Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Predictions for "Strikeforce: Miami"

It has been an unusually long stretch of time since the last major MMA card, Ultimate Fight Night 20: Maynard vs. Diaz, went down on Monday, January 11th. As a result, my prediction record has remained frozen at 142-81 (%63.7) overall, and 18-6 (%75) in main events, but that will finally change after Saturday's Strikeforce: Miami at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.

Unfortunately, most Canadians will be unable to watch the fights live because Strikeforce's main broadcast partner, Showtime Sports, is available exclusively in the USA. Technically, Strikeforce: Miami can be seen in Canada on the premium cable station SuperChannel, but the vast majority of Canadians do not receive that either.

The card itself has been widely criticized both for featuring too many unevenly matched fights and for prominently showcasing all-time football great Herschel Walker in his MMA debut. That said, the card also features two world-title matches and a slew of quality fighters in meaningful bouts.

Ranked fighters include:

USA TODAY/SBN Poll Rankings:
Marius Zaromskis (#12 WW), Jay Hieron (#13 WW), Nick Diaz (#15 WW), Melvin Manhoef (#17 MW), Robbie Lawler (#10 MW)

Unified Women's Rankings:

Christiane Santos (#1 FW), Marloes Coenen (#2 FW)

On to the picks...

Main event:

170 lbs.: Nick Diaz (-260, 20-7) vs. Marius "The Raging Demon" Zaromskis (+200, 13-3) [For Vacant Strikeforce Welterweight Title]

Any MMA fans unfamiliar with Marius "The Raging Demon" Zaromskis are in for a rare treat this Saturday. Not only does he love to exchange strikes, but his signature finishing move is MMA's equivalent to the grand-slam home run: the head kick. A London-based fighter, by way of Lithuania, Zaromskis has scored (T)KO's in over %75 of his career victories and has finished each of his last three consecutive fights, all of which occurred in Japan's DREAM promotion, via head-kick KO.

Clearly, Zaromskis has a formidable skill-set, but it is not one that is likely to produce favourable results against Nick Diaz. The Stockton, CA native, Diaz, has a style that poses significant challenges particularly for a power-striker like Zaromskis. For one thing, Nick excels at using his lanky limbs to land a high-volume of medium-strength punches that, taken cumulatively, can do serious damage. Dealing with Diaz' patented pawing-barrage technique, should make it difficult for the more-compact Zaromskis to set up his own strikes. On top of that, Diaz has a stalwart chin, meaning he can probably absorb a head-kick or two, even from "The Raging Demon." Supposing Nick is really getting the worst of the stand-up, which I doubt will happen, he conveniently possesses the much more advanced grappling skills, holding a BJJ black belt under Cesar Gracie.

Zaromskis could certainly land a head-kick, or another cinematic power shot, to put Nick Diaz away and claim the Strikeforce title, which he would then add to the DREAM welterweight belt that he already owns. However, it is too risky to predict a win by "puncher's chance" when the opponent in question is as well-rounded and accomplished as Nick Diaz. I predict that, after a wildly entertaining start, Diaz will begin dictating the pace of the stand-up. Eventually, he could even wear Zaromskis down to score a TKO.

Even at -260, I believe there is some value in a cash bet on Diaz.

Diaz by TKO, Rd. 4

Main card (Televised):

145 lbs.: Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos (-500, 8-1) vs. Marloes Coenen (+325, 17-3) [For Santos' Strikeforce Women's Featherweight Title]

This is one of the night's most obvious mismatches, but Strikeforce actually deserves a pass here because no woman in the world right now at 145lbs. poses a credible threat to Cris "Cyborg" Santos. Her style is reminiscent of Wanderlei Silva (32-10-1)'s circa 2001-2004 when he went on a 12-0-1 tear through PRIDE with 11 (T)KO's. Relative to her division, "Cyborg" hits that hard. I could go on about how The Netherlands' Marloes Coenen also exhibits elite striking, or bring up her impressive twelve career submissions, but, at the end of the day, Coenen is lucky if she packs even half as much power as Santos, who, being a Brazilian professional fighter, is doubtless no slouch on the ground herself.

Santos wins via a brutal, first-round smashing to retain the belt and move one fight closer to cleaning out the division's legit contenders, with only Erin Toughill (10-2-1) left standing in the way. That said, I would not suggest a bet on this fight, unless you enjoy laying down serious amounts of money on prohibitive favourites.

Santos by KO, Rd. 1

265 lbs.: Bobby Lashley (-1100, 4-0) vs. Wes Sims (+600, 22-12-1)

It's a fight between Lashley, one of the world's biggest heavyweight prospects who parlayed his pro-wrestling fame into a budding MMA career, and Wes Sims, one of the biggest heavyweight goofballs who parlayed a trio of UFC loses into a gig as a professional journeyman.

Most see this fight as a farcical mismatch, and I am generally inclined to agree, but, given Wes Sims' significant edge in experience, plus his impressive stoppage ratio of over %90 in wins, a flier bet on Wes almost, kinda, nearly makes sense at these insane odds.

Lashley by TKO, Rd. 1

185 lbs.: Melvin Manhoef (-200, 24-6-1) vs. Robbie Lawler (+160, 16-5)

"Ruthless" Robbie Lawler, who has fought in the UFC, IFL, EliteXC and now calls Strikeforce home, is a known commodity to North American MMA fans. His friendship with welterweight icon Matt Hughes and propensity to swing leather have been well publicized. Many may be unfamiliar, however, with his opponent, Dutch striking sensation "Marvelous" Melvin Manhoef, who has competed almost exclusively in Japan's K-1 and DREAM promotions since leaving the European scene behind in 2006.

Both are among the middleweight division's most devastating strikers, with a combined 36 (T)KO's in their 40 career wins. It is, therefore, very unlikely that this fight will go the distance. Robbie Lawler should have significantly better wrestling and would be wise to utilize it because Manhoef has never been considered a threat on the ground. Chances are, though, that Lawler will elect to stand as he often does. As for who will knock out who assuming this fight becomes a straight-up kickboxing match, I would take Manhoef whose wider array of strikes, superior hand-speed, and elite explosiveness should allow him to "swarm and destroy."

Realistically, anything can happen in this fight. Your betting money is probably better spent elsewhere.

Manhoef by KO, Rd. 2

205 lbs.: Herschel Walker (-325, 0-0) vs. Greg Nagy (+250, 1-1)

The debate as to whether debuting former NFL great Herschel Walker deserves a spot on the main card at Strikeforce: Miami will rage on until the fight starts. Once it does, it will finally be up to the forty-seven-year-old Walker to prove his doubters wrong. That seems likely both because Herschel's world-renowned coaches at American Kickboxing Academy seem beyond-confident in his skills, and because there is no reason to think Strikeforce would select a debut opponent that Walker could not easily defeat. When you consider that Walker is known as an incredibly gifted natural athlete and has studied martial arts for most of his life, it becomes pretty tough to pick the completely unheralded Greg Nagy here.

Nagy has commented in the media that he will win because he has been training MMA longer than Walker. While he clearly does have more MMA experience to draw on, odds are that experience alone will not be enough to secure him the victory.

Some have argued the opposite, but I believe Walker-to-win is the most advisable wager here, even at these low-paying odds.

Herschel Walker by Unanimous Decision

Under card (May not be broadcast):

170 lbs.: Jay "The Thoroughbred" Hieron (-350, 18-4) vs.
Joe "Deisel" Riggs
(+275, 32-10)

Many MMA fans felt that Hieron vs Riggs was deserving of a main card slot and were initially upset that it would not be televised. Luckily, EA has stepped-up to broadcast the fight live via free online stream (Sat., Jan. 30th) at 6:05 pm/PST (9:05 pm/EST).

The fight is between well-rounded Jay Hieron, best known for terrorizing the IFL, and Joe Riggs whose long and storied MMA career is most notable for a 4-4 run with the UFC. Both fighters are riding considerable winning streaks, which means each should be full of confidence come fight night. Rumour has it that the winner of this bout will face the newly-crowned Strikeforce welterweight champion-- namely, whoever wins the night's main event.

Joe Riggs has some slick submissions and likely hits harder, but Jay Hieron has superior conditioning and more technical wrestling. I believe this is an extremely close match, but that Hieron will be much better prepared for a fight of this magnitude because he has consistently faced better competition in recent years. Besides that, Hieron, who currently trains at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, has access to a much deeper roster of potential sparring partners than Riggs does at Elite Performance.

This fight should be a fair amount closer than these lines suggest, making a wager on Riggs the most reasonable course of betting action, or perhaps a non-bet if you are convinced Hieron will edge it out.

Hieron by Unanimous Decision

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