Ronda Rousey vs. Sarah Kaufman
As a huge fan of women’s MMA, I’m always excited to see the women get the headlining spot and I’m happy to see Strikeforce giving these athletes their due. Since medaling in Judo at the 2008 Olympics, Rousey has burst onto the MMA scene finishing all five of her fights via armbar in the first round. She has some of the best and most explosive grappling in the world of women’s MMA having proved it over and over again. She grapples to finish and not to just control the fight. However, her inexperience in the striking game has been apparent and that could be a problem for her against former champion Sarah Kaufman. Kaufman is one of the best technical strikers in the world and she has shown that repeatedly throughout her career. Her only loss came when she relinquished her title to Marles Coenen via armbar submission in the third round.
This fight has a couple of clear paths it can follow. Rousey will undoubtedly be looking to get this fight to the ground and use her world class Judo to finish the fight. The key will be whether or not her takedowns and throws will be enough to get the fight where she wants it. If she can get Kaufman down, the fight will likely be over quickly as even accomplished grappler Meisha Tate was no match for Rousey on the ground. But Kaufman has worked hard to develop an excellent defensive wrestling game in order to keep her fights standing. As a striker, she obviously has to be able to stay on her feet to execute her gameplan. If she can avoid Rousey’s throws and stuff the takedowns, this fight will get interesting very quickly. Kaufman will have as much of an advantage on the feet as Rousey has on the ground. Rousey has never been hit hard enough to put her in trouble and Kaufman definitely has the ability to do that. It will be very interesting to see what happens if Kaufman can test Rousey’s chin.
The bookmakers have Rousey as a huge favorite at -600 with Kaufman at +450. I know that Rousey has looked unstoppable thus far but she hasn’t faced anyone with the technical striking and defensive wrestling of Sarah Kaufman. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think Kaufman has a real chance to win this fight. This is they type of fight where we will find out early which course the fight will follow. Either Rousey will be able to get Kaufman to the mat and dominate from there or Kaufman will be able to keep the fight standing and show why she is considered one of the best technical boxers in women’s MMA. Either way, this fight is going to be a landmark. If Rousey dominates Kaufman the way she has every other opponent thus far, she will be solidly established as one of the best pound for pound female fighters in the world. But if Kaufman can pull off the upset, Rousey will be exposed and forced to go back to work on developing a full MMA game instead of just relying on her Judo.
Ronaldo Souza vs. Derek Brunson
In another seemingly significant mismatch, veteran and former middleweight champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza faces prospect Derek Brunson. Souza’s only loss in Strikeforce came when he dropped the belt to Luke Rockhold and he rebounded from that loss by defeating Bristol Marunde via submission in the third round in his last appearance. Souza has long been one of the best middleweights in the world and might be the best grappler at 185 lbs. His striking is decent but he has always been at his best when he can take his opponents down and work his submission game, which could make this a more interesting fight than expected because his opponent is an excellent wrestler. Brunson is a former collegiate wrestler who achieved at a high level in Division II. His striking has improved since entering MMA and he was undefeated before accepting a last minute fight against veteran Kendall Grove in ShoFight two months ago. He lost that fight via a questionable split decision and one has to question the logic behind a prospect accepting that type of fight. But regardless, he gets a huge opportunity to rebound against Souza.
This fight presents an interesting matchup of styles. Souza will likely struggle to get Brunson to the mat given the latter’s amateur wrestling pedigree. And Brunson will be hesitant to use his best weapon because he won’t want to spend too much time on the ground with Souza. That combination of factors could result in a striking match, which still benefits Souza but eliminates his best offensive attack. Souza comes into this fight as a huge favorite at -485 with Brunson at +385 and that seems appropriate given the gap in experience. But any time fighters are forced to avoid their strengths, upsets can occur. That said, Souza should have a comfortable advantage on the feet and will likely earn the victory but Brunson does have the power to land a knockout punch if given the opportunity. Either way, it will be interesting to see how this fight plays out given the fighters’ styles.
Tarec Saffiedine vs. Roger Bowling
The second fight of the night is likely to be one of the better fights on the card as Tarec Saffiedine and Roger Bowling face off in the welterweight division. With Tyron Woodley losing to Nate Marquardt for the vacant middleweight title, the winner of this fight could move into the title picture with an impressive performance. Saffiedine brings a well-rounded game to the cage and he will look to use that against Bowling. His most recent victories have both come via decision against Scott Smith and Tyler Stinson. He is a capable stand up fighter with solid Muay Thai enhanced by his length and reach advantage. As a Team Quest fighter, he also has excellent wrestling is capable of taking the fight to ground if he doesn’t like the way the striking is going. Bowling has a similar skill set except that his stand up game is mostly boxing and he has more power in his hands than Saffiedine. He can also take the fight to the ground if necessary but prefers to box.
Saffiedine is a significant favorite coming into this fight at -290 with Bowling the underdog at +245. That line seems to be a little too far in favor of Saffiedine. Bowling has the power to end any fight and Saffiedine has show susceptibility to punching power in the past. He was hurt bad by Tyler Stinson in the first round during his last fight and if Bowling is able to land as cleanly as Stinson did, the fight will be over. But Saffiedine does have the more well-rounded game both on the feet and on the ground and that should be enough to earn him a decision victory. The key will be to use his length to control the distance and avoid Bowling’s power. But if he lets Bowling get inside, we could see an upset.
Ovince St. Preux vs. T.J. Cook
To get Strikeforce Rousey vs. Kaufman started, two light heavyweights coming off of losses look to rebound as Ovince St. Preux faces off with T.J. Cook. St. Preux has long been one of Strikeforce’s prized prospects but lost in his last appearance against Gegard Mousasi, which was his first big test. This fight seems to be an effort to get St. Preux back on the winning side as Cook has just two Strikeforce appearances and was less than impressive in losing his last fight to Trevor Smith. Cook had no answers for Smith’s wrestling attack and that plays directly to St. Preux’s strength. Expect St. Preux to use his wrestling to ground Cook and attack with ground and pound from there. St. Preux will be looking for the finish or at least a dominating decision to show that he is still a serious prospect at 205 lbs.
None of the major books have a line on this fight but it’s safe to say that if they did, St. Preux would be a huge favorite. This is a bounce back fight set up for him to win and win impressively. But Cook won’t go along willingly and he has the ability to land some dangerous strikes. The struggle for him will be keeping the fight standing and that will likely be his downfall. Once St. Preux gets the takedown, he will look to pass and strike his way to victory.