For the longest of time Luke Rockhold was a forgotten piece in the Strikeforce middleweight puzzle – A wildly talented yet unproven prospect that was plagued with injuries before he met highly-touted Brazilian grappler Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza for the Strikeforce middleweight crown.
To the surprise of most, that packed the U.S Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio last September, this 7-1 Strikeforce Challengers product forced a kickboxing match and took a highly contested decision to win his first championship.
Tonight, he took another giant leap forward in proving that the American Kickboxing Academy product is worthy of tussling with the elite of the 185-pound division with his second-straight defense of his middleweight title against Tim Kennedy.
While it would be unfair to say that he cruised to victory against the Army Special Forces soldier, he certainly was able to shut-down the take down attempts of Kennedy and landed significant amounts of leather to win four of the five rounds on all judges’ score cards.
Luke Rockhold vs. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza II
After defeating Kennedy,The once beaten Strikeforce king has few challengers on the horizon. It leaves the door wide open for fighters to step up and stake a claim at being the top-contender right now.
“Jacare” might be the logical next step for Rockhold, since they last met the X-Gym stand-out submitted last minute replacement Bristol Marunde in March, with the top of the division no longer tied up with the title fight it only makes sense for the five-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion to meet Rockhold again.
Nate Marquardt vs. Tarec Saffiedine
Nate Marquardt’ road to redemption has been a long one, after being exiled from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but now he’s back under the Zuffa umbrella and more importantly, a champion.
In one of the better fights on the Strikeforce calendar this year Marquardt, the former UFC middleweight title-challenger, leveled the powerful wrestler with a heavy elbow before rushing him with a series of strikes that left him slumped down against the cage in the fourth frame.
While there are only a handful of interesting fight to be made for the Strikeforce welterweight king, that’s more than we can say for most divisional leaders – A match with Tarec Saffiedine would be fair, the Team Quest standout has won 8 on his last 10 fights and brings an interesting clash of styles with the newly crowned champ.
Lorenz Larkin vs. Roger Gracie
Opening up the main card televised portion were a pair of fighters making their middleweight debuts in devastating, blood soaked fashion.
First up, Lorenz Larkin overcame an early barrage from hard-hitting veteran Robbie Lawler that had him on the ropes to clearly take the final two frames , stunting Lawler with a head kick and doing damage from the clinch while forcing takedowns on his bloodied foe.
If that was a hard act to follow, Roger Gracie did it with his one-sided, brutal beat down of ex-UFC light-heavyweight star Keith Jardine – Notching 10-8 scores in the first two rounds he forced the fight to the floor damaging him with a barrage of elbows and strikes while looking for submissions.
Typically, pairing two good prospects against one another is something that I’m against, but with the state of the Strikeforce middleweight ranks, matching these two together is a fight that can have serious title implications.
Pat Healy vs. Gilbert Melendez
Pat Healy found himself between a rock and a hard place tonight – Facing a tough challenger in Mizuto Hirota that only a handful of viewers watching on Showtime knew and most expected him to dominate and stake a claim at a title shot.
While it wasn’t easy “Bam Bam” Healy pushed his win streak to five-straight – The DEEP lightweight champ took control early, wrestling the fight to the floor and having success landing shots but Healy was able to take over late, grinding the fight on the floor and using his ground-and-pound to narrowly avoid an upset.
While it wasn’t a mind-blowing fight, he is the best fighter that’s winning fights and hasn’t faced Melendez at this point.
Jordan Mein vs. Jason High II
Nobody got short changed more than Jason High tonight, he finished Nate Moore in just 26 seconds yet still he couldn’t find his way onto the broadcast over the nearly five hours between both networks.
Jordan Mein on the other hand got center stage for his 15 minute one-sided victory over Tyler Stinson – The 22-year-old Canadian notched his 24th career victory sitting in the pocket and landing shots, bloodying the eye socket before the first round even concluded, and not much changed in the final 10 minutes.
The last time Mein lost was to Jason High, both men have shown significant improvement since their August 2010 meeting, might as well match them up and see what happens in a 2012 setting.
While things might not be game changing in the 2012 incarnation of Strikeforce there are still a handful of interesting matches to be made, those are just a few of them.