Strikeforce: Are Fans Going To See New Champions?

Sterling SpiarsAnalyst IApril 15, 2010

When Strikeforce announced its deal with the major television network of CBS, it promised that each show would deliver explosive fireworks.

The promotions first foray onto the network came with mix results, but in the end, fans were engaged with the event and walked away in a pleasant mood.

Now five months past the first CBS show, where Fedor Emelianenko crushed the momentum of the much larger Brett Rogers, Strikeforce is looking to one-up their efforts with their Strikeforce: Nashville card.

While the main card only offers three fights, with the potential of a fourth fight between Jason "Mayhem" Miller and Tim Stout, all three bouts have a championship belt on the line.

There's a Dream vs. Strikeforce fight between newly crowned lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez and the world-class grappler Shinya Aoki.

Gegard Mousasi looks to defend his light-heavyweight championship for the first time against the brash young up-and-comer Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal.

Finally, the gifted middleweight champion Jake Shields looks to welcome in the crafty veteran Dan Henderson.

All three fights offer some very intriguing challenges for all fighters involved; so let's get down to it.


Jake Shields vs. Dan Henderson

When fans discuss fighters that the UFC should sign, Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields is always near the top of the list, and for good reason.

With a rocky start in the beginning of his career, Shields has only lost once in his last 19 fights, which includes a 13-fight win streak over notable fighters such as Yushin Okami, Carlos Condit, Paul Daley, and Robbie Lawlor.

Shields hasn't really been praised as the most exciting fighter to watch, but he is effective nonetheless.

Using his amateur wrestling background as his base, Shields quickly grasped the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under the tutelage of Cesar Gracie.

A black belt under Cesar, Shields utilizes his grappling skills and wrestling base to control his opponent throughout the fight while he patiently searches for a submission. It doesn't necessarily win over fans, but it works.

Not to say that Shields can't finish fights, because that's far from the truth. He has actually finished eight of his last nine fights. His most recent bout against "Mayhem" Miller being the lone fight he didn't finish.

But he is still very patient and that has steered many blood-lusting fans away from his fights.

He isn't known for his one-punch power, but he knows how to use his striking to set up his takedowns.

However, Shields will be making his first title defense against a larger, and arguably more talented wrestler in Dan Henderson.

Usually referred to as "Hendo," Henderson will come into his Strikeforce debut with a wealth of experience over Shields.

The man has fought with the two largest promotions of the sport: with the now-defunct Pride and the popularized UFC.

The Greco-Roman wrestler has fought some of the most-feared fighters in all of MMA during their prime—with mixed results, many of them being much larger than him.

With the ability to stuff takedowns with a tremendous sprawl, "Hendo" can out-muscle just about anybody in the 185 pound weight class and turn the attempt around on his opponent.

If Shields can't keep Henderson guessing on his shoots, the champion will be in for a long night.

Considering that "Hendo" has a nuclear missile attached to his right arm, Shields may find himself staring at the lights wondering, "What happened?"

Yes, Henderson's right hand can be seen cocked and loaded from five miles out, but he still finds ways to connect on target, especially against inferior strikers. Unfortunately for Shields, his striking is inferior to the highly predictable right hand of "Hendo."

Watch for Henderson to stuff the takedown attempts of the smaller Shields with his Greco-Roman wrestling. After the sprawl, "Hendo" destroys the face of his opponent as if it were Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Winner—Dan Henderson

Gegard Mousasi vs. Muhammed Lawal

2008 was a breakout year for Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi. With an already impressive resume, Mousasi stormed through Dream's middleweight grand prix with a number of impressive victories.

After his display of dominance, the fighter who is now 24 years old was quickly dubbed the next big thing in the sport of MMA. Rightfully so, the man can do it all.

Mousasi has shown that he is very dangerous on the feet with his hands and legs. He has 17 knockouts on his resume with a very elusive Kickboxing attack.

With a wide variety of attacks, his opponents never know what they are going to get against him, which is why many fighters opt out of the stand-up war and take the fight to the ground- that is if they can even make it that far.

Mousasi has very good timing with his counter-strikes, which makes taking him down that much more difficult. His sprawl could use a little more work, but it is severely under-rated.

That being said, the young fighter has found himself on his back more times than he would like and there's a good chance that this fight won't be any different. But that doesn't mean that Mousasi is in any immediate danger.

Like his takedown defense, his Jiu Jitsu is often over-looked because of his striking credentials. Mousasi is quite capable of hitting a reversal at any moment, as well as sinking in a tight submission.

Wherever this fight goes, Mousasi has options. You don't compile a 28-2-1 record without the versatility that he possesses. Many believe that his opponent, Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal doesn't even deserve to be in the cage with him.

Now despite "King Mo's" fight record being nowhere near the record of Mousasi in comparison, he does deserve a chance to prove fans otherwise.

Let's face it, Strikeforce's light-heavyweight division is lacking in competent challengers for Mousasi's crown.

The only other fighter that would of been worthy for Mousasi's first title defense at this point is the man that was the champion before, Renato Sobral. A rematch between the two would of been absurd, so why not "King Mo?"

The man is one of the fastest rising prospects in the game with an undefeated record of 6-0. Five of those six fights have ended in some sort of knockout due to strikes.

Add in the fact that "King Mo" is a Division 1 All-American champion with an extensive list of wrestling titles, and the confident, yet brash Lawal is more than deserving of his first title shot.

His skill set presents a very real danger to the current champion. Yes, Mousasi has overcome most of the challenges set before him with his all-around game, but he has never faced a wrestler with the caliber of "King Mo."

Lawal's boxing is extremely powerful and often underestimated in his fights. His opponents are so scared of the potential takedown attempt, that he often uses that to his advantage by lighting them up on the feet.

The only thing that is really holding Lawal back is his experience. That's always been the main argument for all of the naysayers, but he continually proves them wrong.

Both fighters will come in prepared for a war, and both could easily win, but Lawal's size and strength advantage just might be too much for Mousasi to handle.

Going out on a thin tree limb here. Look out for the upset of the year as "King Mo" claims the crown by a jaw-dropping knockout.

Winner—Muhammed Lawal

Gilbert Melendez vs. Shinya Aoki

Gilbert Melendez could be described as the dark horse of the lightweight division. He has earned an excellent record of 17-2 fighting with prominent organizations such as WEC, PRIDE, and Strikeforce.

He is usually written off once his fights are announced, but the scrappy Melendez often finds a way to prove the doubters wrong.

His lone two losses have been avenged, most recently defeating his good friend Josh Thomson to reclaim the undisputed Strikeforce lightweight title.

Carrying in an effective boxing style similar to the Diaz brothers, Melendez keeps his opponents off guard with an aggressive, yet highly elusive attack.

Similar to the newly crowned UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, Melendez utilizes quick footwork to get in and out before his foe can even react. However, unlike Edgar, Melendez packs a powerful punch that can put anybody to sleep.

But it's not his striking that Melendez fans are worrying about in this fight, it's his ground game.

The ground game of Melendez has often been criticized as his biggest area of concern. His lone two losses came as a result of spending the majority of the fight on his back, and many fans believed if he couldn't adjust, that he would never rise to the top again.

Working with Cesar Gracie, Melendez has put in countless hours in improving his ground game, and has worked his way up to a purple belt.

But will that be enough?

His opponent, Shinya Aoki is one of the most feared submission artists in the game today. In his 23 victories, 14 have come by way of some sort of slick submission.

Everyone knows the game-plan of Aoki, it's actually quite simple: use his judo black belt to toss his opponent to the ground and then patiently wait for the right opening. When that opening presents itself, either his legs or arms latch onto a limb or he starts squeezing until the referee says no more.

Consider that Aoki's striking has often been labeled as down right atrocious, and many may wonder how he's beaten as many opponents as he has. After all, his plan is quite simple and predictable.

If Aoki get's hit, usually any where on the head, he folds like a lawn chair in a hurricane. Melendez has more than enough power to provide the hurricane element into the fight, but the matter is actually finding your mark.

Aoki just finds ways to get past the striking range of his opponent and get the clinch. If and when he does, the hip toss is imminent.

From there, it only get's worse for Aoki's opponents as he slithers and crawls his way through advantageous positions.

Unfortunately for Melendez, his grappling credentials won't be enough as Aoki subs him out and takes the Strikeforce lightweight championship back home with him to Japan.

Winner—Shinya Aoki


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