Strikeforce returns to action in San Jose with the first event of a three-week stretch that will see six quality cards delivered over the next 15 days.
This event offers two of the best fights remaining on the MMA calendar this year, the promotional debut of highly-regarded Brazilian lightweight Gesias Cavalcante, and welterweight match-up between two up-and-comers.
Translation: the main card of Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Noons 2 is sure to deliver.
Nick Diaz (22-7-1) vs. K.J. Noons (10-2-0)
While I can’t stand fabricated friction between opponents, there is none of that here; these two simply don’t like each other, for real. Coupled with the rematch angle, the animosity between the two makes this a definite must-see.
Noons won the initial meeting almost three years ago after opening up Diaz to the point that the doctor would not allow him to continue. Even before the doctor stepped in to stop the fight, the part-time professional boxer was owning the elder Diaz.
Since that time, however, Diaz has gone undefeated; he’s rattled off seven-straight finishes over opponents in various organizations and of various talent levels. He’s also had surgery to take care of his scar tissue issue, something more fighters might want to look into cough Marcus Davis cough.
A lot depends on how this fight goes down.
If Diaz lets his dislike of Noons get the best of him and decides to engage in a slugfest, the Strikeforce welterweight title could be changing hands. While Diaz does well with his volume-based striking and utilizing his length, Noons is the more powerful and more polished boxer, something the first fight proved beyond argument.
On the ground, however, the roles are reversed, as Diaz has a clear-cut edge in the grappling department. The Cesar Gracie black belt could earn a relatively easy win if he’s able to bring Noons to the canvas, but whether he chooses to take that route is another story.
This will turn out to be an exciting fight and a third chapter is almost guaranteed regardless of who wins.
Josh Thomson (17-3-1) vs. Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante (15-3-1)
Cavalcante has long been viewed as a future lightweight superstar after storming out of the gate in K-1 Hero’s with wins over Rani Yahya, Nam Phan, “Shaolin” Ribiero and “Dida” Amade. After moving to DREAM, things hit a snag for the dynamic Brazilian, as a no contest and two losses paired with various injuries to keep Cavalcante both out of action and out of the win column. Now inked to a four-fight deal with Strikeforce, Cavalcante hopes to re-establish himself as a Top 10 lightweight.
A win over former champion Josh Thomson would certainly be a good way to do just that, but it’s much easier said than done. Just three men have handed “The Punk” losses: current champion Gilbert Melendez, UFC mainstay Clay Guida and talented veteran Yves Edwards. Cavalcante could become the fourth, but Thomson has designs on a different outcome.
The American Kickboxing Academy product has battled his own injury bug over the last two years, suffering a broken ankle that kept him on the sidelines for over a year at one point. Since returning last December, he dropped a lightweight title bout to Melendez and won a hard-fought victory over Pat Healy in June.
With the lack of depth in the lightweight division, the winner of this bout becomes the best in-house candidate for a title shot. Thomson is strong on the ground and a black belt in Dave Camarillo’s Guerilla jiu jitsu, while Cavalcante is a versatile striker who can knock you out in a number of ways.
Just like the main event, this one should be exciting no matter where it takes place.
Sarah Kaufman (12-0-0) vs. Marloes Coenen (17-4-0)
After earning the Women’s welterweight title and defending it in impressive fashion against Roxanne Modafferi on Challenger series shows, Kaufman finally gets her wish to compete on the big stage as she defends her belt for the second time against Coenen.
The unbeaten ZUMA trainee slammed her way into a main card position, making SportsCenter with her powerbomb finish of Modafferi in July. Now she’ll face the experienced Coenen, a submission grappling specialist who gets her second-straight title shot under the Strikeforce banner.
Having lost to Cris Cyborg back in January, Coenen cuts down to 135-pounds for the first time (that I know of at least) to try and halt Kaufman’s undefeated streak. Her most recent win also came against Modafferi, though that was almost a year ago now, and while Coenen managed to last the longest of anyone to date against Cyborg, she still came out on the losing end.
Kaufman is a complete fighter who has shown excellent takedown defense thus far, as well as technically-sound boxing with knockout power. Though her finish of Modafferi was her first since signing with Strikeforce, each of her first eight wins came by way of TKO.
Coenen will need to get this to the ground and keep it there if she envisions winning; she simply doesn’t have the striking or the power to stand with Kaufman. The Dutch veteran will probably want to work quickly as well, as the drop to 135 might impact her cardio, while Kaufman will have no trouble going the full 25 minutes if necessary.
Tyron Woodley (6-0-0) vs. Andre Galvao (5-1-0)
Both of these young welterweights enter off somewhat controversial victories.
Woodley earned a split decision win over Nathan Coy back in May, with many feeling like Coy came away with the victory. A few months later, Galvao earned a quick third-round stoppage of Jorge “Macaco” Patino after being dominated in the opening two frames. Both need a dominant performance if they hope to continue their climb up the welterweight ladder.
Prior to their last bouts, both were thought of as future contenders, and rightfully so. Woodley had made quick work of his previous five opponents, while Galvao is one of the most decorated grapplers to compete in MMA. After sub-par performances from each, however, the hype train has slowed and each competitor needs to show why they were considered quality prospects in the first place.
A standout collegiate wrestler at Missouri, Woodley will need to change his approach this time around, as going to the ground with Galvao is a risky proposition. A seven-time Pan-Am Games gold medalist and Abu Dhabi regular, Galvao ranks alongside Demian Maia and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza as one of the top Brazilian jiu jitsu players in the sport today. However, his stand-up leaves a lot to be desired.
As with each of the Strikeforce divisions, the lack of depth bodes well for emerging talents like Woodley and Galvao, as a single relatively high-profile win can rocket you into title contention, so quality outings from each should be expected.