FIGHT! Picks: Strikeforce “Evolution”

There’s a reason Strikeforce’s dubbed its last offering of 2009 “Evolution.” The San Jose-based promotion was a niche product this time last year, closing out 2008 with Scott Smith’s 24 second KO of Terry Martin on HDNet. Smith returns in the main event at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. after a year where Strikeforce’s power plays included seizing EliteXC’s assets, making it on Showtime and CBS, and partnering with EA Sports for an upcoming video game.

On Dec. 19, “Hands of Steel” takes on hometown favorite and budding action movie star Cung Le in the co-main event alongside the Josh Thomson vs. Gilbert Melendez lightweight title scrap while Matt Lindland, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and “King Mo” Muhammed Lawal enter the six-sided cage for the first time. Odds courtesy of bodog.

Cung Le (-500) vs Scott Smith (+300)

Cung Le last exited the cage with Strikeforce’s Middleweight Championship after breaking Frank Shamrock’s arm in a March 2008 classic. He never defended the belt, opting instead for choreographed action scenes in Fighting and Pandorum. His return finds him across from a UFC veteran in Scott Smith, who appeared deflated in a June TKO loss to Nick Diaz but can never be counted out due to one-punch KO power.

Le has never faced an opponent so dangerous standing. Smith may not be as technical as Shamrock; however, four-ounce gloves are unforgiving regardless of a punch’s beauty. Luckily for Le, his unorthodox striking poses problems for everyone standing and Smith—for all of his brawling glory—struggles versus fighters with a more dynamic standup game such as Diaz, Robbie Lawler and Patrick Cote. With American Kickboxing Academy’s striking guru Javier Mendez cornering Le, the Vietnamese sensation will keep distance with his famed sidekicks to avoid Smith’s power while pulling away for a win.

FIGHT! Pick: Le.

Josh Thomson remerged on the mixed martial arts scene in a big way by besting respected PRIDE star Gilbert Melendez for five rounds in June 2008 to capture the Strikeforce Lightweight Championship. He never had the chance to capitalize on the victory as injuries kept him out of meaningful bouts—namely against Melendez in April and August 2009. Meanwhile, Melendez eliminated the only other man to defeat him in Mitsuhiro Ishida in August, leaving “The Punk” as the last name on his hit list of the past.

Former training partners, Thomson and Melendez know each other well. Thomson was able to keep Melendez away with a lead left kick and push kick in their first bout, frustrating “El Nino” and even putting the aggressive wrestler on his back. Melendez must cut off the cage and force a smart, athletic Thomson into a fight without being picked apart chasing him down. Thomson’s extended layoff doesn’t serve him well as perfect timing kept Melendez off his game in the first bout. Ring rust makes it difficult to find rhythm and Melendez will push the pace in hopes Thomson’s endurance doesn’t hold up.

FIGHT! Pick: Melendez, en route to a trilogy.

Matt Lindland (+210) vs Ronaldo Souza (-270)

Rouge fighter and Olympic Silver medalist Matt Lindland faces Abu Dhabi Combat Club and World Jiu-Jitsu Champion simply known as “Jacare.” Both are unknown to casual fans yet have elite skill sets that will trouble any 185-pound fighter.

At 39-years-old, Lindland has seen it all in the course of 27 fights. He’s a consummate gamer, but he takes on a fighter entering his prime with much to prove in mixed martial arts. Both have natural power in their hands but “The Law” has the power to dictate where the bout occurs thanks to his Greco-Roman. But nearly every fight hits the mat at some point. If Lindland wants to enter Souza’s danger zone, he needs to do it by stuffing “Jacare”’s hips against the fence to nullify his submission game. The Brazilian alligator likely catches Lindland in his jaws though.

FIGHT! Pick: Souza.

Muhammed Lawal (-600) vs Mike Whitehead (+400)

An Olympic-level wrestler, “King Mo” took his persona to Japan and captured the Land of the Rising Sun’s imagination with his big flash and became a star despite World Victory Road’s struggles in a diminished Japanese MMA market. Coming stateside to a big stage, Lawal’s cross over appeal has no bearing on Mike Whitehead, a veteran in need of a signature win.

Lawal can fight at 185 pounds but this is a heavyweight contest. It’s a tribute to Lawal’s gameness but it could also be his downfall as Ultimate Fighting Championship and International Fight League vet Mike Whitehead will likely bring a 30-pound weight advantage into the cage. But speed kills and Lawal’s fearless, athletic game should see him mix it up on the feet instead of tiring himself out with takedowns.

FIGHT! Pick: Lawal.

Recap
Cung Le (-500) vs Scott Smith (+300)
FIGHT! Pick: Le.

Resulting Outcome:  INCORRECT

Josh Thomson (-120) vs Gilbert Melendez (-110)
FIGHT! Pick: Melendez, en route to a trilogy.

Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

Matt Lindland (+210) vs Ronaldo Souza (-270)
FIGHT! Pick: Souza.

Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

Muhammed Lawal (-600) vs Mike Whitehead (+400)
FIGHT! Pick: Lawal.

Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

Comments
Copyright © 2014 FIGHT! Magazine | Contact Us