By Dwight Wakabayashi
The 2013 MMA calendar shifts into high gear Saturday with a final farewell event for the Strikeforce organization. It is a fairly strong show with a most of their big-name, elite-level talent slated to do battle.
The welterweight title is on the line with champion Nate Marquardt taking on Tarec Saffiedine, with the winner being able to bring a title into the UFC. The title will mean nothing on paper, after the fight, but whoever holds it will have greater leverage for their debut in the UFC.
Here is a complete main card breakdown
Ed Herman (28-8) vs. Ronaldo Souza (16-3) – catchweight 194 pounds
This is an extremely interesting match-up between a top Strikeforce fighter Ronaldo (Jacare) Souza and a former TUF contestant and UFC journeyman Ed Herman. Souza is a former Strikeforce champion, who is 6-1 in his last seven fights with his only loss coming to champion Luke Rockhold. Many think this is a mismatch and he should be parachuted in to fight against the best of the best in the middleweight division right away. Herman is a middle of the ladder middleweight and this is his opportunity to squash that notion, and prove that everyone needs to pay their dues before they jump the queue on the established journeymen of the UFC.
Souza has a considerable advantage on the feet, with power and explosiveness his biggest weapons to use. He will be looking to knock Herman out in dynamic fashion. He is no slouch on the ground either, but Herman’s best chance is to smother Souza’s power by closing the distance and taking this fight down as soon as he can. Herman has a very strong grappling and submission game, and he may be able to wear Souza down on the mat.
If Souza wins convincingly, he will prove that he belongs up with the Lombards, Okamis and Belchers of the division. If he gets a decision it will show that he needs more time before he jumps up to the big stage. A loss will be a mild shock, and boost Herman to heights he has never seen in his career.
Gerard Mousasi (32-3) vs. Mike Kyle (19-8)- light heavyweight
Gerard Mousasi has long been considered one of the best fighters outside of the UFC for many years now. His record and list of opponents speaks for itself as Mousasi is on a five-fight unbeaten streak and has lost only once since late 2006. His game is solid all around, and he is also one of the Strikeforce fighters that many believe can fight with the best in the UFC. The 32-year old Kyle is on the downside of his career, but this is his big chance to make a last stand for his career as he returns to the UFC.
There is a lot at stake in this one, and Mousasi has more to lose and should be able to at least beat Kyle on the scorecards. On his best day, I think he should be able to finish a fighter like Kyle, solid and tough, but not at the skill level of the upper echelon of the UFC. However, keep in mind that Mousasi was only able to get a decision in his last fight with relative unknown Ovince St. Preux.
If Mousasi can make a statement, like many expect him to, he should be in line for a big fight in his next turn in the cage, against guy like Ryan Bader, Rampage Jackson or Glover Teixeira or someone on the cusp of the contenders of the division.
Josh Barnett (31-6) vs. Nandor Guelmino (11-3) – heavyweight
We have all been waiting for “The Babyfaced Assassin” Josh Barnett to bring his act to the big stage and he is almost there with this fight against Austrian beast Nandor Guelmino. Barnett missed a big opportunity in his loss to Daniel Cormier last May, although the win hasn’t landed Cormier the big name he wanted either.
Barnett has pretty much faced the best of the best throughout his entire career, so I’m not sure why he draws a newcomer in this fight. It is risky for sure but Barnett is a seasoned veteran, who should be able to dominate Nandor wherever this fight takes place in the early going. If there is one advantage Guelmino might have it is in the conditioning department and although he is an unknown, the longer this fight goes on, the better his chances could be.
Barnett got beat badly in his last fight to Cormier, but a dominant win here should be expected, and he can enter the UFC and face one of the top 10 in the division. Anyone on the south side of Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos or Alistair Overeem would be a good match-up, and I have always wanted to see Barnett vs. Mir.
Daniel Cormier (10-0) vs. Dion Staring (26-7) – heavyweight
It’s unfortunate that winning the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix didn’t result in better things for the undefeated Cormier. He was originally scheduled for a big fight against Frank Mir, but in the end all he got was a long layoff and debut opponent Dion Staring.
If Cormier is as good as he was against Barnett, than this fight is a mismatch and Staring will be on his back all night. The Dutch fighter is on a nice six-fight winning streak in the small shows in Eastern Europe, but the level of competition is nowhere near what Cormier offers. Cormier has explosive athleticism and wrestling pedigree and Staring’s last loss came to a Bellator heavyweight.
Cormier should end this fight quickly, and if he does, he will officially carry the title into the UFC and be scheduled against one of the bigger guns. Cormier should earn a shot at Mir, the winnr of Silva-Overeem, or maybe even be welcomed in by Junior dos Santos later in 2013.
Nate Marquardt (32-10) vs. Tarec Saffiedine (13-3) – welterweight
Nate Marquardt has only had one fight since his release from the UFC in 2011 and he made it count, winning the Strikeforce welterweight title in emphatic fashion by knocking out Tyron Woodley. Marquardt was released due to a failed drug test and not necessarily for poor performance and he proved that he is a force in the Woodley fight.
Marquardt has long possessed a totally complete game with strength, accurate striking and an experienced ground game. His only losses since 2008 have come at middleweight against elite level wrestlers Yushin Okami and Chael Sonnen. Safffiedine is on a three-fight win streak himself and this is the biggest fight in his career to date. His last loss was tough unanimous decision loss to Woodley so his game must be vastly improved to be able to take out a fighter like Marquardt. Submissions are his biggest strength and he will want to avoid getting hit and take it to the mat as soon as possible.
The winner here will hold the distinction of coming into the UFC holding a title and will be matched up against one of the big fish of the division right away. Fighters like Siyar Bahadurzada, Mike Pierce or Mike Pyle could be on the welcoming committee.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report UFC and regular contributor to Sportsnet.ca’s UFC section. Follow him on Twitter @wakafightermma.