by Ricardo Mendoza – MMAWeekly.com
Strikeforce is set to hold the first ever sanctioned mixed martial arts tournament in California on Friday night at the HP Pavilions. Four middleweights will compete with the winner earning a possible title shot against Strikeforce middleweight champion Frank Shamrock.
The match-ups will be decided via a lottery system at Thursday’s weigh-ins. All four men in the tournament are Ultimate Fighting Championship veterans and include Bodog middleweight champion Trevor Prangley, Jorge Santiago, Falaniko Vitale and Yuki Sasaki.
FOUR-MAN MIDDLEWEIGHT TOURNAMENT COMPETITORS:
Prangley has a 16-4 record and trains out of the American Kickboxing Academy with Jon Fitch.
He comes off of a brutal stoppage victory over Pride veteran Yuki Kondo at Bodog Fight: Alvarez vs. Lee. He became the Bodog middleweight champion with the win and looks to finish the year with a bang in this four-man tournament.
Prangley is an excellent wrestler with exceptional submission defense and has been honing his striking skills at American Kickboxing Academy. He has gone 4-0 since his last loss, to Chael Sonnen in the UFC, and has proven that he is a force to be reckoned with. Prangley is the favorite to win the tournament as he matches up well with all three of other participants.
Santiago has a 14-7 record and trains out of American Top Team with Thiago Alves.
He scored an impressive submission victory over Jeremy Horn at Art of War 3. Since leaving the UFC, Santiago has strung together several impressive wins including stopping both Andrei Semenov and Horn.
He has trained in Holland to improve his stand-up and has a dangerous ground game being from ATT. Next to Prangley, Santiago has the most momentum of any fighter in the tournament and is the dark horse to win it all.
Vitale has a 24-7 record and trains out of Grappling Unlimited in Hawaii.
He comes off of a stoppage victory over Ron Fields at Strikeforce at the Mansion. Even though Vitale has run into some obstacles over his career, he has been one of the more consistent fighters in MMA.
His strength is his ground game. Regardless of his opponent, he will look to take the fight to the ground and use his mauling ground and pound tactics. Vitale has shined against lesser competition, but has faltered against stiff competition like he will face in the tournament.
Sasaki has a 21-13-1 record and trains out of Team Grabaka with Sanae Kikuta.
He won a submission victory over Bo Guk So at the first-ever DEEP Glove show. Sasaki is a well-rounded fighter and has fought all over the world.
Training at Team Grabaka, he has developed a solid ground game, but also has excellent striking skills as displayed in his lone UFC appearance against Dean Lister. Sasaki will be making his U.S. debut on Friday night, but seems to be the least likely fighter to win the tournament.
Besides holding the four-man middleweight tournament, there are several other intriguing individual bouts on the card.
STRIKEFORCE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP BOUT:
PAUL BUENTELLO VS. ALISTAIR OVEREEM
UFC veteran Paul Buentello takes on Pride veteran Alistair Overeem for the vacant Strikeforce heavyweight title. Buentello has a 23-9 record and trains out of the American Kickboxing Academy with Cain Velasquez. Overeem has a 25-11 record and trains at Golden Glory with Semmy Schilt.
Buentello enters this bout following a knockout victory over K-1 veteran Carter Williams at Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Baroni, while Overeem returns after a knockout loss to Sergei Kharitonov at K-1 Heroes 10.
Both fighters are top-notch strikers and fans should expect this to be an exciting slugfest. Buentello’s only loss in the last three years was to former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski at UFC 55. He has finished off all of his opponents in that span by either knockout or TKO due to strikes, proving that he is one of the better heavyweights outside the UFC.
Overeem has had an up and down career of late; scoring wins over Vitor Belfort, Igor Vovchanchyn and Sergei Kharitonov, but has also racked up several losses over that same span. His biggest problem has been his ability to keep up with the torrid pace that he sets when he fights. Now that he has fully committed to heavyweight, expect him to have more success, as he doesn’t have to cut so much weight.
Buentello will look to finish the fight on the feet like always and Overeem will more then likely want to do the same, but once Buentello hits him, he may decide to take it to the ground. This will be an exciting fight, but Buentello should be able to defeat Overeem once he lands that solid punch.
Prediction: Paul Buentello by KO in the first round.
CUNG LE VS. SAM MORGAN
Strikeforce sensation Cung Le takes on UFC veteran Sam Morgan. Le has a 4-0 record and trains out of the American Kickboxing Academy with Trevor Prangley. Sam Morgan has an 18-8 record and trains with Team Bison in Minnesota.
Le comes off a stoppage victory over Tony Fryklund at Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Baroni, while Morgan hasn’t fought since dropping a decision to Forrest Petz at UFC Fight Night 6.
Le continues his slow but successful rise in MMA, taking on his third consecutive UFC veteran in Morgan. He has shown that he has potential to become a big star in MMA, but Le needs to be brought up properly or else he could falter. Besides having amazing striking skills, he has a strong wrestling background and is slowly improving his ground game.
Morgan hasn’t fought since losing a lopsided decision to Forrest Petz over a year ago and will be moving up in weight to fight Le. He is a solid fighter, but has had problems against higher-level competition in the past and it should be no different here.
It’s a solid fight for Le to gain experience in MMA and Morgan is more then a credible opponent. Morgan will have trouble with Le on the feet and will also have to deal with ring rust, as he hasn’t stepped in the cage for more than a year. Expect Le to punish Morgan on the feet and end it with strikes.
Prediction: Cung Le by TKO in the first round.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT:
BOBBY SOUTHWORTH VS. ANTHONY RUIZ
Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Bobby Southworth faces off with King of the Cage veteran Anthony Ruiz in a non-title bout. Southworth has an 8-4 record and trains out of the American Kickboxing Academy with Paul Buentello. Anthony Ruiz has a 17-10 record and trains with Team Voodoo USA in California.
Southworth comes off a stoppage victory over Bill Mahood at Strikeforce at the Mansion, while Ruiz won a decision over Pride veteran Francisco Bueno at Gladiator Challenge 69.
Southworth is solid both on the ground and on the feet, but a lack of opportunities and several injuries have limited him from reaching the top. He is a solid fighter and if he can string together several wins over tough competition, he will get the respect he deserves as a fighter.
Ruiz has been fighting in King of the Cage and Gladiator Challenge for the majority of his career, beating the majority of his opponents. He has faltered only against top competition with his last loss coming to Trevor Prangley in Strikeforce more then a year ago. Expect him to provide a strong challenge to Southworth.
Southworth is the better fighter both on the feet and on the ground, while Ruiz has solid wrestling skills. Eventually this fight will hit the ground and Southworth will use his ground skills to submit Ruiz halfway through the fight.
Prediction: Bobby Southworth by submission in the second round.