This weekend offers one of those rare days where MMA fans will have to decide between two shows airing at the same time by the two biggest American mixed martial arts promotions. While the UFC brand and the fact that The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale airs on basic cable will make it the more widely viewed card, the Strikeforce event likely features the better match-ups and significantly more importance from a purely sporting context.
Strikeforce will get their evening underway with a bout between Ovince St. Preux and Benji Radach. Radach is making his first trek up to the light heavyweight division after a career of bouncing back and forth between welterweight and middleweight. In St. Preux, he faces a much larger man who has developed into one of the overlooked gems of the 205 pound prospect lists. Ovince is a former Tennessee Volunteer linebacker who started his career off 3-4 before finding his rhythm and winning his last five bouts. While Ovince's size and powerful striking could be a factor, so could the fact that he fought a grueling three round fight with Antwain Britt on November 19.
Heavyweight contender Antonio Silva returns to the cage for the first time since his dominant victory over former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski in May. He takes on late replacement Mike Kyle. In May 2006 it seemed that Kyle's career as a relevant fighter ended when he fought through the referee to continue assaulting a fighter he had already struck with an illegal blow. Going 8-2-1 since that fight has proven that time (but more importantly winning) can erase some bad memories. Included in Kyle's list of victims is current Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Rafael Cavalcante. Much as with St. Preux/Radach, this is a fight where one man (Silva) will be much larger and more natural to the weight class so it will be up to Kyle to establish that he can hang with an experienced and talented fighter through speed and tenacity.
The evening will see what is almost sure to be a tremendous striking war when Scott Smith takes on Paul Daley. Both men hit extremely hard and Smith has built a reputation as a comeback specialist. His come-from-behind wins over Pete Sell, Benji Radach and Cung Le (in their first meeting) were incredible moments that have stuck in the minds of many fans. Still, he has shown to be extremely vulnerable to the body in his career and he is up against a man who can take advantage of that. Paul Daley was a rising star in the UFC until he lost his cool after being smothered for three rounds by Josh Koscheck and threw a sucker punch at him after the bell. UFC president Dana White made an example out of him by releasing him from his contract and after a few wins on the regional scene he now finds himself in Strikeforce with the momentum of having gone 6-1 in his last seven fights.
In MMA it seems like we have far too many fights that happen well after the time where they should have. Fights like Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva and Mark Coleman vs. Randy Couture were fights that felt meaningful, but not as meaningful as if they'd happened when both men were on top of their game. This is the case again when Robbie Lawler and Matt Lindland step into the Strikeforce cage. Both men were staples of the UFC during events in the 30's and 40's but Lawler's spot a division below Lindland made sure the two would not cross paths. Now, eight years later, we see the former Olympic silver medalist Lindland take on the all action puncher in Lawler. Not only should the match have happened long ago, but we're also being treated to a very retro "wrestler vs. striker" dynamic.
Finally, we have a main event that is also firmly in the "blast from the past" category as Dan Henderson and Renato Sobral fight in a rematch of their 2000 bout which was won by Henderson via majority decision. Dan has put 24 fights under his belt since then while "Babalu" has fought 31 times. To even bring up their first fight as any sort of factor in this one is a waste of time. Sobral is very well rounded but is very prone to defensive mistakes, especially in the stand-up game. Henderson has drifted away from his wrestling game and really fallen in love with striking, especially his big right hand. Personally, I think people have written Henderson off far too quickly for a loss to Jake Shields. The only way for Henderson to prove anyone wrong is to win this fight. For Sobral, a win would move him into position to attempt to reclaim the Strikeforce light heavyweight crown he once called his own.
For people that choose to watch The Ultimate Fighter Finale, I understand. But personally, I think you'll be missing the best fight card of the night.