Strikeforce hosts a fantastic card from top to bottom this Saturday in Portland’s Rose Garden Arena, as a veritable who’s who of veteran MMA stars will mix it up against a combination of up-and-comers and future contenders. Leading up to the two championship fights on the main card – middleweight champion Luke Rockhold vs. Tim Kennedy and Nate Marquardt vs. Tyron Woodley for the interim welterweight title – are another pair of middleweight bouts featuring fighters who previously battled for the belt. Roger Gracie (4-1) will make his middleweight debut against Keith Jardine (17-10-2), who was knocked out by Rockhold in the first round of their title fight back on January 7. Jardine opened as a +150 underdog (bet $100 to win $150) and has gone 2-6-1 in his past nine bouts. Gracie will be making his middleweight debut and opened as a -180 favorite (bet $180 to win $100) according to the MMA odds despite getting knocked out by Muhammed “King MO” Lawal in the first round last September 10. The third middleweight fight on the main card will see Robbie Lawler (19-8) square off against unbeaten Lorenz Larkin (12-0, 1 No-Contest). Lawler bounced back from consecutive losses, including one against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza for the middleweight championship, by scoring a first-round TKO of Adlan Amagov on January 7. Larkin fought on that same card at light heavyweight along with Rockhold and Jardine and appeared to suffer his first career loss to Lawal via KO in the second round, but the result was later overturned and changed to a No-Contest when “King Mo” tested positive for steroids. He opened as a -130 favorite against Lawler (+100). At the top of the preliminary card, Miami Hustle star Jorge Masvidal (22-7) makes his return to the cage for the first time since his loss to lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez when he faces Justin Wilcox (11-4-1). The fact that these two are “headlining” the prelims speaks to the strength of this card. Both fighters are well-rounded, so this should be a competitive bout no matter who ends up winning. The man who some consider the No. 1 contender for Melendez’s lightweight championship is Pat Healy (27-16), who takes on Mizuto Hirota in what is Hirota’s third match since his graphic arm break at the hands of Shinya Aoki following off back-to-back wins at Deep 55 and 57. Healy has been busy in the last few years, going 7-1 with his only loss coming by rear-naked choke submission to Josh Thomson. This fight should determine the pecking order to challenge for Melendez’s title belt, and MMA bettors will get to see whether or not Hirota will have better luck than many of his Japanese counterparts. Another welterweight matchup pits high-flying Jordan Mein (23-8) against Tyler Stinson (23-8) in what could be the Fight of the Night. Stinson is coming off a tough split-decision loss to Tarec Saffiedien on January 7, but he should never be underestimated as he is a finisher who has KO power and can get a submission win in almost any position. Mein may only be 22 years old, but the “Young Gun” from Canada already an MMA veteran. After amassing an impressive record against competition like Joe Riggs and Marius Zaromskis, Mein has been able to make a quick impact in the Strikeforce welterweight division. He grabbed an impressive TKO win over Cyborg Santos with impressive elbows before losing a frustrating split decision to Woodley on January 7. In other preliminary Strikeforce action, the powerful welterweight Jason High (15-3) looks to dominate Nate Moore (8-2) with his usual smothering style while promising lightweight Ryan Couture makes his return to the Strikeforce cage fresh off a win over Conor Huen. Couture is developing rapidly under the tutulage of his Hall of Fame father Randy, and he will try to use his ring-savvy to overwhelm Joe Duarte (10-2). This will be another stiff test for Couture, as Duarte is riding a five-fight winning streak that includes a dominant victory over Jorge Gurgel via unanimous decision.
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