Two months after their last major card saw The Fall of Fedor and five weeks after middleweight champion Jake Shields vacated the belt to sign with the UFC, Strikeforce heads to Texas with the hopes of making some new stars to anchor the promotion. A core of young talent is what kept the company moving as higher-profile outfits like Affliction and EliteXC fell by the wayside. Now that the spotlight is on Strikeforce as America's top UFC alternative, they'll need new stars to keep that mantle.
Strikeforce: Houston offers a few candidates for the next big thing: a cocky former Olympian, an active Army Ranger and a former professional wrestler trying to go legit. On a card where only one man, former lightweight champion KJ Noons, can boast a previous record of success within the company, this show is all about making a name for yourself - and hopefully making a name for Strikeforce in the process.
Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal vs. Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante
MATT: This one comes down to Lawal's last performance: after relying on his hands for five of his first six fights, he lined up against highly-regarded kickboxer Gegard Mousasi and immediately went back to his roots. "King Mo" has international wrestling experience that gives him a comfortable safety net when the going gets tough. I think he'll use the title-win upset of Mousasi not as an excuse for his ever-growing ego, but instead as vindication that he's getting better with each fight. Calvacante trains with Black House and seems to be a striker first, so I expect another ground and pound show from the champ.
Lawal by unanimous decision.
BRUCE: There is something to be said for ego, something King Mo has in abundance. This is his chance to prove to the world that he if for real. You don't get many of those chances. I look for him to set the tone early. Look for ground and pound. Look for the knockout.
Lawal by KO in the 1st round
Tim Kennedy vs. Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza
MATT: Kennedy seems like the more well-rounded and tougher fighter, but that could be because his background in the Army lends itself to subtle American bias. Souza also seemed to wear down in his last win, so I'll give this one to Kennedy based on the conditioning advantage.
Kennedy by TKO in the third round.
BRUCE: Kennedy's status as a returning US veteran is going to play huge in Houston on a Saturday night. If Kennedy can avoid Souza's BJJ and keep the fight standing up, I think he can take it. I predict a rough fight for both men, with Kennedy taking the victory.
Kennedy by unanimous decision
Jorge Gurgel vs. K.J. Noons
MATT: Despite his experience with BJJ, Gurgel prefers to stand and trade. When you are up against a guy who just returned from a brief stint as a professional boxer, that doesn't seem like a key to victory.
Noons by unanimous decision.
BRUCE: Noons is a hometown product. See my previous statement house advantage. In this striker against BJJ fight, it comes down to who dominates. Gurgel's tendency to rely on the stand-up instead of his BJJ makes him an iffy proposition. However, if this turns into the fight where he utilizes his BJJ skills, its a whole different animal. History tells us that, for better or worse, Gurgel likes to bang. If he does that, I think he's going down.
Noons by KO in the 2nd round
Chad Griggs vs. Bobby Lashley
MATT: Griggs doesn't have the "experience" of Bob Sapp or Wes Sims, Lashley's two previous opponents, but every one of his victories has come via stoppage, and all but one came in the first round. This COULD be a parallel universe version of Kimbo Slice vs. Seth Petruzelli, where a green, overhyped attraction loses to a young fighter hungry to make his name. The difference is that Petruzelli was a bad matchup for Slice on paper, whereas I don't know enough about Griggs to say the same for him against Lashley.
Lashley via TKO in the 2nd.
BRUCE: Strikeforce is grooming Lashley as their answer to Brock Lesnar. I don't think its an apt comparison. Griggs looks like the next tomato can in line. I'd love to see an upset and put the Lashley as Lesnar comparisons out of the way. That being said, I don't think it happens on this show.
Lashley by TKO in the 3rd round