Over three years since Gina Carano last stepped foot in the Strikeforce cage, the new face of female mixed martial arts defends her 135-pound throne this Saturday as Ronda Rousey takes on former champion Sarah Kaufman in the main event of Strikeforce in San Diego, Calif.
Campaigning for a title shot ever since she lost the belt, Kaufman is hoping to expose the judo specialist Rousey for her lack of experience when the bantamweights clash in the five-round headliner.
Here’s a closer look at the full line-up for Saturday’s card broadcast live on Showtime:
-Ronda Rousey (5-0) vs. Sarah Kaufman (15-1)
The biggest star in female mixed martial arts looks to continue her meteoric rise as the popular 135-pound champion Rousey faces her toughest test to date in the form of the Canadian veteran Kaufman.
The 25-year-old Rousey is still unbeaten in professional competition with five first-round finishes via armbar.
The 4th dan black belt judoka finished Miesha Tate this past March to claim the Strikeforce female bantamweight crown.
A bronze medalist in judo at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Rousey is one of the best judo players in the whole sport and undoubtedly the best female practitioner we’ve seen make the transition.
Rousey has absorbed knowledge from multiple camps as she continues to round out her arsenal. Most recently, Rousey spent some time with Cesar Gracie’s camp in California, training alongside the Diaz brothers and Gilbert Melendez.
Previously a harsh critic of female mixed martial arts, UFC president Dana White has even taken a liking to Rousey, whose confident attitude, fan friendly demeanour and sublime skills are rapidly turning her into a superstar.
In addition to getting her own “All Access” special on Showtime, Rousey also appeared in ESPN The Magazine’s 2012 Body Issue.
Rousey is still largely untested, which is a testament to how quickly she’s been able to deal with her opposition thus far. However, her conditioning is still a question mark and her striking is basic at best.
The 26-year-old Kaufman is a veteran of 16 professional fights since her debut in 2006. Her lone professional setback was an October 2009 armbar at the hands of Marloes Coenen, in which she dropped the 135-pound strap. The move also happens to be Rousey’s speciality, which could be a sign of things to come.
Kaufman has overcome some of the division’s best contenders, including Alexis Davis, Miesha Tate, Shayna Baszler, Takayo Hashi, Roxanne Modafferi and Liz Carmouche.
A product of Zugec Ultimate Martial Arts under Adam Zugec in her native British Columbia, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt is one of the most seasoned strikers in the division. Kaufman is always willing to engage in exchanges in the pocket and she’s one of the most well-rounded fighters when it comes to mixing in clinch work, wrestling and submissions.
Kaufman has a wealth of experience in lengthy fights, having gone up to five rounds in title fights. She will possess a clear-cut advantage with her hands, but she’ll be in a heap of trouble if she’s unable to stay off her back.
Rousey will likely need to prove that she can take a punch early on because Kaufman will charge forward with winging hooks. With momentum on her side and a continually evolving repertoire, Rousey will likely overcome a few obstacles before inevitably scoring a takedown. On the mat, Rousey will rely on her killer instincts to wrap up an arm and force the tapout, further cementing her place as the queen of Strikeforce and the new queen of female mixed martial arts.
Verdict: Rousey via Submission, Round 1
In middleweight action, the former Strikeforce champion “Jacare” hopes a second straight win could catapult him back into title contention.
Souza, 32, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo black belt, was 4-0 in Strikeforce before he lost the belt in a tightly contested decision to Luke Rockhold last September. His victims included Matt Lindland, Joey Villasenor, Tim Kennedy and Robbie Lawler.
The Team Black House member, a training partner of UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, last saw action in March when he recorded a third-round submission over Britsol Marunde.
“Jacare” is one of the division’s most seasoned submission specialists, having won both the BJJ World Cup and prestigious Abu Dhabi Combat Club tournament.
Although submissions remain his most dangerous weapon, “Jacare” has developed a strong wrestling base and striking game. He’s still eyeing a rematch with the champion Rockhold, so he could benefit from a strong finish on Saturday night.
Brunson, 28, is coming off his first professional loss as he dropped a split decision to Kendall Grove under the upstart ShoFight banner this past June after accepting the fight on short notice. However, Brunson was rightfully bewildered by the decision as he thought he clearly did enough to earn the nod.
A three-time NCAA Division II All-American, Brunson is expanding his game at the Jackson-Winkeljohn school in New Mexico, where he trains with some of the world’s best fighters, including Jon Jones and Carlos Condit.
Brunson will likely fall back on his wrestling, but his conditioning was a major weakness against Grove. If the fight enters deep waters, Souza should capitalize.
Still, Brunson will press forward early with takedowns. Souza should sprawl effectively and land counters at will. Typically, Souza will elect to secure a takedown himself to set up a fight-ending submission. Against Brunson, he should opt to use his superior striking to tee off with counters. As Brunson’s gas tank begins to fail him, Souza will tangle him up in his submission web to seal his fate.
Verdict: Souza via Submission, Round 3
In an intriguing welterweight encounter, the Belgian contender Saffiedine takes on the Ohio native Bowling.
The 25-year-old Saffiedine is coming off back-to-back wins over Tyler Stinson and Scott Smith. He’s only dropped one fight since 2009 — a decision against Tyron Woodley in January 2011.
The Team Quest representative is a crafty striker with solid footwork and durability. Training alongside Dan Henderson, Saffiedine has also made wrestling a primary focus in camp.
The 30-year-old Bowling has recorded back-to-back finishes to bounce back from a pair of losses to Bobby Voelker.
Anchored at Team Vision in Cincinnati, Bowling is a well-rounded prospect with great explosiveness and power.
However, Saffiedine marks a significant step up in competition from Bowling’s recent opponents, which include Brandon Saling and Jerron Peoples.
Saffiedine should find his range early, battering Bowling with an assortment of strikes over the course of three rounds to earn a hard-fought decision.
Verdict: Saffiedine via decision
In a light heavyweight tilt, the Haitian-American prospect St. Preux fights for the first time this year against the Florida-based journeyman Cook.
St. Preux, 29, was last seen dropping a unanimous decision to Gegard Mousasi in December. The Knoxville MMA pupil saw his eight-fight winning streak snapped, which included victories over Jason Day, Antwain Britt, Benji Radach and Abongo Humphrey.
St. Preux is an athletically gifted fighter with well-rounded skills, but he struggled with the step up in competition against Mousasi.
Cook, 29, last saw action in November, losing to Trevor Smith by first-round submission. A member of Florida’s American Top Team, Cook is primarily a striker who has shown a major susceptibility to the submission game.
St. Preux will likely seek a takedown and a subsequent ground-and-pound assault to put an end to Cook’s night in the very first round.
Verdict: St. Preux via TKO, Round 1
In a battle of middleweight hopefuls, Sayers and Smith are set to kick off the Showtime main card.
Sayers is coming off his biggest career wins as he dispatched Scott Smith and Antwain Britt in his last two Strikeforce appearances.
A product of Grapplers Edge, Sayers is a talented submission player, but his striking and wrestling are still largely works in progress.
Smith, a member of the Disorderly Conduct camp, also finished his last two opponents to rebound from a first-round knockout loss to Adlan Amagov last November.
A heavy hitter, Smith will look to keep the fight standing as Sayers will be significantly more dangerous on the ground.
Smith should find a home for some combinations early before falling victim to a fight-ending submission.
Verdict: Sayers via Submission, Round 1
Headlining the preliminary portion of the card on Showtime Extreme, the former female bantamweight queen Tate hopes a victory over the well-travelled Kedzie could propel her to another shot at the championship.
The 25-year-old Tate is a member of Team Alpha Male where she trains alongside UFC contenders Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez and Chad Mendes. A talented high school wrestler and submission grappling practitioner, Tate dropped the title to Rousey via first-round submission this past March.
Tate remains one of the division’s best fighters, having beaten the likes of Marloes Coenen, Hitomi Akano and Zoila Gurgel.
The 31-year-old Kedzie is a veteran of 26 professional fights. A 3rd degree taekwondo black belt, Kedzie can also hold her own on the ground. She last saw action in July 2011, dropping a decision to Alexis Davis.
Some of Kedzie’s marquee career wins include Kaitlin Young, Jan Finney and Kelly Kobold.
A longtime member of Greg Jackson’s New Mexico-based camp, Kedzie benefits from a world-class training environment.
Tate has evolved greatly as a fighter competing for Strikeforce over the years and she’ll likely put her newfound skills on display as she dominates Kedzie with takedowns and suffocating top control to take home the convincing decision win.
Verdict: Tate via decision
In a middleweight meeting, the Chechen prospect Amagov tangles with the “KO Kid” Berry.
Amagov, 25, now resides in the U.S. where his primary training camp is held in New Mexico under Greg Jackson. The former NAGA grappling world champion suffered his first loss since 2007 this past January, succumbing to a first-round TKO against Robbie Lawler.
A dynamic striker with strong submission skills, Amagov has great potential as he continues to develop in Strikeforce.
Berry, 24, has come out on the losing end in four of his last five outings, including a first-round submission loss to Tyson Jeffries this past April.
A powerhouse for the 185-pound division, Berry should be the physically stronger fighter, but his skills should be overmatched.
Amagov will showcase his arsenal of flashy kicks as he picks Berry apart before exploding with a flurry to finish the fight emphatically in the opening frame.
Verdict: Amagov via KO, Round 1
In a lightweight pairing, the former King of the Cage champion Green will try to put the first blemish on Ricehouse’s record.
Green, 25, is riding a hat trick of Strikeforce wins, including a split nod over James Terry in May. Green has excelled on the regional circuit, amassing key wins over Dom O’Grady, Daron Cruickshank, Ricky Legere Jr., Charles Bennett and Sevak Magakian.
The Pinnacle Jiu-Jitsu product has no shortage of confidence to go along with a dangerous submission game.
Ricehouse, 25, is still unbeaten in his career as he’s coming off decision wins over Ryan Couture and Bill Cooper last year.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt is a well-rounded prospect who should fare well in scrambles and in striking exchanges with his more experienced adversary.
Green will threaten with submissions, but Ricehouse is no slouch on the ground himself and he’ll score crucial points with the judges as he controls the positional game over 15 minutes.
Verdict: Ricehouse via decision
In the third female bout on the card, the rangy Japanese featherweight Yamanaka will look to erase the memory of a forgettable effort against Cris “Cyborg” this past December as she drops to 135 pounds for a clash with the Dutch “Iron Lady” De Randamie.
The former Smackgirl open-weight champion Yamanaka, 33, lasted only 16 seconds against “Cyborg,” but the fight was ultimately overturned to a no-contest after the Brazilian titleholder tested positive for steroids.
Yamanaka is primarily a submission-based fighter, but her long reach gives her a striking advantage against most females in the weight class.
De Randamie, 28, is still a relative novice in the sport with only four professional fights. She’s coming off a unanimous decision loss to Julia Budd in June 2011.
A muay thai specialist, De Randamie knocked out Stephanie Webber with a first-round knee in her prior appearance.
If De Randamie keeps the fight standing, she could find success against Yamanaka, who tends to cover up when she’s hit with big shots.
But Yamanaka will rely on her poise and experience to secure a pivotal takedown. On the mat, she will waste little time locking up a submission to mark a triumphant 135-pound debut.
Verdict: Yamanaka via Submission, Round 1