What: Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal
Where: Valley View Casino Center, San Diego
When: Saturday, the Showtime broadcast begins at 10:00 PM ET
Predictions on the four televised fights below.
Gilbert Melendez vs. Jorge Masvidal
For Melendez, this fight is less about defending his Strikeforce lightweight title than it is about demonstrating that he deserves to be brought into the UFC and given huge pay-per-view fights, like the Strikeforce champions at heavyweight (Alistair Overeem) light heavyweight (Dan Henderson) middleweight (Jake Shields) and welterweight (Nick Diaz) have been. Melendez needs more than just a victory -- he needs a sensational performance, a spectacular submission or knockout that has everyone clamoring to see Melendez fight the winner of the upcoming Frankie Edgar-Ben Henderson fight.
Melendez should beat Masvidal handily, but finishing him in highlight-reel fashion is going to be tough to do. Masvidal has only been finished three times in his 28-fight MMA career. Melendez will win, but it's going to be tough for him to win in a way that convinces the UFC that he deserves the next crack at the belt.
Cris Cyborg vs. Hiroko Yamanaka
Cyborg is finally returning to the cage a year and a half after she demolished Jan Finney in a serious mismatch. Give Strikeforce credit for the matchmaking this time around, however, because Yamanaka is no mismatch -- she's probably the second-best145-pound woman in the world, after Cyborg, and she presents some interesting matchup problems for Cyborg. The 5-foot-11 Yamanaka taller and longer than Cyborg, and Cyborg's tendency to swing wildly with her chin up and her hands down could leave her exposed to an opponent with a reach advantage.
But Yamanaka isn't much of a finisher (eight of her 12 wins are by decision), and in a 25-minute title fight, eventually Cyborg is going to hit her and hit her hard. Look for Cyborg to win, but look for Yamanaka to give her the toughest test she's had since she made her EliteXC debut three and a half years ago.
Gegard Mousasi vs. Ovince St. Preux
Mousasi has much more experience than St. Preux and a much, much more well-rounded game than St. Preux. Some fans view this fight as a mismatch that Mousasi should win easily.
I'm not so sure about that. I think St. Preux, a former University of Tennessee defensive end who has gone on a tear in the cage over the last couple of years, has just the kind of style to drive Mousasi crazy: St. Preux is stronger than Mousasi and has good takedowns, and Mousasi has shown in his loss to Mo Lawal and his draw with Keith Jardine that he has a really, really hard time staying off his back. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see St. Preux take Mousasi down enough to grind out a decision.
However, while Mousasi isn't very good at staying off his back, he is good at finishing his opponents from his back. And that's what I see him doing: Look for him to catch St. Preux in a triangle choke or an arm bar and force him to tap.
KJ Noons vs. Billy Evangelista
Noons and Evangelista are both coming off losses to Masvidal, and the loser of this one may be done in Strikeforce, where no fighter on a losing streak can expect to be safe. I see this fight going the distance, and Noons landing more effective strikes and winning the decision.