This Saturday marks the return of Strikeforce, as they grace CBS again for Strikeforce: Nashville. Three titles are on the line: the middleweight, light heavyweight, and lightweight titles are all up for grabs in what is an exciting but probably the most top-heavy card of all time.
The headliner is Jake Shields defending his newly acquired middleweight strap against the only man to hold two titles at two different weight classes at once, Dan Henderson. Henderson is Strikeforce's latest notable signing, after Henderson couldn't come to terms with the UFC.
Gegard Mousasi will also defend his light heavyweight title for the first time, against rising superstar "King Mo" Lawal. Rounding out the televised portion of the card is lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez welcoming Japanese jiu jitsu dynamo Shinya Aoki to the U.S. for the first time.
I'll only be predicting the televised fights, since the majority of the under card is comprised of fighters I have never heard of, let alone seen. With that, let's break down the fights:
Jake Shields (c) vs. Dan Henderson
Shields is 24-4-1 with 13 wins by stoppage. He is an excellent grappler with a strong wrestling background and a black belt in jiu jitsu. Most of his notable victories have been at welterweight, but he has won his last two fights against solid opponents at middleweight.
Henderson is 25-7 with 12 wins by stoppage. He is an excellent wrestler with very heavy hands. Henderson has fought the best of the best in three weight classes and has beaten most of them earning, two title belts in Pride.
This is a bad match up for Shields. Let's start with the size disadvantage. Shields has spent most of his fighting career at welterweight and has had only one true fight at middleweight.
Henderson, on the other hand, can easily transition from middleweight up to light heavyweight, and has even fought at heavyweight. Henderson will have a significant size advantage; this will only amplify his advantage in the clinch and his striking power.
Henderson is also a superior wrestler to Shields. Shields will want to get this fight to the mat so he can use his one strength over Henderson, his jiu jitsu. Unfortunately, between Dan's skill and size, I don't see how Shields does this.
Last but not least is striking. Henderson may not be any better technically than Shields, but he can certainly finish the fight standing, and I'm not sure the same can be said for Shields.
In my opinion, this fight will take place standing up, as Henderson uses his wrestling in reverse to sprawl and brawl until he lands one big punch for the victory. I'm picking Henderson by KO in the second round.
Light Heavyweight Championship:
Gegard Mousasi (c) vs Muhammad Lawal
Mousasi is 28-2-1 with all 28 wins coming by stoppage. He is a kick boxer first with a grappling background as well. While Mousasi has a lot of fights under his belt, he hasn't faced the stiffest competition, but has beaten some tough opponents.
Lawal is 6-0 with with five wins by KO. He is a wrestler with heavy hands; This will be far and away his stiffest test to date.
In my opinion, this is too much too soon for Lawal. Unfortunately, Strikeforce doesn't have much depth in the division and needed a good fight for Mousasi.
Mousasi has the advantage in the stand up. Lawal could land a lucky punch, but he would do himself a big favor by trying to take down Mousasi. Mousasi's take down defence isn't bad, but it will be interesting to see if it can withstand Lawal's wrestling pedigree.
Overall, even though Lawal certainly has the tools to pull off the upset, I believe Mousasi is the better fighter at this point in their careers. I think Mousasi can do enough on his feet and defend the take down well enough to earn a well deserved, but tough, decision victory to retain his belt.
Gilbert Melendez (c) vs Shinya Aoki
Melendez is 17-2 with 11 wins by stoppage. He is a wrestler with heavy hands and a developing jiu jitsu game. He has fought some tough opponents, and even avenged both of his losses.
Aoki is 23-4 with 15 wins by stoppage. He is about as pure a grappler as there is in MMA. Aoki has fought many of the best lightweights in the world, with much success as he holds the DREAM and WAMMA lightweight titles.
As good as Melendez's wrestling is, I believe this will turn into a striker versus grappler match up. Everyone knows where Aoki wants to take the fight. The question is whether he can get it to the mat or not.
I believe that will be a tough task against Melendez, who is a very good wrestler, and his jiu jitsu is better than advertised. Melendez should be able to sprawl and brawl successfully.
If that is the case, his striking technique and power are better than Aoki's, and he will have a distinct advantage. That is why I'm picking Melendez to retain his title by TKO in the first round.