Strikeforce (Luke Rockhold vs. Tim Kennedy) – Breakdown and Predictions

With the middleweight title of the UFC being contested a week ago, now it’s for Strikeforce’s version of the title to get a contest of its own.

Luke Rockhold (9-1) vs. Tim Kennedy (14-3) [MW Title]

Fight Breakdown: Luke Rockhold and Tim Kennedy are two fighters that share a lot in common. Both have injury problems, both are remarkably talented and both have an interesting back story to tell. And both have injury problems that have kept them out of the cage for a significant amount of time. When both are healthy, though, they can be quite fun to watch and look like Top 10 fighters in the division.

Rockhold has had an impressive win streak and his last two wins, unfortunately, didn’t set the world on fire. Many people that he lost to Jacare and coupled with the fact that he didn’t exactly set the world on fire against Keith Jardine, either, and people are right to question his ceiling. He’s a second tier champion now, a step ahead of Hector Lombard in a way, but everyone close to him discusses his high talent level. Now comes probably his last, greatest test in Strikeforce: Tim Kennedy. He’s immensely talented, with a brown belt in BJJ and solid amateur wrestling credentials, and has always been the guy that people want to see in the UFC to prove he’s as good as they claim. Outside of his title win Rockhold has never been one to leave the first round, either, as he’s absolutely lethal as a finisher. He’s creative with his strikes and has no problem throwing jumping switch kicks and such; Rockhold oozes talent when you study his fights. But nothing he can do is going to scare Tim Kennedy. Why?

Because Tim Kennedy is a decorated Green Beret with awards for valor in combat; when you’ve served in combat and been awarded medals for valor odds are nothing in a fist fight for money is going to really intimidate you.

Kennedy is a well rounded fighter that doesn’t do anything significantly well. He’s Rich Franklin with a TV appearance on Deadliest Warrior, more or less, but that isn’t going to hurt him in this case. He’s going to be good enough to compete with Rockhold in a grappling match and hold his own standing, which is where he’ll want to keep the fight. Rockhold has a slight advantage on the ground but can be goaded into a kickboxing affair. Watch for Kennedy to keep it standing and for it to be close. The key is who gets that big fight-changing strike; if either fighter can wobble the other it’ll be over quickly.

Why It Matters: The Strikeforce Middleweight Title isn’t a bad title to hold, of course, and with a resounding win either fighter can legitimately claim Top 10 status in the division.

Prediction: Rockhold by KO, rd 4

Nate Marquardt (31-10-2) vs. Tyron Woodley (10-0) [WW Title]

Fight Breakdown: What a weird ride Nate Marquardt has taken to get to where he is right now: contending for a welterweight title under a Zuffa banner. Who’d have thought that he’d be in Strikeforce accomplishing that?

Marquardt has a substantial career in the middleweight division of the UFC as a guy who can be legitimately considered Top 5 even now if he fought there. A well rounded fighter with a tremendous BJJ game and underrated striking, he’ll be taking on a fighter who resembles the one that gave him his last loss in the middleweight division: Chael Sonnen.

Woodley is a mediocre striker who excels with top notch athleticism and a smothering top game based off of first rate wrestling. Woodley wins by getting someone to the ground and riding that fine line between ground & pound and lay & pray. As he’s come up the ranks the less of a finisher and the more of a grinder he’s become; his growth as a fighter has been stunted because of the lack of depth in the welterweight division. When he was earlier in his career he looked like a wrecking ball and now, as he moves up in competition level, he’s nowhere near that kind of fighter. His wrestling is a blessing and a curse; for the level he’s fighting at he can grind out a win over nearly anyone. He’s in that Phil Davis mode where he’s gone too far, too fast, and needs time and fights to develop.

Woodley is the one guy in Strikeforce you could argue clearly needs to go to the UFC; he’d be a prelim guy brought up much slower and allowed to develop. There’s a littany of first rate strikers, et al, for him to face before he could be considered elite. And now, with the lack of depth in the company, he’s taking on an elite level fighter.

Woodley is going to do what he always does; try to get the takedown and accumulate riding time (for lack of a better term). Marquardt nearly caught Chael Sonnen a couple times with guillotines off the double leg and expect him to do something similar. Woodley hasn’t fought anyone with this sort of talent and Marquardt is above and beyond anyone he’s ever faced. He may not have Paul Daley’s power but Marquardt can stop him just the same. Outside of wrestling, actually, there’s nothing that Woodley does better than Marquardt. We haven’t seen Nate in quite a while but unless he somehow became a crappy fighter in the meantime this doesn’t look like a title fight.

This is a fight with Woodley getting thrown into deep waters to see how he does; Marquardt’s not an easy out by any stretch of the imagination. If this was the UFC it’d be a fight to see how good a prospect is against a long time veteran, to see if the prospect is ready to make the jump. This is essentially a litmus test for the division right now against Marquardt; if Woodley gets rolled by Marquardt don’t expect Nate to get a serious challenge for a while.

Why It Matters: Woodley has a lot of victories but nothing all that remarkably impressive on his fighting resume besides a close victory over Paul Daley. Beating someone like Marquardt is an accomplishment and in a division filled with elite fighters could make him be considered amongst them. This is a fight for Woodley that will let us know how good he really is; Marquardt was a top five middleweight for a long time and has an insanely greater amount of experience against better fighters. If Woodley can win this he’ll be a guy you can argue is Top 10 in the division. Unfortunately Marquardt wants to make a statement and Woodley hasn’t looked good in victory in a while.

Prediction: Marquardt by TKO, round 2

Roger Gracie (4-1) vs. Keith Jardine (17-10-2)

Fight Breakdown: What happens when a washed up UFC contender goes to middleweight? He gets thrown to the best BJJ player in the business who’s trying to figure out how good he can be in the division.

Keith Jardine vs. Roger Garcie is an odd matchup in that neither fighter showed much in their last meeting against AKA fighters. Gracie got starched by King Mo, who showed how undersized Gracie was for the division, and Jardine was competitive with Luke Rockhold until his chin gave way. It’s actually one of the few fights Strikeforce has made (outside the main) that makes sense in a ton of way. Jardine is making his second appearance at middleweight and Gracie his first, both fighters with a lot to prove. Can Jardine resurrect a career that once led him to being a top contender in the UFC? Does Gracie have a well rounded game waiting to be displayed?

Those and other questions will be answered. The key to the fight will be how much Gracie’s standup has improved and whether or not he can get it to the ground. If Jardine goes to the ground then he’s facing off against one of the best sport BJJ players in the game. Roger Gracie on the ground is someone who will make him pay, pure and simple, and Jardine has to keep this a standup affair. He’s got good hands, though his chin is getting more suspect, and if he can make this a boring and sloppy slugfest he can squeak out the win.

Why It Matters: If Jardine has anything left to be anything more than a journeyman on his last legs this is his chance. Conversely Roger has quite a last name to live up to in the MMA world. A win over Jardine doesn’t mean as much as it once did but it still means something.

Prediction: Gracie by submission, round 1

Lorenz Larkin (12-0, 1 NC) vs. Robbie Lawler (19-8, 1 NC)

Fight Breakdown: Lorenz Larkin is looked at as perhaps the best prospect Strikeforce has besides Woodley. And after being a successful light heavyweight, until he ran into a ‘roided up King Mo, Larkin has an undefeated record and a middleweight debut to make. And they have fairly similar background and heavy hands.

Lawler has always been the guy everyone has been waiting for to make that jump from good to elite and never really has. He’s got the tools and first rate wrestling, which is his bread and butter, but never has put it all together consistently. His fight with Nick Diaz many years ago ended up with Diaz knocking him out and Lawler has kind of bounced around the fight world since then. He’s good enough to beat a lot of guys but he’s never really had that moment where he takes the jump up to the next level. He’s looked better in his last couple of fights but he might end up being that guy who never really lives up to how high his ceiling as a fighter is.

Larkin is just entering his prime and has firepower in his hands. He wasn’t a big light heavyweight, getting bullied around by King Mo, and middleweight might be the better weight for him. His key to the fight is to keep it standing and make this a brawl. Lawler can hold him down for 15 minutes but can’t stand with him for the time frame.

The key to the fight will be how long Larkin is on his feet. If he can keep off his back and use his hands he can win.

Why It Matters: Odds are the winner here gets a title shot based on how shallow the division is. Yay Strikeforce!

Prediction: Larkin by UD

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