To ring in the New Year, MMA fans are in for a treat. Strikeforce’s action has been televised on Showtime for quite some time now, however due to Showtime being a premium cable channel, not everyone has been able to tune into the action. Fortunately for cable subscribers, this weekend Showtime is having a free preview weekend which means that fight fans across the nation will be able to tune in and enjoy the evening’s bouts.

The evening’s main event will feature newly crowned middleweight champion Luke Rockhold looking to make his first title defense against UFC veteran Keith Jardine. Rockhold has fought seven times for Strikeforce , tallying up an undefeated 7-0 record during his time in the promotion, and took the belt from Ronaldo Souza in his last fight. A lot of people thought that the American Kickboxing Academy product had no business challenging for “Jacare’s” title, however those thoughts changed after Rockhold took the unanimous decision victory. Jardine made his promotional debut in his last fight and also holds an undefeated record with the promotion after fighting Gegard Mousasi to a majority draw. The man who has taken out Brandon Vera, Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell will look to reinvent himself at middleweight.

Also on the card will be two of Strikeforce’s most popular fighters in Muhammed Lawal and Robbie Lawler. Lawal, the former light heavyweight champion, will look to hand Lorenz Larkin his first career loss and Lawler, the former EliteXC middleweight champion, will look to end his two-fight losing streak while simultaneously halting the four-fight win streak Adlan Amagov has put together. All of this action, along with two additional main card fights, will take place this Saturday at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and can also be seen live on Showtime at 10 p.m. ET.

The MMA Corner’s panel of Gregory Chase, Joe Atkins and Brian McKenna will look at all five main card contests in this edition of the Round Table.

WW: Tarec Saffiedine (11-3) vs. Tyler Stinson (22-7)

Chase: This fight has the great potential to end by finish. Stinson is great with his hands and isn’t a slouch on the ground. His losses are primarily from submissions, which Saffiedine is known for. The winner of this fight will be the man who dictates were the fight goes. If the fight stays standing, I would have to give the edge to Stinson, since his striking and ability to finish are on a higher level. If it goes to the ground, the edge goes to Saffiedine.

The factors I am looking at here are the experience levels in both of them in their own respects, and momentum. Stinson has more fights under his belt, but Saffiedine has been around in Strikeforce for a while now. Both fought on the same card back in July, so time is not an issue. The momentum for Stinson is greater, coming into this fight on a three-fight winning streak, whereas Saffiedine only has one win. I think this will make a significant mental difference when they face each other.

I will have to go with Stinson for this one, since he possesses the experience, the well-roundedness, and has the momentum going into this fight. If he doesn’t get caught in a submission, I think he’ll come away with a KO/TKO at the end of the night.

Atkins: Tyler Stinson might not be a household name, but he’s racked up three consecutive victories and earned himself a spot on Strikeforce’s main card. As Gregory mentioned, he’s primarily a stand-up fighter who has notable victories over the likes of Yasubey Enomoto and more recently, team Blackhouse member Eduardo Pamplona, who he knocked out in fifteen seconds.

Unlike Gregory, I give Saffiedine the advantage in all areas. I believe his stand-up is more technically sound. In his last fight, he put a beatdown on heavy-handed veteran Scott Smith. On the ground, Stinson is vulnerable to submissions, and Saffiedine is more than capable of wrapping him up in one should the fight end up on the mat.

I predict Saffiedine will out-strike Stinson for three rounds and earn himself a unanimous decision victory.

McKenna: I have to agree with both Gregory and Joe in the sense that this fight is a relative coin toss. Even though Stinson has more fights and more victories in his career, I have to give the experience edge to Saffiedine in this fight because he has been fighting at the national level a lot longer than his opponent.

Sure, Stinson has fought twice with Bellator and once with Strikeforce, but Saffiedine has been fighting at the national level since 2009. Sure, this is a figure that can be a little misleading because Stinson could very well come in and surprise everyone, but considering Saffiedine has been fighting stiffer competition, he most likely has been training with better fighters as well. “Sponge” has been training with Team Quest, one of the more well-known fight factories out there. Because of this, he will be bringing the training of one of the best teams out there into the cage with him, which will give him the edge in this fight. Saffiedine by TKO in the second round.

WW: Jordan Mein (23-7) vs. Tyron Woodley (9-0)

Atkins: Jordan Mein will be entering this bout on a six-fight win streak. He might be just 21 years old, but in the last year he has taken out experienced fighters like Dream welterweight champion Marius Zaromskis and former title-contender Evangelista Santos. He’s already a well-rounded fighter who’s always improving, and no doubt he will be eager to derail Tyron Woodley’s hype-train come Saturday night.

This could be Woodley’s toughest test to date. A bold statement if you consider his last opponent was British slugger Paul Daley. Woodley’s main asset is his wrestling. Nobody has had an answer for it. Woodley has been criticized for being a boring fighter, but if you look at his record you’ll notice he has only gone the distance three times in his career.

I like Jordan Mein, but Woodley’s going to put him on his back and keep him there. Woodley’s gas tank is questionable, but I think he’ll end the fight via submission before entering the third round.

McKenna: I am happy that Joe highlighted the fact that while Woodley has a boring reputation, he really is not a boring fighter. I feel as though he is prematurely getting lumped into the category of boring fighters who out-wrestle their opponent to decisions like GSP or Jon Fitch, which really isn’t fair. However, it is solid company to be in, as GSP is one of the best of all time and prior to getting caught early last Friday, Fitch was one of the top contenders in the UFC. You can’t blame him for using his skill set to completely squash Daley in his last fight, and you can expect him to use it again in the future if he has to. But what the numbers show is that while he is on top of his opponent, he is looking for submissions rather than trying to stall the fight.

His opponent, Jordan Mein, looked really impressive in his Strikeforce debut against Evangelista Santos, but still has a lot to do to truly make a name for himself in the sport. That victory was a good start though, as he displayed great striking all fight long up until his standing elbows put away “Cyborg.” The only thing with that specific fight, though, is that we truly don’t know just how good his ground game is because it was never displayed. Sure, he has seven victories by submission in his career, but those came with his time in minor promotions. I would imagine that the top thing he is working on in this fight is keeping the fight standing based on how Woodley did so well on the ground in his last fight.

But ultimately, I have to go with Joe on this one and agree that the takedowns will be too much for Mein. Woodley will prove the critics wrong by submitting his opponent, hopefully dispelling his reputation of being a boring fighter.

Chase: I have to agree with my fellow panelists that Woodley gets a bad reputation and deserves more credit than he is given. He has excellent submissions and will be looking to use that part of his game against a striker like Mein.

Mein, I give the advantage in the striking, and he will be the one to finish this fight via KO if it remains standing. He has a ground game, but his striking and TKO ability have really shined in his career so far. The most notable part of this fight is how the skills will match up, rather than other variables as I like to include. Mentally, they are both prepared and tough. Experience goes a little to Mein, but both are riding on long winning streaks and are looking to get into a title position.

Both are coming off great opponents, so fighting each other should be a great match-up. I think this fight has all the potential to end early and be exciting, despite Woodley’s reputation. I agree with Brian that he is getting categorized in the same fashion as others who fight much more “boring” than him. This will be his shot to show he can finish, and I see Woodley winning via submission.

LHW: Lorenz Larkin (12-0) vs. Muhammed Lawal (8-1)

McKenna: The former light heavyweight champion, Muhammed Lawal, has been very verbal about Zuffa acquiring the promotion and his desire for a piece of the pie that a lot of other Strikeforce contenders have received by moving over to the UFC. But with that being said, it appears as though Lawal is still focused on the fighter across from him.

“King Mo” is a former Division I All-American wrestler along with a former three-time USA Senior Freestyle National Champion. But outside of his victory over Gegard Mousasi, we haven’t seen a ton a wrestling in his time with Strikeforce. Lawal likes to stand, bang, and earn knockouts, which is something he has done six times in his career. But, should the standup game go awry for the former champ, you know that he can revert to the ground game and overpower his opponent with the wrestling.

Looking to make a name for himself, Larkin will look to play spoiler in Lawal’s quest towards the UFC. Holding an undefeated record, “The Monsoon” also enjoys knocking out his opponents, as he has done eight times before. He came into MMA with an amateur boxing background which validates his knockout numbers. The big question about Larkin will be his ground game, as we truly know how good his opponent’s is.

Considering his background, I give Larkin the edge in the striking department, but the ground game clearly goes to the wrestling ability of Lawal. But to me, the biggest factor in this fight will be how Larkin will react to facing off with the toughest opponent he has ever faced. Because of that, I feel like Lawal will control the tempo of the fight and grind out a decision victory. “King Mo” will feel out his opponent and confirm Larkin’s superior striking, at which point he will secure takedowns and score points with his ground-and-pound.

Atkins: I hope Larkin has been working hard on his takedown defense, otherwise he’s going to be in for a long night. He might be undefeated, but he hasn’t fought anyone near the caliber of Lawal. This is a big step up in competition for him. Brian mentioned Larkin has better striking than Lawal, and I’m inclined to agree. However, I think the threat of being taken down will force Larkin to fight cautiously.

In his young career as a mixed martial artist, “King Mo” has already accomplished quite a bit. In just his seventh fight, he defeated battle-tested Gegard Mousasi to earn himself Strikeforce’s light heavyweight crown. He also trains with one of the best camps in the business, American Kickboxing Academy, so he’ll be well prepared for the striking game of his opponent.

The wrestling of Lawal is simply too good. He’s going to take Larkin down and beat him up until the referee intervenes.

Chase: This is a huge test for “King Mo” to reestablish himself and build some momentum. Coming off a loss and one win, he is still bouncing back from losing the title. He has some great motivation coming in, since his last fight was a great knockout win for him.

Lawal is another name in Strikeforce that is hanging by a thread. One or two more losses and the world will start to forget about him, which for Strikeforce is not good. As it stands now, Melendez is the only face of Strikeforce, but guys like Lawal can be just the same, but he has to get this win. Larkin is no walk in the park though. This guy is a knockout artist and a finisher. He is undefeated, but I think Lawal is a whole different ball game for him. Larkin has the ability to end the fight early, but “King Mo” has more at risk here.

The main difference here is the striking levels. Both are great strikers and it is the means in which both of them have finished most of their fights. However, the striking goes to Larkin, as my colleagues have mentioned. The wrestling plays a big part as well, but every fight starts standing, and usually with a trial period to feel each other out.

At the end of the night, I have to go with “King Mo” winning this and gaining some credibility back.

MW: Adlan Amagov (9-1-1) vs. Robbie Lawler (18-8)

Atkins: I have really enjoyed watching Adlan Amagov compete on the Strikeforce Challengers cards, and I’m pleased to see he’s finally getting the step up in competition he deserves. Amagov has the potential to go far in the sport. He’s an entertaining fighter who uses an arsenal of flashy strikes that both surprise opponents and impress beer-drinking crowds. His knockout over Anthony Smith was particularly impressive. Not only is his striking good, but this year he earned a silver medal at the Naga 2011 World Championship.

However, Robbie Lawler won’t be a compliant stepping stone. Everyone knows that Lawler possesses savage knockout power. He only needs to land one punch; just ask Melvin Manhoef. The problem I have with Lawler is that he hasn’t changed much as a fighter. Everyone knows what he brings to the table. He’s been using the same sprawl-and-brawl style of fighting since the start of his career.

In short, I think Amagov’s stock is on the rise and Lawler’s just treading water right now. I predict Amagov will submit Lawler in the second round.

Chase: I agree with Joe that the potential is there, and his striking is crisp. This is no easy fight for Lawler, who is looking to get a win under his belt. He has lost his last two, but they were against top competition.

Lawler and Amagov both have the power in their hands to end this fight in the first round, which is where I see it ending. Second round maybe, depending on how much “feeling out” time there is. Amagov hasn’t lost since 2007, which means to me that his confidence in his hands and overall game is very strong, whereas Lawler has gone up and down the past couple years, and is on a low right now. That could mean more motivation, but I think Amagov will get the best of him. Amagov is a young, well-rounded fighter that has great momentum going into this fight and is looking to make a name for himself in Strikeforce.

As much as I would like to say Lawler, I will have to go with Amagov by a first-round finish.

McKenna: I look at this fight as a potential changing of the guard fight for the promotion. Amagov is right on the fringe of being a well-known fighter in this sport, while Lawler is doing his best to cling onto whatever he has left. Fans remember the early days of the UFC, where Lawler became the fan favorite, and those same fans remember the 22-second flashy knockout from Pride 32, but the reality of it is what my fellow panelists said above: What have you done for me lately? The answer: Two dropped fights, granted they’re fights against two of the top middleweights that Strikeforce has to offer in “Jacare” and Kennedy, but they’re losses none the less. Lawler needs this win not just to stay relevant within the promotion, but within the entire sport.

The man looking to knock Lawler out of the spotlight and step into it is Adlan Amagov. This will easily be the toughest fight of the 25-year-old’s career, as he has fought relative unknowns. Sure, his two wins for Strikeforce were not against slouches, but they were nowhere near the profile of the man in front of him now. The real question is whether he will rise up against the pressure of being where he is, or if he will wilt because of it.

While I don’t want to say that Lawler’s career is over because of it, but I see an “out with the old, in with the new” situation here. Just like Joe highlighted, it feels as though Robbie is a one-trick pony, and in today’s sport of MMA, you simply cannot have that be the case. Hopefully this isn’t the end of Robbie Lawler, but it will be the true beginning of Adlan Amagov.

MW Championship: Luke Rockhold (8-1) vs. Keith Jardine (17-9-2)

Chase: Rockhold is a well-rounded fighter and has excellent submissions, but can also finish a fight with his hands. He pulled an upset over former champ Ronaldo Souza, proving that his long layoff of over a year and a half did not faze him too much. He has rear-naked choked his way to the top, with a couple TKO’s to accent it. A great wrestler and submission artist, his advantage will be on the ground.

Jardine has had quite the up and downs of his career these past few years, only winning three of his last ten fights. He was on a two-fight winning streak prior to the draw and now has a title shot ahead of him. Jardine has always possessed a unique part of his game that has been advantageous and dangerous for him throughout his career—his unorthodox striking. Jardine will want to keep this standing as much as possible. While not a master on the ground by any means, he still possesses a decent ground game. Not a strong enough one to test against Rockhold necessarily, but it is worthy to note that in Jardine’s 28 fights, he has never been submitted.

I would have to say his career at this stage in his life is going the way of Liddell, where his name is becoming bigger than his actual fighting and he is losing by KO/TKO.

Does he still have it in him to win? Yes, but at 36 and fighting since 2001, against the 27-year-old Rockhold, who started in 2007, father time tends to favor the current champ. Jardine most certainly gets the experience advantage, but that only plays so much of a role in this case. Think of the same concept of “experience wins” and apply it to Jon Jones if he were fighting Liddell, Couture, Franklin, etc. At some point, too much experience means you are past when the experience’s value is truly brought forth.

At the end of the day, if Rockhold can get inside and take Jardine down, he could issue Jardine his first submission loss. If Jardine can keep his distance and catch him with strikes coming from different angles, he could put Rockhold away. It is very possible Rockhold could hurt him early and either TKO Jardine, or follow him as he is hurt to the ground and lock on a submission. I am going to have to go with Rockhold winning this one, by submission or an early first-round TKO/KO.

McKenna: When I first learned that Luke Rockhold’s first title defense would be against Keith Jardine, I honestly thought that it was a joke. Sure, “The Dean of Mean” has done a lot in his MMA career and has a respectable six wins with the UFC, but he has never fought at middleweight, nor has he won a fight with Strikeforce. The title shot being awarded to Jardine has the scent of Zuffa on it, as a way to attract viewers to the newly acquired promotion. I personally would have loved to have seen Tim Kennedy get this title shot after winning two straight following his loss to Ronaldo Souza for the middleweight title, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Luke Rockhold (L) and Keith Jardine (Tracy Lee/Combat Lifestyle)

Jardine looked sluggish his last time out, but that most likely had to do with the fact that he took his fight with Gegard Mousasi on short notice. But when Jardine is at his best, you need to watch out. His awkward style of striking was laid out well by Gregory, and the power that the 36-year-old carries in his fists is overwhelming. It will be interesting to see how the weight cut is going to affect the UFC veteran, as he came into the UFC as a heavyweight, but made his name at light heavyweight. Trimming down to 185 pounds for the first time in his career will probably not be easy, and will be a big focus of this fight.

On the other hand, you have the middleweight champion, who still is making a name for himself despite snapping “Jacare” Souza’s four-fight winning streak. With Rockhold training at American Kickboxing Academy, you know that he will be ready for this fight and have strong wrestling, something the team specializes in. I am in agreement with Gregory on the fact that the champion’s best chance at winning this fight is by taking his opponent down and controlling the fight from there.

The fact that Rockhold went the distance in his last fight tells me that he will have the same endurance for this fight and considering that his opponent will be making his first trek down to 185 pounds, this will be the key factor in this fight. The longer this fight goes, the more favorable the fight should be for the champ when you add all of this together and because of this, Rockhold will seize the victory by TKO in the fourth round. I see Jardine doing well out of the gate, but I am skeptical of his ability for his body to respond well to the weight cut.

Atkins: Keith Jardine is not any easy fight for anyone. He made that clear when he fought Mousasi to a draw back in April last year. He’s fought almost every big name in the sport and has a few good victories under his belt. As both of my colleagues mentioned, his style is awkward and inimitable, which could prove problematic for a young fighter like Rockhold.

Rockhold’s rise to prominence has gone relatively unnoticed, and although he’s amassed an impressive 8-1 record, his name is often omitted from top-ten lists. Rockhold is a huge middleweight; At 6-foot-3, he has the size advantage over pretty much everyone in the division. He has the ability to end the fight anywhere it goes and doesn’t have any noticeable weaknesses.

I’ll be interested to see how Jardine performs at middleweight. This is his first foray into the division, and it’s a five-round fight. Like both of my colleagues, I think Rockhold will have the most success if he can take Jardine down. I don’t know who has the edge striking, but Rockhold would be wise to avoid any wild exchanges with Jardine until the later rounds.

I see Rockhold successfully defending his title by TKO’ing Keith Jardine in the latter stages of the fight.

Top Photo: Luke Rockhold (L) and Keith Jardine (Tracy Lee/Combat Lifestyle)

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.