockhold and Souza. A win over the unproven Brunson may not be the ideal way for a fighter to earn a title shot, but this is one of the few intriguing middleweight title fights left for Strikeforce to put together, so they don't have much of an option but to book it.
Unless she wants to bend it like Miesha—her arm, that is—Sarah Kaufman will enter this fight looking to avoid going to the ground at all costs. Unfortunately, that is much easier said than done against an Olympic medalist in judo like Ronda Rousey.
Kaufman has earned a number of knockout victories, but they've been attributed more to her ground-and-pound than stand-up striking ability. Unless Kaufman can take advantage of Rousey's developing striking game early and land a big shot, she is going to find herself rolling with one of the scariest submission specialists in MMA.
Considering she's been caught in an armbar by Marloes Coenen, Kaufman probably won't last long on the canvas with the new face of women's MMA. In her sixth professional MMA fight, Rousey will defend her Strikeforce title by securing a sixth armbar submission.
Should Ronda Rousey successfully defend her title against Sarah Kaufman on Saturday, she could already be looking at a rematch with Miesha Tate. Unlike Invicta, Strikeforce has not been able to build up enough talent to create a viable women's division, so a Rousey win over Kaufman could mean she would already clear the bantamweight class of serious contenders.
A Rousey-Tate rematch could draw interest. Their first fight was entertaining, albeit short, and there remains bad blood between the fighters. However, Rousey is ready for bigger and better things, and assuming she beats Kaufman, she deserves them.
There is only one woman under Strikeforce contract that appears as untouchable as Rousey. Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos is currently serving a suspension for a failed drug test, but she will be eligible to return in December, which could set the stage for the biggest fight in women's MMA history.
Since "Cyborg" has previously competed at featherweight, something will need to be resolved between the two fighters regarding the weight at which this fight would be contested. A catchweight bout is certainly a possibility. But, no matter where this fight happens, it needs to be next for Rousey if she remains undefeated after Saturday's main event.