Heavy.com will be reporting live from the Strikeforce show in Chicago this weekend, with exclusive video, interviews, and backstage access. Here’s our preview and predictions for the four biggest fights.
FEDOR EMELIANENKO VS. BRETT ROGERS
And so, the day arrives: Fedor Emelianenko makes his first real splash on the American consciousness. Long considered one of the best mixed martial artists on the planet and the current best heavyweight in the sport, Emelianenko has, at least outside of Japan, floundered on the fringes of the bright light cast by the ever-popular Ultimate Fighting Championship.
That all changes on Saturday night, as Emelianenko will arrive on the biggest North American stage available: a prime time bout on network television. Will Emelianenko finally be seen as a star by fans who barely realize there’s life in mixed martial arts outside of the UFC? In truth, this is the biggest question that will be answered on Saturday night, because the outcome of his fight with Brett Rogers is not in doubt.
Rogers has a fantastic story. Less than a year ago, he was working a full-time job at the local Sam’s Club, changing tires to support his family while pursuing a mixed martial arts career on the side. A brutal knockout victory over former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski thrust Rogers directly into the world heavyweight spotlight and earned him a shot against Emelianenko. More importantly, it earned him a payday big enough that he was able to quit his job and focus on mixed martial arts. A win over Emelianenko would catapault Rogers to superstardom, at least among hardcore MMA fans; he’d instantly be considered one of the top three heavyweights in the world.
Sadly for Rogers, his fairy tale won’t have a happy ending. Violent punchers like Rogers always have a slight chance of scoring a knockout victory, but Emelianenko is far superior in every aspect of the game. The script for this bout will read much like the one against Tim Sylvia, with Fedor taking Rogers to the mat, working his brutal ground and pound game, and finishing off the fight with a submission. If Rogers even gets out of the first round, he should consider it a moral victory.
PREDICTION: Fedor Emelianenko by submission (round one)
JAKE SHIELDS VS. JASON MILLER
This is the most interesting bout on the card, and also the toughest to call.
Like Emelianenko, Jason “Mayhem” Miller is a long-time favorite of hardcore MMA fans. Unlike Fedor, however, Miller is a pop culture star. Known primarily by mainstream fans for his role in the scripted MTV series Bully Beatdown, Miller has accumulated true fight fans around the world with his flashy fight entrances and entertaining in-ring style. His Strikeforce debut gives him the opportunity to show the MTV fans that he’s more than just an entertaining television personality.
Jake Shields is one of the best welterweights in the world and almost certainly the best welterweight not currently signed to the UFC roster. The Cesar Gracie-trained black belt is coming off an upset submission victory over middleweight and former Dana White favorite Robbie Lawler in June, and he’s on a twelve-fight win streak that dates back to 2005. Needless to say, Shields is the prohibitive favorite going into this bout, with some bookmakers listing him at -300.
It’s fairly easy to envision Jake Shields taking the victory in this bout, but I’m going the opposite direction. Ronaldo “Jacare” de Souza couldn’t submit Miller, and he’s one of the best grapplers in the world. If Miller can keep the fight standing, he’s got an excellent chance to either finish Shields or grind out a decision victory on points.
PREDICTION: Jason Miller by decision
GEGARD MOUSASI VS. SOKOUDJOU
Gegard Mousasi might be the future of the light heavyweight or heavyweight divisions in the UFC. Yes, he’s currently fighting for Strikeforce, but Mousasi has made one thing very clear: his ultimate goal is to end up as a heavyweight in the UFC. That can’t feel good for Strikeforce.
One thing is for certain: Gegard Mousasi is one of the best fighters in the world, regardless of weight class or company. He’s also one of the brightest prospects in the sport. His one-minute destruction of Renato “Babalu” Sobral to capture the light heavyweight championship in June loudly announced his arrival on the American mixed martial arts scene. But it wasn’t just the speed of Mousasi’s victory that impressed onlookers — it was the carefree and relaxed manner in which he did so. Despite being in the cage with a veteran light heavyweight, Mousasi’s facial expression never changed and he didn’t break a sweat. He scored a victory over a tough opponent and made it look easy.
Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou made a splash on the MMA scene in 2007 with consecutive victories over the then-ranked Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona. Those victories earned him a contract with the UFC, but he fizzled in three bouts with the company and was released. He has since fought twice for DREAM in Japan, earning two victories in the Super Hulk tournament.
Sokoudjou is a dangerous kickboxer, but tires quickly. He’s overmatched in this fight, and I see Mousasi taking it quickly and finishing Sokoudjou in the first round.
PREDICTION: Gegard Mousasi by submission (round one)
ANTONIO SILVA VS. FABRICIO WERDUM
This fight will determine the next guy to face Fedor Emelianenko. Strikeforce hasn’t confirmed it, because it doesn’t make any sense to have a “number one contender” for Fedor when Alistair Overeem holds the heavyweight championship. But make no mistake about it: the winner of this bout will face Emelianenko in early 2010.
Antonio Silva suffers from acromegaly, a disorder which causes the enlargement of facial and body features because of a tumor located in the pituitary gland. Other notable athletes with acromegaly? WWE’s Andre the Giant and Paul “Big Show” Wight. This fight marks his return to the United States and Strikeforce after serving a one year suspension for a postive steroid test, a charge which Silva vehemently denies. He’s 13-1 in his career, but has never faced an opponent with the skills of Fabricio Werdum.
Werdum was exiled from the UFC after making the observation that Brock Lesnar didn’t deserve a title shot so early in his career. He’s one of the best grapplers in the world regardless of weight class, and recently won the heavyweight division at the ADCC World Submission Wrestling Championships. Werdum has long been considered to be one of the biggest threats to Fedor Emelianenko’s magical won-loss record, and a win over Silva will earn him the chance to prove it.
Silva is a very strong and talented fighter and poses an interesting size problem for Werdum. It won’t be enough for him to score the upset victory, though. Werdum will get this fight to the ground and either end it by submission or control the bout enough to land a decision.
PREDICTION: Fabricio Werdum by submission (round two)