What a difference a year can make, twelve months ago Strikeforce was looking to enter the most important year in the promotions history – The buzz around the company was at an all-time high after the announcement of the Heavyweight Grand Prix and had an interesting roster packed with established stars and prospects.
Tonight Strikeforce put on their first offering for the New Year and surrounding interest was at an all-time low but they made do with what they had featuring a middleweight title affair and determining future title bouts.
Here are the matches to make for the main card players from tonight Strikeforce Event.
Luke Rockhold vs. Tim Kennedy
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Luke Rockhold is beginning to look a lot like a big fish in an extremely small pond.
Rockhold defended his middleweight title for the first time tonight almost beating the beard off of longtime UFC mainstay Keith Jardine putting him away at the 4:26 mark of the opening frame.
The American Kickboxing Academy standout was originally slated to face Tim Kennedy tonight in his maiden title defense but an injury forced him to step aside and for Jardine. Once his lingering issues are cleared up this bout should be set up for round two.
The United States Army veteran challenger for 185-pound champ “Jacare” Souza for the vacant title in 2010 but came up short and since then has returned to his winning ways dispatching of Melvin Manhoef and Robbie Lawler.
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Robbie Lawler vs. Keith Jardine
We knew whether it went fifteen seconds or fifteen minutes it would provide a level of crowd- pleasing excitement and that’s exactly what happened – Amagov surprised Lawler early shooting for a takedown and putting the established wrestler on his back before delivering an illegal knee to the grounded Lawler.
A point deduction later we reset on the feet and the “Ruthless” one blitzed the Russian with a legal flying knee of his own and followed up with strikes to return to the winners circle in under two minutes of action.
Primarily UFC & Strikeforce matchmaker Sean Shelby doesn’t like pairing up winners and losers but let’s face it, pickings are slim on the Strikeforce 185-pound roster so pairing him up with Keith Jardine is a sure-fire recipe for fun.
Although Jardine suffered a defeat tonight against the best middleweight in the Strikeforce ranks “The Dean of Mean” looked in good shape cutting down to middleweight and facing the experienced slugger Lawler will be a real test to see where he stands at 185-pounds.
Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal vs. Gegard Mousasi II or Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante II
“King Mo” is one of the few stars remaining on the Strikeforce roster and he showed us why tonight. Lawal faced Strikeforce Challengers Series product Lorenz Larkin handing him his first professional defeat.
Lawal demonstrated his world class wrestling and vicious ground-and-pound making the 25-year-old Larkin look like a chump on the mat en route to a TKO stoppage in the second round putting him at the top of the proverbial Strikeforce light-heavyweight pecking order.
Although the challenge has been verbally laid down by Lawal for “Rampage” Jackson to come challenge him the chances of that happening are pretty slim.
Currently the Strikeforce 205-pound championship has been put on ice since Dan Henderson has moved over to pursue his chances of being the UFC champion leaving a vacant title fight open for 2012 featuring Lawal rematching one of two opponents.
Firstly the man he defeated to take the title, Gegard Mousasi was built to be the next big thing in combat sports, at 24-years-of-age he held a 28-2-1 record with the Strikeforce light-heavyweight and DREAM middleweight titles around his waist.
However, the NCAA Division I wrestler Lawal had no troubles exploiting the biggest weakness in the game of “The Dream Catcher” repeatedly putting him on his back to collect a victory of the judges’ score cards.
Since then the Armenian striker has shown improvement in his wrestling game going unbeaten in five bouts and even wrestling Ovince St-Preux to the mat on several occasions.
The other option is the man who took the title away from Lawal, Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante faced an over-confident Lawal in 2011 and after an exciting back and forth exchange Cavalcante unloaded with elbows to Mo in the clinch to crown himself as the king of the Strikeforce division.
Once again the hot potato effect came into play when Cavalcante failed to continue his road of success being stopped by the “H-Bomb” that Mauro Ranallo proudly boasted but redeemed himself beating Yoel Romero Palacio last year.
Lawal has been flawless since losing his crown, joining American Kickboxing Academy and dominating his opponents and would welcome either rematch.
Tyrone Woodley vs. Tarec Saffiedine II
It might not have been pretty and it left the crowd about as satisfied as your ex-girlfriend but Tyrone Woodley stamped his ticket to challenge for a vacant Strikeforce welterweight title in 2012.
Woodley faced Canadian prospect Jordan Mein and demonstrated why he has some of the best wrestling in the welterweight division in a bout that closely resembled a Jon Fitch fight he repeatedly placed Mein on his butt and worked his top game to get the victory and push his perfect record to 10-0.
His likely challenger also competed in the opening bout of the main card defeating Tyler Stinson in a livelier affair – Stinson challenged Saffiedine with an aggressive striking game throwing his hands with bad intentions but active counter-striking and some takedowns proved to be too much for Stinson.
Woodley and Saffiedine met exactly one year ago to the day in the main event of Strikeforce’s Challengers Series where Woodley out-wrestled the kick boxer to a decision.
But in their first bout Woodley expended most of his energy relentlessly searching for takedowns and using an active clinch game early which severely affected his cardiovascular fitness in the later portions of the fight.
The argument could be made that if that bout had an additional two rounds that would put “The Sponge” right in the driver’s seat, luckily for Saffiedine if it’s for the title vacated by Nick Diaz they will have 25 minutes to play.
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