My overall MMA prediction record stands at 130-75 (63.4%) and 16-5 (%76.2) in main events. I felt that after having a fairly successful night at UFC 107, where I went 10-1 (%90.9), I should get one more card in for 2009. Of course, that meant choosing between WEC 45 and Strikeforce: Evolution, both of which air on Saturday, December 19th. I went with Strikeforce: Evolution because it is the only card to include a title fight and features the long awaited return of former Strikeforce MW champion Cung Le. Unfortunately, this card will be more difficult for most Canadian MMA fans to watch because, while WEC 45 will air live on TSN, Strikeforce:Evolution is only available to SuperChannel subscribers.
Middleweight: Cung Le (-500) vs. Scott Smith (+300)
Undefeated MMA middleweight, former San Shou World Champion, and former Strikeforce middleweight champion Cung Le (6-0) has finally returned from Hollywood movie-making. Le has arguably the flashiest kicks in the sport, employing body kicks with the regularity that most fighters throw the jab. Still, many have accused Le of having a padded record filled with hand-picked opponents. That notion may not be completely squashed by this match, but nobody can deny that Scott "Hands Of Steel" Smith (16-6) is always a threat to finish. In just his last three fights, "Hands of Steel" scored a KO of Terry Martin in under thirty seconds and pulled off arguably the comeback of 2009 when he scored a TKO on Benji Radach in the third round of their Strikeforce bout in April. However, it's Smith's most recent fight against Nick Diaz that is the most relevant to this match. Diaz completely picked Smith apart with a high-volume of strikes for two-and-a-half rounds before securing a submission finish. Smith's natural power and impressive chin were no match for Nick Diaz' superior technique. I expect a similar story in this fight, with Le conducting a kicks clinic on the over-matched Smith.
Cung Le may have superior technique, but Smith's power is way too much of a threat to place a bet on Le at these odds.
Le by Unanimous Decision
Main card (Televised):
Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Josh Thomson (-120) vs. Gilbert Melendez (-110)
Realistically, this is the best fight on the Strikeforce:Evolution card and should probably be the main event. Then again, given that it has already been delayed multiple times, we should be thankful that it is happening at all. Both these fighters are world-class lightweights and both currently hold a Strikeforce Lightweight Title. Josh Thomson won the official title in June, 2008 via a dominant five-round striking clinic against the very same Gilbert Melendez. Thomson mixed his strikes up well and defended takedowns near-flawlessly in what was an embarrassingly bad performance for the talented wrestler Gilbert Melendez. Since that time though, a few events have conspired to suggest that this fight will be much closer. For starters, Melendez has improved his striking, avenged his only other career loss, and won an interim Strikeforce lightweight championship belt. Over the same span, Thomson has faced only one mediocre opponent, Ashe Bowman, and spent the rest of his time nursing various injuries.
In their last fight Thomson was definitively superior, but, at this point, he hasn't fought in over fourteen months, which should give the greatly-improved Melendez the edge he needs to carve out a victory. That said, this fight is extremely competitive and I can't endorse any bet at these odds.
Melendez by Split-Decision
Middleweight: Matt Lindland (+210) vs. Ronaldo Souza (-270)
In an old-school style match up, crafty wrestler Matt "The Law" Lindland (21-6) will look to out-grapple jiu-jitsu specialist Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (10-2) without getting tied up in knots in the process. Lindland is a true legend of MMA who made his octagon debut at UFC 29 and has fought a who's-who of the sport including Fedor Emelianenko. His striking has never been technically impressive, but Lindland is tough as nails and always game for a scrap. While he is currently much less well-known, "Jacare" has built up his name in Japan's Dream organization and now looks to introduce his brand of killer-instinct jiu-jitsu to the North American audience. His cage name means "crocodile" in Portuguese, which is fitting since "Jacare" has snapped up submissions in nine of his ten victories. It may not be entirely fair given the level of competition that Lindland has faced recently, but his 3-3 record in his last six fights makes me wonder if the thirty-nine-year-old Lindland's years of experience are beginning to work against him. The frequency of Lindland's fights has also decreased. Even if Lindland can take hm down, "Jacare" should be able to manoeuvre into dominant positions. If Lindland tries to dirty box "Jacare" against the cage, the Brazilian should be able to use his underrated judo to take Lindland down. No one could deny that both are stellar grapplers, but my guess is that "Jacare" will serve notice to "The Law" that the future of MMA is now.
Even at these odds, a bet on Souza makes a good deal of sense to me. I'll definitely take him for my straight-up.
Souza by Unanimous Decision
Heavyweight: Muhammed Lawal (5-0) vs. Mike Whitehead (24-6)
In what stands out as perhaps the night's most straight-forward pick, red-hot prospect Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal (5-0) will face grizzled MMA veteran Mike Whitehead (24-6) in the first main card match. "King Mo" enjoyed a successful amateur wrestling career, but he's better known for storming the heavyweight competition in Japan's Sengoku promotion. Lawal utilizes surprisingly effective boxing for a wrestler and exhibits an extremely rare amount of natural athleticism for a heavyweight. He will look to press his strength and speed advantages in his Strikeforce debut against "Iron" Mike Whitehead. To be clear, Mike Whitehead, who is 15-2 since 2006 and is coming off a victory over a similar opponent in Kevin Randleman, is a legitimate threat to hand "King Mo" his first defeat. However, if Whitehead wins this fight it will tell us more about "King Mo" than about "Iron" Mike. At this point, Lawal looks like he might one-day become a serious force in the world heavyweight rankings, while we already know Whitehead never will.
I look for Muhammed Lawal to beat Mike Whitehead anywhere the fight goes, but his relative inexperience makes a bet on "King Mo" at these odds way too risky.
Lawal By TKO, Rd. 2
Middleweight: Robbie Lawler vs. Trevor Prangley
Cancelled Due To An Injury To Prangley