This weekend Strikeforce hosts its first major card of 2011, featuring two title bouts in the promotion's hometown of San Jose. While Herschel Walker's return to the cage has grabbed the lion's share of headlines, the card features three of the best Jiu Jitsu grapplers in MMA today.
Nick Diaz has been a mainstay of Strikeforce cards, and Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza's amazing athleticism has allowed him transform into a well rounded fight at breath taking pacing. Meanwhile Roger Gracie attempts to turn his amazing talent into MMA success.
Nick Diaz vs Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos
Nick Diaz enters the cage to defend his Welterweight Title for just the second time against long-time Chute Boxe fighter "Cyborg" Santos.
Diaz is a veteran of the IFC, the WEC, the UFC, Pride, Elite XC and Dream. Now, with the Strikeforce belt, he has collected three championships. Diaz is known for his amazing endurance, iron chin, pin point accurate volume punching and his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu prowess.
Growing up in Stockton, Diaz learn martial arts to defend himself against bullies and found himself at Cesar Gracie's Jiu Jitsu Academy. Cesar Gracie's style of Jiu Jitsu is very much old school, while the Gracie Jiu Jitsu approach to grappling focused more on self-defense situations than sport Jiu Jitsu. That didn't stop Diaz from winning the U.S. Open as a purple belt and Pan America Games as a Brown belt.
Diaz compliments his Cesar Gracie black belt by training boxing with Andre Ward, a gold medalist in the 2004 Athens Summer Games, and Diaz has boxed professionally once. Diaz likes to throw short, accurate punches that wear down opponents and have resulted in 12 (T)KO wins for Diaz.
Evangeslista "Cyborg" Santos, husband of Strikeforce's Women's Middleweight champion Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos, boasts an Muay Thai arsenal typical of Chute Boxe fighters. Santos has damaging kickboxing along with his own black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Despite Santos' impressive offensive skills, this matchup does not look for him. Diaz's chin and defensive grappling make a KO or submission victory unlikely for Sanots, and the Champion's impressive cardio makes it unlikely he will be worn down as the fight goes on. The only chink in Diaz's armor historically has been strong wrestlers and Santos boasts next to no wrestling in his game.
This fight will likely end with a stoppage victory by Nick Diaz, either a TKO or a submission over a stunned Santos as those punches in bunches start to add in the third or fourth round.
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza vs Robbie Lawler
In the other title fight of Saturday night, "Jacare" Souza enters the Strikeforce cage for his first defense of the Strikeforce Middleweight title.
Known simply as Jacare, this 31-year-old Brazilian is a double black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo and holds one of the most impressive grappling careers ever with seven World BJJ Titles and an ADCC Gold Medal.
Jacare is an explosive athlete who has picked up the striking game and in the last year has blossomed into one of the best middleweights in all of MMA. Souza's Black House teammate and UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva has said he expects Souza to be the very best 185 lb fighter in the world in a few years.
Facing Jacare is UFC veteran Robbie "Ruthless" Lawler, a friend and student of long time UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes. Lawler is admired for his heart and toughness and while his dedication to training has been in question, nobody can deny that Lawler loves to fight.
Souza is the clear favorite in his fight, but Lawler represents a clear threat to the Champion's belt. While Jacare is clearly superior on the ground, Lawler is far more experienced at striking and Jacare's chin has proven weak in the past. Lawler has a very powerful left hook which would be more than enough to leave the Champion sleeping on the canvas.
Look for Jacare to use his ever-improving striking and wrestling to defend against the left hook, punch to set up takedowns and work to put Lawler on his back. If he is able to take Lawler down a submission victory should come fairly quickly.
Roger Gracie vs Trevor Prangley
The last name of Gracie carries with it huge weight in the word of Mixed Martial Arts. The Gracie family took Japanese Judo and modified it into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and then used it to dominate the Vale Tudo fighting in Brazil. They then went on to found the UFC and dominate early MMA.
Recently, members of the newer generations of the Gracie family have buckled under the weight of their surname and the lofty expectations it creates among fans. Roger Gracie, however, has lived up to and exceeded expectations in the realm of competitive Jiu Jitsu. Calling someone "the Michael Jordan" of a sport has become cliché, but after 14 World Championships and two ADCC gold medals it seems a fitting title.
Roger has entered in MMA seeing it as a new challenge and unlike other Gracies seems to be taking training in martial arts besides Jiu Jitsu seriously. In his match with Kevin Randleman Roger showed much improved striking and rocked the form NCAA Wrestling Champion with a sharp knee.
South African Trevor Prangley is looking to build off his split decision win over Kieth Jardine in September of last year. Prangley is a well rounded fighter with a DI wrestling background and is currently training at the American Kickboxing Academy with many other wrestlers turned MMA fighters.
Prangley undoubtedly will be looking to keep this fight standing and test Roger's improving striking. If the fight hits the ground, Roger will hold an undeniable advantage, and Prangley will have to work hard to stay off his back. While many Jiu Jitsu fighters focus on their guard and fighting off their back, Roger has developed amazing mount and back control and submissions are almost a forgone conclusion from that point.
Prangley is also an undersized light heavyweight, having fought much of his career at middleweight while Roger started his career at heavyweight. Prangley will likely try to use his speed and wrestling to keep the fight standing. Roger's chin has never tested but Prangley isn't a powerful puncher, so his only path to victory is likely a decision. If Roger is able to secure a takedown he will likely win via submission.
Fans of fights and Jiu Jitsu alike are in for a treat Saturday night.