On Saturday night, a rematch many years overdue will occur when Renato “Babalu” Sobral faces Dan Henderson in Strikeforce’s Showtime-televised main event in St. Louis.
Their first bout was a razor thin decision in a fight that could have gone either way (I have scored it differently every time I see it) and emphasized the need for a cage in all of MMA. Granted, that fight happened almost 11 years ago, but the fact remains that these are two of the most dangerous light heavyweights not in the UFC.
Babalu has defeated world-class strikers (Diabate and Shogun), world-class wrestlers (Tkeshelashvili, Prangley, Sonnen, Van Arsdale), and submission artists (Horn). Henderson’s resume is just as impressive as he was the last person to hold the PRIDE light heavyweight and middleweight titles (well the equivalent of each in the UFC at least). If there is one area in this fight where a fighter has a true advantage it is that Sobral has the weaker chin.
In their first bout, the takedowns and ground game were fairly even and that will not change here. Sobral’s takedown game is the best I have seen for someone who does not come from a wrestling background, so do not expect Henderson to just rely on his grappling background. This fight comes down to how much the 40-year-old Henderson has in the tank, Sobral’s ability to avoid the power strikes of Hendo, and finally, whoever wins the wrestling war. I expect this bout to be just as close as their first in what should be a great battle.
Co-headlining the event will be a matchup between striker Robbie Lawler and Olympic silver medalist Matt Lindland. Both fighters are down as of late with just 1-2 marks in their last three. That said, Lawler is far younger and has had more recent significant victories than Lindland, whose last significant victory was in ’06 against Jeremy Horn. Granted, Lindland has faced some tough competition and fought hard but he is no longer at the elite level of fighter where you can expect him to be dominant in most of his fights. I expect him to be competitive in the fight, but Lawler’s striking will prove to be too much for the veteran. Lindland’s best bet will be to play the clinch game and drag Lawler down but he will still have to avoid the striking exchanges. With all of the distractions circling Lindland’s crew with Chael Sonnen’s recent hearing, it’s hard to imagine he will be fully focused, which could also play a part in how the fight plays out.
Also on the card is a feature bout between UFC cast-off Paul Daley and The Ultimate Fighter 4’s Scott Smith. The fight will be Smith’s debut at welterweight and the weight cut could prove tricky. However, his opponent has a sometimes treated his weight limit as a guideline more than a rule and it could wind up being a catchweight bout by the time weigh-ins are done. When it comes to the fighting though, this fight features no clash of styles as you have striker versus striker. Daley is the far more technical striker by every measure and should be able to take it to Smith, while Smith has more heart than most fighters could ever dream of without the best technical skill set. The latter will be his downfall in this one as he just will not be able to keep up with the speed and accuracy of Daley.
In heavyweight action, we have a recently added bout featuring Mike Kyle against Antonio Silva, who is one of the more deceiving fighters in MMA. Most look at the big man and assume he will be a slow guy but, since acromegaly has little effect on speed, everyone he faces must deal with fantastic striking and an often forgotten ground game. Kyle is the longshot underdog, and for good reason, but he still has a chance. Kyle has power in his hands and will have a decent gameplan from the AKA crew, but more than likely will not be able to make up for all the disadvantages. Kyle will likely be giving up more than 40 pounds at fight time along with six inches in reach to Silva. Even if Kyle does get inside of the reach of Silva, he will still have to deal with the judo of “Bigfoot”. Kyle’s best hope is to move in and out and try to outpoint Silva. That said, I think Silva will prove too much for Kyle in all areas.
Finally, we have another recent addition between IFL veteran Benji Radach and former University of Tennessee football standout Ovince St. Preux. Radach’s career has always been marred by unfortunate injuries, the latest being a bad staph infection while recovering from surgery on a torn pectoral muscle back in March. Radach always tries to finish his fights with heavy hands and good wrestling. In St. Preux, Radach faces a fantastic athlete who was gifted on the football field as well as on the wrestling mats. St. Preux will likely look to use his kicks, size, and athleticism to control the fight with Radach. Expect St. Preux to try force scrambles as well because he typically locks down in guard to force a stand up. This is a fight that could go either way, St. Preux is on short rest after a war with Antwain Britt last month and Radach has not fought since April of 2009. Both could have effects on each fighter’s stamina and will likely mean both will look for an early finish.
“Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu” will air on Showtime starting at 10pm ET from St. Louis. The fights will be tape-delayed for the west coast, so if you do not want spoilers do not check the site until later.
As part of EA’s promotion of EA Sports MMA, certain prelims will be viewable here, via Sherdog.