It’s now or never. After several failed attempts to get Mike Kyle and Gegard Mousasi in the Strikeforce cage opposite each other, Strikeforce is hoping the third time’s the charm. But this time, there’s more at stake than just a win and a step up the Strikeforce ladder. With the promotion headed for extinction, this pairing of light heavyweights is an audition of sorts for the possibility of an invite into the UFC.

Strikeforce’s final show, set for Jan. 12 in Oklahoma City, houses the bout between Gegard Mousasi and Mike Kyle, a battle that will surely lead to at least one of the two fighters making a permanent jump over to the UFC. It’s a fight long in the making, with the two previously set to meet first on April 9, 2011, and then on March 3, 2012, only for Kyle to withdraw on both occasions due to injury.

For Kyle, an invite to the Octagon would mean his second tenure in the UFC. He made his promotional debut at UFC 47 at the age of 24. His first stint was a knockout—literally. Kyle had three fights in his first stay with the UFC, and all three ended with knockouts in the first round, though Kyle wasn’t always the victor. He went 2-1 in that run and his only loss was at heavyweight to Justin Eilers.

This time around, Kyle can definitely be more competitive at light heavyweight, but to say he could be a title challenger seems a bit of a stretch. He has a knockout power and is very adept at using his range. Training out of American Kickboxing Academy alongside skilled wrestlers like Daniel Cormier and Jon Fitch, Kyle definitely has the takedown defense to help him survive an onslaught of good ground fighters at light heavyweight, but his athleticism could certainly hinder him against the light heavyweight division of the UFC. Kyle also seems to disappear against top talent, with his most recognizable wins coming against Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante, Wes Sims and James Irvin, while he has lost to Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Silva.

Kyle’s striking can certainly get him through the lower and some of the middle tier of the UFC light heavyweights. And light heavyweight is definitely where he’ll remain, as his size makes a move back to heavyweight out of the question. So, stuck at light heavyweight in the UFC, Kyle may start off great against the middle of the division, but his athleticism and ground game can certainly be exploited by the division’s elite.

Meanwhile, Mousasi is an interesting prospect to consider. He has performed well at light heavyweight, with the exception of his outings against Muhammed Lawal and Keith Jardine. Jardine, who stepped in for Kyle to fight Mousasi at the April 2011 event, was able to somehow survive Mousasi’s onslaught in the first round, which can only be described as a beatdown, and somehow was able to come away with a draw after a hard-fought second and third frame. And against Lawal, Mousasi’s lack of takedown defense led to a unanimous decision loss despite the fact that Mousasi landed more total strikes.

Mousasi’s striking certainly isn’t to be scoffed at, as his boxing and overall talent level certainly has been enough to make him one of the best light heavyweights not residing in the UFC. Mousasi, unlike Kyle, has survived against top talent and has beaten fighters such as Mark Hunt, Hector Lombard and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.

Mousasi’s inability to find the will to cut back down to middleweight is confounding. The man would be an absolute monster at 185 pounds. A former amateur boxing champion and professional kickboxer, Mousasi’s striking is top notch. And with 10 submission wins to his name, he is no slouch on the ground, but what he does lack is takedown defense. That is something that Lawal exposed in their championship bout and it’s an element of his game that can be exploited by UFC-caliber fighters at either weight division.

Against fighters like Jon Jones, Rashad Evans and pretty much any high-level wrestler, things will get tough for Mousasi. He could be a top-10 fighter at either weight, but what will hold him back is that huge hole in his ability to stuff takedowns.

Altogether, Mousasi possesses the experience and skills necessary to navigate the treacherous light heavyweight waters, but one has to wonder why he isn’t doing so as a middleweight. He had success at 185 pounds early in his career, and it would definitely be a better option. Why not cut the extra weight to be an even more dominant force and inject yourself into an aging division?

The match-up that stands before these men will definitely test the chins of both fighters. Mousasi and Kyle will attempt to out-box each other. With both men possessing knockout power, they can certainly give each other a run for their money. In the end, Mousasi should emerge with his hand raised on the final night of Strikeforce.

Although Kyle may lose the fight, he could definitely climb his way up to being a top-15 fighter while having a better run in the UFC a second time around.

The stakes are higher for Mousasi. This is another fight where he needs a win to help assure fans that he is the same prospect entering the UFC that we have been watching and wanting to see inside the Octagon for the last few years.

With the two men finally stepping into the cage to face off, the stakes are high. One or both could be headed back to the Octagon after this fight. All they have to do is prove that they deserve the opportunity.

Photo: Gegard Mousasi (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Sal DeRose
Staff Writer

Sal hails from New Jersey and is currently training for his first MMA fight. He hopes to use his knowledge and insight to generate articles that interest and entertain you. Outside of MMA, Sal is a big fan of every other sport. He's a diehard New York sports fan, with the exception of cheering for the Packers.