Tarec Saffiedine (photo courtesy of Strikeforce/Esther Lin)
The last time Strikeforce set foot in Nashville, things didn’t go so well for Scott Coker and company.
An in-cage brawl between Jason “Mayhem” Miller and the Cesar Gracie camp concluded that trip, providing the sport of mixed martial arts with one of its ugliest moments in recent memory, not to mention some cringe-worthy quotes (yes, we’re looking at you, Gus Johnson). It also spelled the end of Strikeforce’s run on network television, as CBS has not invited the organization back to its airwaves since the incident.
This time around, Strikeforce is hoping Nashville will provide it with a bright future rather than a black eye. The promotion will showcase a number of talented up-and-comers when it heads to the Nashville Municipal Auditorium for Strikeforce Challengers 13.
Tyron Woodley, Tarec Saffiedine, Daniel Cormier, Ovince St. Preux, “Abongo” Humphrey and ranked female fighters Julia Budd and Amanda Nunes have a chance to make a statement tonight and possibly earn a promotion from the Challengers series to Strikeforce’s major events.
The best news for Strikeforce? The event, which airs live on Showtime at 11 p.m. ET and features five televised bouts, is part of Showtime’s free preview weekend. It might not be network television, but it affords Strikeforce the opportunity to dish out quality fights to an audience comprised of more than just Showtime subscribers.
The MMA DieHards panel of writers – Bob Badders, Hector Castro, Bryan Henderson, Joe Rizzo and Rob Tatum – gathered to make our picks for the televised fights from Strikeforce Challengers 13.
Two fighters earned unanimous nods from our panel as favorites in their fights.
Cormier (6-0), a former US Olympic wrestling team captain and NCAA All-America, will square off with IFL veteran Devin Cole (18-8-1) in heavyweight action. The panel sees this fight as a clear win for Cormier. Cole brings a wealth of experience to the cage, making him the stiffest test to date for American Kickboxing Academy product. However, nobody sees Cole handing Cormier his first professional loss.
The other clear favorite is light heavyweight Dr. Rhadi Ferguson (2-0). The Olympic judoka and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, who happens to be Kimbo Slice’s cousin, was originally set to fight Ion Cherdivara. However, Visa issues led to Cherdivara’s withdrawal from the bout less than a week before the scheduled contest. Stepping in as a late replacement is John Richard (1-1). The Team Force fighter appears to be a step down in competition from Ferguson’s original opponent and the late change did not lead to a shift in opinion from any of our panelists.
The panel was divided on the other three main card contests, which brings us to the “Counterpunch,” where one of the writers in the minority defends his reason for going against the popular opinion.
Female 145 lb. Division: Amanda Nunes (5-1) vs. Julia Budd (1-0)
Picking Nunes: 3 (Badders, Castro, Rizzo)
Picking Budd: 2 (Henderson, Tatum)
Tatum: While Budd is the less-experienced fighter at 1-0, her lone victory comes over previously touted prospect Shana Olsen at Strikeforce Challengers 11. The Canadian punished Olsen and secured a second-round TKO victory in that bout. Known as a striker, Budd will enter the fight as the bigger competitor.
Nunes, meanwhile, boasts an impressive 5-1 record of her own, but is yet to face any notable competition. Competing in her native Brazil, all of her victories have come by TKO, although she is also a jiu-jitsu and judo fighter.
The bottom line is that this fight is likely to stay on the feet, and I believe the bigger, more powerful Budd will get the better of the exchanges. Look for yet another second-round finish from the rising Canadian.
LHW: Ovince St. Preux (9-4) vs. Ron “Abongo” Humphrey (7-2)
Picking St. Preux: 3 (Castro, Henderson, Tatum)
Picking Humphrey: 2 (Badders, Rizzo)
Rizzo: Humphrey finally gets to fight someone who will not have a significant size advantage, even with St. Preux being a taller fighter. This fight is at light heavyweight, and Humphrey has been adept enough to at least handle himself fighting up at heavyweight, including his match with Brett Rogers. Humphrey lost that fight to “Da Grim,” but he was able to hang around and be more than dangerous.
St. Preux is fighting on a third straight Strikeforce card (that’s never been done), and he was not impressive in beating a badly undersized and unusually out of shape Benji Radach on Dec. 4. Radach was completely gassed early on, but St. Preux proved to have only slightly more in the tank and he rode out a decision despite a world of opportunities to finish. A similar appearance against Humphrey will lead to a defeat, and it’s hard to believe the former University of Tennessee linebacker could improve his cardio that significantly in the span of 30-something days.
St. Preux is on the card because of the hometown draw, but Strikeforce will be back to the drawing board for a new poster boy after this match.
WW: Tyron Woodley (7-0) vs. Tarec Saffiedine (10-2)
Picking Woodley: 4 (Badders, Castro, Rizzo, Tatum)
Picking Saffiedine: 1 (Henderson)
Henderson: If not for Woodley’s fight with Nathan Coy, I would also have sided with the Mizzou wrestler in this one. But that one showing has left me with a set of doubts that cannot be overlooked going into his fight with Saffiedine.
Coy provided a tough test for Woodley throughout the bout, avoiding trouble on the ground and hanging with Woodley on the feet. Woodley faded in the third round and only managed to escape with a split decision in that bout. He did bounce back nicely against Andre Galvao, but Galvao is a ground specialist who couldn’t handle Woodley’s standup.
Saffiedine marks another step up in competition and one who features not only a solid ground game, but also a kickboxing background. He might find himself on his back early in the fight, but he should be able to push Woodley in similar fashion to Coy. Saffiedine’s key is to make Woodley work hard for every advantage in position, testing Woodley’s determination until he falters late in the bout. Once Woodley is at the breaking point, Saffiedine has the tools to finish him where Coy could not.
Another item of note is Saffiedine’s camp affiliation – Team Quest. That also happens to be Coy’s camp. Team Quest’s prior encounter with Woodley should give Saffiedine some inside knowledge of what works against Strikeforce’s highly touted prospect, allowing the Belgian-born fighter to conquer the undefeated Woodley.