Preview: Strikeforce Henderson vs. Babalu 2

Strikeforce welterweight
Paul Daley (25-9-2) vs. Scott Smith (17-7-1)

Though I gave Rich Chou a hard time in the last match-up, I’d like to give him a virtual high five here for making this explosive encounter a reality.

Daley makes his second Strikeforce debut seven months after being exiled from the UFC for his sucker-punch of Josh Koscheck; “Semtex” fought for the organization twice before between 2007 and 2008. As much as I am excited to see him back on the bigger stage, Daley is one of those fighters you can never be completely sold on.

He missed weight for his fight with Jorge Masvidal in September, a problem that has plagued the Brit from time-to-time in the past, and while he has dangerous knockout power, the book on Daley was written a long time ago; take him down and you should be able to get a win.

For this fight, there will be no going to the ground.

There are no takedowns in Scott Smith’s arsenal; he’ll be swinging with malicious intent from the opening bell, and as we’ve seen in the past, he can pull a victory from the jaws of defeat with just one punch. Ask Cung Le.

This bout marks Smith’s first fight in the welterweight division after a nine-year career spent between light heavyweight and middleweight. Provided the cut to the 170-pound limit doesn’t take too much out of Smith, this could be a very smart decision for “Hands of Steel” moving forward.

While Daley has earned more of the attention heading into this contest, the pairing with “Semtex” is an ideal match-up for Smith and could produce an upset. As much as the Briton is a heavy-hitter, Smith is pretty hard to put away, and is capable of ending your night with a single punch as well, which makes for a potential fireworks display in St. Louis on Saturday night.

Robbie Lawler (19-6-1) vs. Matt Lindland (22-7-0)

It’s not very often that we get a fight between two guys with ties to a pair of the iconic gyms in the history of North American mixed martial arts. Lawler is a Miletich Fighting Systems product who left the Bettendorf, Iowa outfit with Matt Hughes a number of years ago, while Lindland is one of the founding members of Team Quest, remaining at the reins of the Portland branch to this day.

Here’s the thing with this fight: more than any fight in recent memory, who controls the pace and positioning of this contest will dictate how entertaining the bout will be.

We all know that Lawler is a big fan of standing up and swinging for the fences, a formula that usually results in entertaining bouts if Lawler is the one dictating the terms. That being said, Lindland is the antithesis of excitement, an Olympic silver medal winner in Greco-Roman wrestling who grinds out decisions on the ground with the best of them.
The middleweight division is the deepest in the organization, and both men are currently at the bottom end of the contenders list, behind guys like Jason Miller, Tim Kennedy and Luke Rockhold. They’ve each also been around the sport for an extended period of time, so their window of opportunity is nowhere near as wide as it used to be, making a fight like this all the more important.

Only one of these fighters will be able to inject themselves into the title picture in 2011, and getting a win to close out the year is a good way to get started.

Renato "Babalu" Sobral
Dan Henderson (25-8-0) vs. Renato “Babalu” Sobral (36-8-0)

All long time ago, but not in a galaxy far, far away, these two veterans met during the RINGS King of Kings Tournament final, a bout that is getting some burn heading into this encounter. Henderson handed Sobral the first loss of his career in earning the tournament title, and Strikeforce is somewhat playing this as a chance for Sobral to earn a measure of revenge.

While I know every fighter likes to avenge their losses, this is an intriguing fight without trying to sell a rematch that comes more than a decade after the initial encounter. The winner will be the next to face “Feijao” for the light heavyweight strap, and the two combatants match-up pretty well in all aspects, so the extra hype is not necessary.

Henderson failed miserably in his debut with the organization, a middleweight title contest that saw him win the opening round against Jake Shields before being dominated for the final four frames. This is an opportunity for the former Pride two-division champion to redeem himself and earn a shot at another title, but nothing is assured against Sobral. A second-straight loss would be devastating, not only for Henderson, but for the company as a whole, as the long-time veteran was brought in as a marquee attraction.

With that in mind, Sobral should be coming into this fight free of pressure. The former light heavyweight champ earned a strong decision win over Robbie Lawler in a catchweight contest last time out, and his loss to Gegard Mousasi stands as the only defeat he’s suffered since being released by the UFC three-plus years ago.

“Babalu” has improved his striking over the years and remains a threat on the ground. While his power isn’t at the same level as Henderson, he has a much more offensive and dangerous grappling game than the former Olympic wrestler; where Henderson is more of a grind-it-out grappler at this stage, Sobral is still capable of catching just about anyone with a myriad of submission moves from his Brazilian jiu jitsu bag of tricks.