Will Ronda Rousey continue to run through everyone she fights on her way to claiming the Strikeforce title? Or is Miesha Tate too big a step up in competition for the inexperienced Rousey? Can Josh Thomson return after more than a year off and earn a win? Or is K.J. Noons ready to win his second straight fight? Is Paul Daley ready to let his hands go and do what he does best? Or will Kazuo Misaki give Daley his third straight Strikeforce loss?
I'll attempt to answer those questions as I pick the winners of Saturday night's Strikeforce show.
When: Saturday, the preliminary fights start at 8 p.m. Eastern on Showtime Extreme and the main card starts at 10 on Showtime.
Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Predictions on the Showtime televised card below.
Miesha Tate vs. Ronda Rousey
Rousey, the former judo Olympian, is a heavy favorite according to the oddsmakers, and it's easy to see why: She has absolutely dominated all four of her fights, with no opponent lasting even 50 seconds with her so far.
But while she has dominated, Rousey has shown off a very limited skill set: Yes, she has the ability to use a judo throw to put her opponent on the ground and an arm bar to make her opponent tap. But that's it. We've seen nowhere near the diversity of offensive attacks that Tate has, and we've also seen no indication that Rousey has a Plan B if her Plan A doesn't work out.
I also wonder whether Rousey has the stamina to last deep into a tough fight, whereas Tate is coming off a fourth-round submission of Marloes Coenen, so we know she can out-work a good opponent in a long battle.
So while I don't doubt that Rousey is one of the great talents ever to enter women's MMA, I do doubt that she's ready for an opponent like Tate. I see Tate taking a cautious approach in the early going, then wearing Rousey down as the fight goes on and winning a 25-minute decision.
K.J. Noons vs. Josh Thomson
Thomson hasn't competed since losing to Tatsuya Kawajiri on the New Year's Eve Dynamite! show more than a year ago, so ring rust may be an issue here. But if Thomson is at something close to his old form, I think he's just an all-around better fighter than Noons and should be able to beat him no matter where the fight goes.
To me, the most interesting question is whether either one of these guys can put on a performance that makes the fans interested in seeing them challenge Gilbert Melendez for the Strikeforce lightweight title. The reality of the Strikeforce lightweight division is that the winner of this fight is probably next in line, and I think that will probably be Thomson, who beat Melendez in 2008 and then lost to him in 2009.
Paul Daley vs. Kazuo Misaki
Daley's greatest asset is his punching power, but we haven't seen enough of that power lately. He fought twice in Strikeforce in 2011 and lost both, getting finished by Nick Diaz in April and then smothered by Tyron Woodley in July. Daley then fought once in England and once in Canada after that, and although he won both fights by decision, he didn't show off a lot of punching power in those victories, either. Has Daley lost the attribute that once made him among the most feared welterweights in the sport?
He may have, but I don't think Misaki is the man to make him pay for it. Misaki has been in some great wars through the years, but at age 35 I'm skeptical that he's going to be able to keep pace with Daley. I think Daley will be able to stay off the ground and out-land Misaki on the feet and win a decision.
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza vs. Bristol Marunde
Marunde is a Strikeforce newcomer who took the fight on short notice, and I expect him to look about the way you'd expect a Strikeforce newcomer who took the fight on short notice to look against a world-class Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt like Jacare. I'll be very surprised if this fight doesn't end with Marunde tapping.
Sayers surprised everyone in his most recent fight by knocking out Antwain Britt in just 28 seconds. Smith is on a three-fight losing streak and may be done if Sayers puts him to sleep, but I think Smith, even though he's past his prime, is savvy enough to out-land Sayers on his feet.