“Business as usual.” Those were the words that UFC president Dana White kept saying over and over in regards to how a Zuffa-owned Strikeforce would run. Well, that statement hasn’t exactly held true.

The Strikeforce roster has dwindled since that purchase as the welterweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight champions have crossed over to the UFC and left vacant titles behind. Previously disallowed elbows to the head of a grounded opponent were all of a sudden within the rules of the promotion, and one of the two fighters who is in the finals of the heavyweight grand prix was not even a part of the tournament from the beginning, stepping in after Overeem’s departure.

Keeping all of that in mind, Strikeforce is still one of the premier fight organizations and has an ace up its sleeve with lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez. Training alongside Jake Shields, Nick Diaz and Nate Diaz at Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Melendez has acquired an elite skill set which spotlights his striking ability. One thing is for sure, and that is that the Californian loves to stand and bang. There is speculation that “El Nino” will cross over to the UFC in the near future, however No. 1 contender Jorge Masvidal has every intention of spoiling the party by defeating the champion this Sunday.

But that won’t be the only title on the line this weekend, as the first and only women’s bantamweight champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos puts her title on the line for the first time since June of 2010. For a while, there was speculation as to whether or not the champion would come back and continue to fight for the promotion due to contract issues arising, but fortunately for fight fans it was worked out and she will continue her reign. Her challenger will be Hiroko Yamanaka, who is a new face to the promotion, but not a new face to the world of women’s MMA. Yamanaka is a well balanced fighter who is also patient and has no problem winning on points. This should present an interesting twist, as Santos has not seen the judges’ scorecards since 2008.

Also on the main card will be former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion and current Dream light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi taking on up and coming fighter Ovince St. Preux. “OSP” is perfect at 6-0 while fighting in the Strikeforce cage and a victory over Mousasi will not only put him into the limelight, but it will also put him in direct contention for the light heavyweight title.

Rounding out the main card will be a lightweight fight between K.J. Noons and Billy Evangelista. Both of these fighters are coming off of a unanimous decision loss in their last fight to Jorge Masvidal. Considering Masvidal will be fighting for the title on Saturday, a loss to him is by no means a major setback. However, both fighters will be coming to erase that last loss and try to put themselves in position for the next title shot. The action will take place at the Valley View Casino Center and can be seen on Showtime at 10 p.m. ET.

The MMA Corner’s panel of Gregory Chase, Richard Wilcoxon and Brian McKenna will look at these four fights in this edition of the Round Table.

LW: Billy Evangelista (11-1) vs. K.J. Noons (10-4)

Chase: This fight is a do or die for Noons in keeping his name relevant in the ever-changing position of Strikeforce. After taking two losses, he will be looking to end his losing streak. I think he will be motivated for this fight, and will pull out the win. Both Noons and Evangelista will be looking to avenge their recent losses to Masvidal, and due to the longer layoff of Evangelista, Noons has the advantage.

K.J. Noons (Tracy Lee/Combat Lifestyle)

Noons has the better ability to finish the fight, but probably won’t until the second or third. Evangelista may be able to work his way to yet another decision, but Noons is not the fighter to let that happen. While Noons hasn’t shown us much in Strikeforce, I think with his back in a corner, he will do well on Saturday.

Wilcoxon: At the end of the day, styles make fights. And because of the fighters’ styles in this one, I have to agree with Greg.

Both fighters prefer to stand and trade. Evangelista is known for his exciting striking, but has only been able to finish four of his opponents.

Noons on the other hand is also known for his striking ability, but has shown much more power. He has ended eight of his MMA fights via KO, another six professional boxing matches ended in knockouts and he finished nine kickboxing matches. In addition to having more power, Noons has faced much better competition in his career.

When it is all said and done, I just don’t see a way Noons loses this one. While Evangelista has never been finished, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that change in this one.

McKenna: I am on the same wavelength as Gregory and Richard here. One thing that is really sticking out to me is that both Noons and Evangelista recently took on Jorge Gurgel. Noons dominated that fight and knocked out his opponent in the second round, Evangelista took the victory by decision.

Sure, decisions are as much a part of the sport as knockouts and submissions are, but when you can go out and look for decisions, it tells me that the fighter lacks killer instinct. Because of the boxing and kickboxing background that he came into MMA with, Noons has seen the damage that can be done with the smaller gloves and found that necessary instinct, which is why I have him winning the fight by TKO in the second.

LHW: Gegard Mousasi (31-3-2) vs. Ovince St. Preux (11-4)

Wilcoxon: This fight has the potential to be the best bout on the card. One fighter is a long time veteran who has found great success, while the other is an elite level athlete who learns a little bit more each time out.

Gegard Mousasi (Tracy Lee/Combat Lifestyle)

Mousasi is the former Strikeforce middleweight champion who has successfully transitioned to light heavyweight. He has fast hands and top-shelf striking. Mousasi also has a better than advertised submission game that has resulted in 10 submission victories in his career.

St. Preux is a former college football star for the Tennessee Volunteers. After college, he made several attempts to turn professional before turning to MMA. St. Preux has strung together eight straight victories of progressively tougher fights. But there is no doubt this will be the biggest test of his career.

This fight truly is a toss-up in my book. St. Preux is probably the better wrestler and the better athlete. Mousasi is the more technical fighter both standing and on the ground. St. Preux’s path to victory lies in taking Mousasi down and not letting him up, while Mousasi will want to stand and exchange. I really want to go with the young gun, but this is this is such a big step up in competition. I will play it safe and go with Mousasi via TKO.

McKenna: Sometimes in the world of MMA, the best base you can enter the sport with is pure athleticism. Look at the current UFC light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones. “Bones” is blessed with speed, agility and creativity that cannot be taught, however they are a major part of his game. The same goes for top prospect Ovince St. Preux in his hunt for a title shot. I want to be careful here and make sure that I am being clear that I do not think that currently “OSP” and Jones are in the same league, but as Richard mentioned, the kid comes from an athletic background that extends past the martial arts.

Ovince St. Preux (Tracy Lee/Combat Lifestyle)

But while St. Preux has been impressive, his opponent has been stellar. Mousasi very well could be the best fighter in the promotion outside of the lightweight champion, and his record speaks for itself. But as impressive as his skill set is, to me the biggest thing that stands out in this fight is the fact that in his last two fights inside the Strikeforce cage he lost his light heavyweight championship to Muhammed Lawal and fought to a majority draw against Keith Jardine. The Armenian wants to get that sour taste out of his mouth and because of it, he will be at his best on Saturday.

Athleticism is a great thing to have, but Mousasi has been doing this a lot longer than St. Preux at a much higher level. While this fight proposes a very interesting match-up, I don’t see it being as close as Richard thinks. “The Dreamcatcher” will win this fight by knockout in the first round.

Chase: I’m going to have to agree with the previous two. St. Preux is riding a great streak, but I do not think he has fought anyone near the caliber of Mousasi. Mousasi has the all-around game that can finish a fight wherever it goes. Twenty-eight out of his 31 victories have come by finish, and I see him getting another one come Saturday. He stops his opponents, and stops them early.

Mousasi is very much the more experienced fighter in this one, and despite his loss to “King Mo,” I think in his mind his win streak never stopped. He caught a snag with Jardine, but I predict he will come out against St. Preux in dominating fashion and try to make a statement for him in the division. He is a champion, and will prove why.

Women’s FW Championship: Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos (10-1) vs. Hiroko Yamanaka (12-1)

McKenna: When it comes to women’s mixed martial arts, Cristiane Santos is hands down the best on the planet. The Brazilian has more or less dominated everyone in her way while fighting in Strikeforce en route to capturing the bantamweight title by defeating Gina Carano via TKO in July of 2009. She makes her money with her striking, and the power that rests behind those fists is extraordinary. When it comes down to it, that power can very well lead to a one-punch knockout for “Cyborg” at any time.

Cristiane Santos (Tracy Lee/Combat Lifestyle)

The challenger for the title will be a newcomer to the promotion, Hiroko Yamanaka. Hailing from Japan, Yamanaka has built a solid professional record while fighting with Smackgirl and Jewels. From looking at her record, the biggest thing that stands out is that she has eight victories by decision. What that tells me is that she lacks the killer instinct that the champion has an abundance of.

I think of all of the fights on this card, this one is the most biased because I have seen how dominant “Cyborg” has been, but heading into this fight I had to do research just to learn about Yamanaka. Because of that, it doesn’t look good for the “Incomplete Queen” as she will lose by knockout in the first round.

Chase: Yamanaka has a great record and has been tearing through fighters in Japan, but if history has taught us anything, it is that the US stage is a different beast. Not only is she coming into Strikeforce, but she is coming in against “Cyborg.” Talk about being thrown into the fire.

This fight could go very quick, and ultimately “Cyborg” will have her hand raised at the end of the night. Santos is a beast and has the strength to take on multiple fighters at once. She is a finisher, and I think she’ll be getting an early stoppage. Does Yamanaka have the skills to win? I would say she could win a decision, but “Cyborg” won’t allow for the judges to fill up a scorecard.

Wilcoxon: Make it unanimous. While I feel the last fight could be the most competitive on the card, this is by far the least competitive. The term “squash match” comes to mind.

Yamanaka has put together a great record and avenged her only loss. However, the problem is that only loss was to Hitomi Akano. She lost via armbar and edged out a split decision victory against her in the rematch. This is the same Hitomi Akano that “Cyborg” completely ragdolled that had people fearing for her safety a few years ago.

“Cyborg” is a monster. She is huge and ferocious. I don’t see any chance for Yamanaka to win this without some kind of freak circumstances. “Cyborg” dominates this fight and celebrates her long-awaited return early in the night.

LW Championship: Gilbert Melendez (19-2) vs. Jorge Masvidal (22-6)

Wilcoxon: Melendez is one of the few champions still in Strikeforce. After the mass exodus of reigning champions, Melendez is arguably the most talented fighter remaining with the promotion. The lightweight title holder is currently ranked No. 2 in the world and is on a five-fight win streak dating back to 2009. While a five-fight streak is not as long as some others we have seen, the competition he faced in that run could be one of the toughest stretches in recent memory for any fighter. He faced former top-10 ranked opponents like Josh Thomson, Mitsuhiro Ishida, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Shinya Aoki.

Gilbert Melendez (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Melendez has trained with a elite team at Cesar Gracie alongside Nate and Nick Diaz and Jake Shields. But his style is a little different. He uses much more wrestling to dictate where the fight happens and mixes in solid boxing or ground-and-pound.

Melendez did receive some bad news recently. He expected that with a win he would follow teammates and friends Nick Diaz and Jake Shields to the UFC. But just this week, Dana White announced Strikeforce would still be on Showtime and all Strikeforce fighters currently in Strikeforce will remain there.

Masvidal has been involved in the sport for nearly a decade. “Gamebred” is only on a two-fight win streak, but in a division that lacks big names that is enough to earn a title shot in Strikeforce. Masvidal possesses some vicious striking, but despite his skill, he still seems inconsistent to me. He will knock out someone like Satoru Kitaoka, but in his very next fight loses to Luis Palomino.

If this fight stays standing, I might give the edge to Masvidal. However, the difference in competition these guys have faced coupled with Melendez’s huge wrestling advantage, I just don’t think that will happen. Melendez will need to keep his head in the fight and block out his disappointment about not heading to the UFC, but Melendez is a veteran. I expect him to turn that disappointment into a dominate performance. Melendez will take Masvidal down and work some nasty ground-and-pound. He will either win a lopsided decision or get a late TKO stoppage.

Chase: Now that Melendez is there to stay for the time being, I think this turns into motivation, as Richard said. I think he will be motivated to create an even bigger legacy in the meantime as the Strikeforce champ. He is in a division in MMA that is shadowed out by the talent pool resting in the UFC, but I think he deserves more credit than people are giving him. He consistently trains with top-level fighters from different weight classes, with distinct styles. Iron sharpens iron as they say, and I think Melendez is an improving fighter.

If this fight goes to the ground, I see Masvidal having a hard time. Standing he has better chances, but not for the explosiveness Melendez can generate.

Watching his performance against Noons was not as impressive as many expected, and I do not think he can work his way to win a decision in this fight. I agree once again with Richard that Masvidal is not consistent, and how well he will do is up in the air. Melendez is one to engage in a controlled flurry and overwhelm his opponents and I see him getting a TKO by the end of the second round.

McKenna: Personally, I am surprised that as far as lightweight fighters in the sport of MMA are concerend that Gilbert Melendez is ranked so high. I say this because he truly is that good, and considering how the rankings are biased towards UFC fighters, it is refreshing to see that they have it right. Despite fighting and dominating in a promotion that is lesser than the UFC, Melendez has been absolutely spectacular. The way that he controlled Japanese superstar Shinya Aoki in their fight last year still stands strong in my head. It is rare to see Aoki dominated the way he was, but that is just how good “El Nino” is.

Jorge Masvidal (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

The challenger for the title, Jorge Masvidal, is definitely the beneficiary of a weak promotional division, as Richard highlighted. The guy looked good in his last two fights, and will look to do what Luke Rockhold did back in September. Not many people gave Rockhold a chance when he took on “Jacare,” but the belt changed hands. Masvidal has the same exact opportunity because everyone is counting him out in this fight despite being a great boxer and the fact he trains with American Top Team.

But ultimately, I would be foolish to pick against Melendez. He really is that good. “El Nino” has the striking ability to stand and trade with pretty much everyone, and he can take down his opponent if that starts to go downhill and control the fight there, which is how I see this fight going. The first round should be pretty entertaining as they try to match each other’s striking, only for Melendez to find an opening to take down Masvidal in the second round and ground-and-pound his way to a TKO victory. But, even though my fellow panelists have laid out that current Strikeforce fighters will stay Strikeforce fighters according to Dana White, I’ll believe that when I see that. After all, this is the guy who said that everything over here would be “business as usual.”

Top Photo: Gilbert Melendez (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)