Esther Lin, Showtime
If you're not paying attention - and I'm comfortable saying a number of you aren't - this is one of the best Strikeforce cards in quite some time. The preliminary card of tonight's event alone is better than the preliminary card of many of this year's UFC cards. The main card isn't getting a ton of fanfare, but that's got little to no correlation to how good (on paper, anyway) it actually is.
There are also a number of questions surrounding tonight's competitors and the fights they're in. Can Rockhold follow up on his title-winning performance against Kennedy? Is there really anything left in Keith Jardine? Does Roger Gracie really have a future in MMA? What about the return of Nate Marquardt now that he's at welterweight and off testosterone replacement therapy (TRT)? I try to answer these questions and more with predictions for tonight's fights.
Where: Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon
When: Saturday, the five-fight Showtime Extreme fights begin at 8:00 p.m. ET, the four-fight Showtime card starts at 10.
Picks for the four main card fights airing tonight on Showtime below.
It's not that Kennedy is a bad boxer in MMA. He's reasonably adept in that department. And it's also not the case that he has a lopsided skill set to the point where he only has one way to win in bouts. But in this particular match-up, I suspect distance will be an issue for a fighter who primarily strikes with his hands. Rockhold can be a bit overcommitted to certain exchanges, but his aggression will over time work to his benefit here. If Kennedy wants to win this bout, he'll need to secure the takedown and I just don't see him getting it. Rockhold has incredibly underrated takedown defense and that's going to be the key contributor to what should be a successful title defense this evening.
It's really impossible to know where Marquardt stands after all this time. He's off TRT, a medical necessity he once said saved his marriage. If his previous statements are to be believed, he's already fighting at a supreme disadvantage. Let's add to that this is his first bout at welterweight and he's been off from professional competition more than year. His situation is different than being off due to some sort of serious injury or from being burned out, but it's nevertheless not a positive contribution. Add to that the difficult challenges Woodley presents in terms of relentless pursuit of the takedown. If Woodley doesn't get it on the first attempt, he is all too content to hang on and make it work in subsequent follow-ups. I don't think he's going to give the TRT-free Marquardt a chance to breathe.
I'm not overly impressed with Gracie or his upside in mixed martial arts. It's just that I can't really pick Keith Jardine anymore. For his own health and safety, I'd like to see him try something else with his life. He's done a lot in his career and my hat goes off to him, but it's time to step away. He was never particularly good at absorbing damage and he's even worse now. The cut to middleweight is not a fix for what really ails his body and game. While I suppose he could eek out a win by landing awkward strikes at weird intervals during the fight and stopping any takedown attempt from Gracie, I almost don't want to see it happen for Jardine's own sake.
I'm going to take Larkin on a bit of a gamble. Lawler is obviously the more seasoned competitor of the two with a better resume, but I wonder about how these two match-up. I'm cautious about it all because of Larkin's drop to middleweight and what that could mean for his speed, an essential component to his style of stand-up. Still, I think Lawler will be content with counterfighting, thereby giving Larkin all the time and real estate he needs to do what he does best with combination, explosive striking with hands and the feet. Lawler obviously always have the ace of power up his sleeve, but I wonder if he's ever going to get the opportunity to truly land it.
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