Jim Gensheimer / Mercury News
Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011 | 6:10 p.m.
Mixed martial arts’ most dominant champion returns this weekend.
Women’s featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” Santos puts her belt at risk for the first time in 18 months against Hiroko Yamanaka in the co-main event of Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal in San Diego, which Showtime airs at 9 via tape delay on the west coast. Cyborg sat out much of this year negotiating a new contract with Strikeforce.
“I feel like I’m better rounded as a fighter now than I was before,” Santos said through a translator.
It’s worth wondering how much better Cyborg (10-1 MMA, 4-0 SF) could get. She’s won each of her four Strikeforce bouts by knockout. Strikeforce has found problems locating women anywhere in the world who can compete with Cyborg.
The search for an opponent took Strikeforce to Japan, the home country of Yamanaka (12-1 MMA, 0-0 SF), this time around. Yamanaka hasn’t lost in nearly four years.
“I have a lot of good experience,” Yamanaka said through a translator. “It’s going to benefit me in this fight.”
Yamanaka is the highest-priced underdog in an MMA championship bout this year, as oddsmakers have installed her at +600 (risking $1 to win $6). Santos comes back at -1000.
Pick: Santos by TKO
Check below for full betting odds from the main card and a pick in every fight.
Lightweight Championship Bout: Gilbert Melendez (19-2 MMA, 9-1 SF) vs. Jorge Masvidal (22-6 MMA, 4-0 SF)
Line: Melendez -400, Masvidal +300
Matchup: Betting-wise, Masvidal is probably worth a look at such a high price. His hands are quick and powerful enough to bother Melendez. But Melendez has the more complete game. It’s hard to envision a 25-minute fight where Melendez fails to get Masvidal to the ground. Melendez’s advantages in wrestling and ground-and-pound are pronounced.
Pick: Melendez by decision
Light Heavyweight Bout: Gegard Mousasi (31-3-2 MMA, 2-1-1 SF) vs. Ovince St. Preux (11-4 MMA, 5-0 SF)
Line: Mousasi -440, St. Preux +300
Matchup: St. Preux graduates from the Strikeforce Challengers series to his first major card, where he takes on the Armenian veteran. Mousasi is a former professional kickboxer who holds a striking advantage over most 205-pound fighters in the world. But he hasn’t won a Strikeforce fight in two years, as his last two have ended in a draw and a loss.
Pick: Mousasi by TKO
Lightweight Bout: K.J. Noons (10-3 MMA, 2-2 SF) vs. Billy Evangelista (11-1 MMA, 6-1 SF)
Line: Noons -190, Evangelista +155
Matchup: Masvidal has run over both Noons and Evangelista with a unanimous decision victory in the last year. Both prefer to keep their fights standing and posses technical striking games. Noons is mired in the first two-fight losing streak of his career.
Pick: Noons by decision