Strikeforce returns this Saturday. You remember them, right? And they are doing it up big for the Showtime broadcast. “Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy” takes place July 14 in Portland, Ore., and is headlined with two title fights; Tyron Woodley and Nate Marquardt battling it out for the vacant Strikeforce welterweight title, and Luke Rockhold defending his Strikeforce middleweight title against Tim Kennedy.

The card has a lot of quality names on it and feels a lot like a throwback card to the pre-Zuffa Strikeforce days. The ( staff has dusted off their crystal balls and brought out their tea leaves to bring you their analysis and prognostications on each and every bout.

(TITLE) 185 lbs. – Luke Rockhold (9-1) vs. Tim Kennedy (14-3)

ODDS: Rockhold -310 vs. Kennedy +250

JOSH CROSS: I have a hard time seeing either of these two getting finished in this fight. That being said, I’m interested to see how Kennedy does if these two go to the ground. I think Rockhold will be the better striker, but if these two go to the mat things could change. Ultimately, I think there are just too many questions surrounding Kennedy, who is coming off of a near yearlong layoff, for me to pick him to win. Pick: Rockhold via Decision.

RICHARD MANN: Luke Rockhold.

BRIAN FURBY: Tim Kennedy.

JAN GAETJENS: Skill-wise these are two really well balanced fighters. Kennedy comes into this fight with a slight experience advantage, but the physical gifts of Luke Rockhold largely equalize this contest. Rockhold has a high work rate and has shown willingness to push the pace of his fights on his feet, which should be enough to earn him the victory with the judges. Winner: Rockhold by decision.

JACK BRATCHER: It’s AKA vs. Jackson’s MMA in this battle for Strikeforce middleweight gold. Luke Rockhold and Tim Kennedy have a recent common opponent in Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. For what it’s worth, Rockhold defeated “Jacare” via decision and Kennedy lost by same. I feel Kennedy will really put Rockhold to the test. Both guys are really well-rounded and have a lot of tools to work with. That makes this a fun fight.. Kennedy has good wrestling but he’s also had some favorable style match-ups in his last couple fights with Lawler and Manhoef. At only 27 Rockhold is only getting better. I like his height advantage here with the striking also. Rockhold wins this one, just not sure how. It could go to a decision or he might finish Kennedy via submission or knockout.

GARY THOMAS: Luke Rockhold is the best middleweight not in the UFC. Tim Kennedy is a great fighter in his own right but I don’t think he has what it takes to overcome the firepower of Rockhold. I would love to see Luke Rockhold vs. Chris Weidman, just throwing that out there. Pick – Rockhold via TKO.

 (TITLE) 170 lbs. – Tyron Woodley (10-0) vs. Nate Marquardt (31-10-2)

ODDS: Woodley +105 vs. Marquardt -135

JOSH CROSS: This could be a very close fight, and is undoubtedly the biggest test for Woodley to date. Marquardt is a solid wrestler and striker, which could pose some problems for Woodley. I also think that Marquardt’s experience and Woodley’s conditioning could be factors in this fight as well. This is a five-round title fight, and it will be interesting to see how Woodley’s conditioning holds up if the bout makes it into those championship rounds. Overall, despite Marquardt’s more than yearlong layoff, I think that he’ll be the better fighter of the two in this bout. Pick: Marquardt via TKO.

RICHARD MANN: Marquardt acts like he has picked up a wrestling game, but he still ends up flat on his back against anyone with a grappling advantage. Hopefully the veteran can force former Missouri Tiger to show another aspect of his game, but even if he does not Woodley’s wrestling will be enough to carry him to victory. Woodley by decision.

BRIAN FURBY: Nate Marquardt.

JAN GAETJENS: Tyron Woodley makes his money off of his wrestling; securing the takedown and working from the top is Woodley’s tried and true recipe for success. Marquardt has excellent jiu jitsu, but his fight against Chael Sonnen highlighted his difficulty dealing with aggressive, top flight wrestlers. Woodley’s striking and stamina aren’t the best though, and that’s where Marquardt should be able to steal this fight. If Marquardt can make it out of the early rounds he should be able to pick apart Woodley on his feet and end it in the championship rounds. Winner: Marquardt via TKO.

JACK BRATCHER: Nate Marquardt is a bit upset with Tyron Woodley for saying he stutters. He’s a little emotional going in here. He says Woodley won’t be able to lay on him for 25 minutes.  That’s right, this is a welterweight title fight as Marquardt looks to take Woodley’s title. I think people tend to underestimate Woodley’s stand-up and he is only getting better. He may not be the most exciting fighter, but he continues to get the job done. He has been consistent if nothing else. Marquardt has not. Too many unanswered questions about Marquardt right now for me. I’m going with the man who only knows how to win, Tyron Woodley via decision.

GARY THOMAS: Nate Marquardt coming in the welterweight class and gets the undefeated Woodley. Woodley is terribly boring to watch but boring usually equals a win. Nate will have to shake the cage rust off quick before he finds himself on his back in this one. I think though he will find himself in that spot most of the night. Pick – Woodley via Decision.

185 lbs. – Lorenz Larkin (12-0) vs. Robbie Lawler (19-8)

ODDS: Larkin -125 vs. Lawler -105

JOSH CROSS: This should be an exciting bout between two knockout artists. That being said, I think Larkin is the better overall fighter on his feet and I think that is what wins him this bout. Pick: Larkin via TKO.

RICHARD MANN: This is really Larkin’s fight to lose. Lawler will do what he always does. He will stand in striking range and try to land one huge shot. Larkin is versed enough in the striking game to avoid big shots and pick up points en route to a victory. Larkin by decision.

BRIAN FURBY: Robbie Lawler.

JAN GAETJENS: Lawler has been streaky of late, but he’s too experienced and has too much stopping power to not come away with the win. Winner: Lawler by TKO.

JACK BRATCHER: Lorenz Larkin has knocked out a bunch of guys you’ve probably never heard of, eight of them to be exact. He’s a technical striker with sub-par wrestling as King Mo exposed. Robbie Lawler has been inside the cage with the best of the best and knocked out a whole freakin heap of them. Larkin’s best bet would be to stay on the outside and try to out-point Lawler. Look for him to try a Melvin Manhoef type approach, going for leg kicks and trying to keep it technical. Look for Lawler to make it a bar room brawl and finish Larkin just like he did Manhoef…nighty night. Lawler by knockout.

GARY THOMAS: Lorenz Larkin got his loss overtuned and looks to stay unbeaten. Lawler is always a game opponent but I think Larkin can capitalize on the shortcoming of Robbie’s game. This could be a grind it out kind of fight though. Pick – Larkin via TKO.

185 lbs. – Roger Gracie (4-1) vs. Keith Jardine (17-10-2)

ODDS: Gracie -185 vs. Jardine +155

JOSH CROSS: I think Jardine should be more worried about Gracie’s ground game in this bout than his chances of getting knocked out. That being said, Gracie has to get Jardine to the mat first without getting caught while in the process. Despite the fact that Jardine has never lost by submission, I think that might just change after this bout. Pick: Gracie via Submission.

RICHARD MANN: Everyone seemed sold on Gracie after he defeated Trevor Prangley. However, his fight with “King Mo” Lawal has raised questions once again. Jardine is a declining commodity at this point, and Gracie should be able to solicit a tap. However, if Jardine survives early, he might be able to land enough strikes to steal a fight. Gracie by submission.

BRIAN FURBY: Roger Gracie.

JAN GAETJENS: Jardine has only come away the winner three times in his last ten fights, and, as his age and the number of knockout losses on his resume continue to rise it becomes harder and harder to pick in favor of Jardine. But we have yet to really see if Roger Gracie can take a punch after his fairly weak KO loss to King Mo. Either Gracie scores an early takedown and secures a submission, or he gets caught with one of Jardine’s erratically flying limbs. Winner: Gracie by submission.

JACK BRATCHER: Good ol’ Keith Jardine. While he has the grace of an elephant in a china shop, he has not been submitted since 2004. As Roger Gracie makes his middleweight debut here, and while improving on the feet, Jardine should still possess the striking advantage. Both Gracie and Jardine are coming off knockout losses; Gracie to King Mo in Sept. 2011 and Jardine to Luke Rockhold in Jan. 2012. Jardine should be able to herky jerky his way to a decision over Gracie, out-pointing the submission ace on the feet and avoiding having a limb ripped off.

GARY THOMAS: I can’t really say much about Keith Jardine. He’s fought and beat some tough guys. He’s also taken so much punishment over his career. Jack likes his style but I like Gracie to demolish the Dean of Mean in this fight. Pick – Roger Gracie via Submission.

155 lbs. – Jorge Masvidal (22-7) vs. Justin Wilcox (11-4, 1 NC)

JOSH CROSS: I think Masvidal will have a big advantage on his feet in this bout, and I don’t think Wilcox will want to stand with him for very long. I think that Wilcox will ultimately try for the takedown. Masvidal has good takedown defense though, and I don’t think Wilcox will be very successful in getting the fight to the ground. In the end, I think Masvidal keeps the fight standing and walks away with the win. Pick: Masvidal via TKO.

RICHARD MANN: Masvidal should be able to survive Wilcox’s wrestling and get the better of the striking on the feet. However, the Bodog veteran often looks to counter. In some of his fights, he sits back and does not land enough to sway the judges. Masvidal will win this fight, but the judges might give it to Wilcox (see Masvidal vs. Luis Palomino). Masvidal by decision.

BRIAN FURBY: Jorge Masvidal.

JAN GAETJENS: Masvidal is coming off of a decisive loss to Gilbert Melendez and should be hungry to immediately put himself back in the Strikeforce mix. He’s well seasoned and should be able to get back into the win column against Wilcox. Winner: Masvidal by decision.

JACK BRATCHER: Having won 10 of his 22 wins via knockout, Masvidal is known for his slick hands. He’s coming off a five round decision loss for Gilbert Melendez’s title this past December. Justin Wilcox is more of a grinder with eight of his 11 wins coming via decision. He’s coming off a 13-second KO loss to Caros Fodor on the same card Masvidal last fought on. Wilcox’s only way to win this fight is to do some serious lay and pray. I don’t see it happening and have Masvidal winning via TKO.

GARY THOMAS: Jorge Masvidal has fought some of the best in the division but has fallen short at his title run. He has to be thinking of a win to put him back in the mix. Wilcox hasn’t won in over a year after an eye poke and a loss. Both guys should be hungry in this fight. I like the guy who enjoys his McDonald’s drive thru. Pick – Masvidal via TKO.

170 lbs. – Jason High (15-3) vs. Nate Moore (8-2)

JOSH CROSS: Both fighters are talented grapplers and I think this fight will really hinge on who the better striker of the two is. I think High will be the more successful of the two striking and setting up the takedown, which is what I think will earn him the decision victory. Pick: High via Decision.

RICHARD MANN: High has a pretty solid wrestling/grappling game. His biggest weakness is that he gets hit on the feet and has a somewhat suspect chin. However, Moore is pretty much “Jason High Lite.” He also looks to wrestling and fight along the cage. High should not have any trouble winning at least two of the three rounds. High by decision.

BRIAN FURBY: Jason High.

JAN GAETJENS: Jason High win’s this one with his grappling. It wont have the fireworks of some of the other fights on this card, but it should be a relatively comfortable win for High. Winner: High by decision.

JACK BRATCHER: Neither Jason High or Nate Moore has fought in over a year. Moore is coming off a second round KO win over Nathan Coy and High is coming off a unanimous decision win over Todd Moore. High is more experienced, has fought the better competition and is the better wrestler. I like High to take this one via decision.

GARY THOMAS: Jason High comes in riding high. No pun intended. He brings much more experience to the table and has shown he can submit you as well as knock you out. Nate Moore is a solid dude but I don’t like him to be very successful in this showdown. Pick – Jason High via Submission.

155 lbs. – Ryan Couture (4-1) vs. Joe Duarte (10-2)

JOSH CROSS: This bout is arguably going to be the biggest test for Couture to date. Duarte is the more experienced of the two and that could play a factor in determining the outcome of this fight. I think both fighters match up similarly on their feet, but I think Duarte will be noticeably better on the ground should the fight go there. Ultimately, I think Duarte takes Couture to the mat, outworks him there, and picks up the decision win. Pick: Duarte via Decision.

RICHARD MANN: Couture’s win over Conor Heun is one of the most shocking results of this year. Duarte is best remembered for looking like the favorite on a season of “The Ultimate Fighter” and failing to even make it into the house. Look for Couture to get the better of the grappling exchanges and take a pretty even decision. Couture by decision.

BRIAN FURBY: Joe Duarte.

JAN GAETJENS: It’ll be interesting to see if ring rust is a factor for Duarte after an almost year-long lay off. I like the tenacity and pedigree of Couture, but I’m not confident enough in his striking to give him the nod in this match up. Winner: Duarte by decision.

JACK BRATCHER: Ryan Couture is coming off a nice win over Conor Heun earlier this year, but the 4-1 son of UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture is going to have his hands full with Joe Duarte who is currently riding a six-fight win streak. Duarte last fought in Aug. 2011, winning a unanimous decision over Jorge Gurgel. This could be a fun fight. Couture is pretty well-rounded and six of Duarte’s 10 wins are via submission. I’m going with the more experienced Joe Duarte via decision.

GARY THOMAS: Joe Duarte has cardio for days and a great background story. Ryan Couture has his father’s name to go on but I don’t see his skills matching up well in this fight. Pick – Joe Duarte via Decision.

155 lbs. – Pat Healey (27-16) vs. Mizuto Hirota (14-4-1)

JOSH CROSS: I think the outcome of this bout could largely depend on where it takes place. Hirota has had most of his success on his feet, and Healey has most of his success on the mat. As long as Healey can use his size advantage to take Hirota to the ground, I think he’ll win the fight. Pick: Healey via Submission.

RICHARD MANN: Hirota falls into the Diaz brothers gamebred category. He didn’t knockout a lot of fighters early in his career, because he went into the ring without even taping his hands. Once he started, his power was evident. With that being said, Healy will be a much bigger fighter plus Hirota is almost totally lost on the ground. Look for Healy to dominate the fight and win by submission, but Hirota will make sure it is exciting. Healy by submission.


JAN GAETJENS: Hirota doesn’t have the same level of name recognition in The States that he does in Japan, but there’s a lot more to the DEEP champion than getting his arm broken by Shinya Aoki. He’s got a solid stand up game and can hold his own on the ground, but may have issues getting clean strikes in against the much taller Healy. I like Healy’s chances if he can get this fight to the mat and out-grapple Hirota to come away with a hard fought win. Winner: Healy by decision.

JACK BRATCHER: Since get his arm broke by Shinya Aoki in 2009 with a hammerlock, Mizuto Hirota was able to bounce back to win the DEEP lightweight title and defend it once. Hirota is a quality addition to the Strikeforce roster. He also previously held the Sengoku and Cage Force lightweight titles. The 31-year-old Japanese fighter has finished 8 of his 14 victories by way of knockout. Pat Healy is on a helluva roll having strung together four straight victories in the Strikeforce cage; three of those wins were in 2011. Another win here would make a very strong case for a title shot. Healy last fought in March defeating Caros Fodor via third round submission. Hirota probably has the advantage on the feet, but Healy certainly has the advantage on the ground. Healy via submission.

GARY THOMAS: Pat Healy is a beast and is riding a four fight win streak. Mizuto Hirota is making his debut in Strikeforce. I don’t think he will be prepared for Healy in this one. It may look competitive for a minute but I like a submission finish for Bam Bam. Pick – Healy via Submission.

170 lbs. – Jordan Mein (24-8) vs. Tyler Stinson (23-8)

JOSH CROSS: This fight is in my opinion a tough one to call. Both fighters are so similar that I could really see it going either way. I think Stinson might have a slight advantage standing though while Mein could have a slight advantage on the mat. I’m going to go with Stinson to pick up the decision win, but like I said, I think it’s going to be a close fight that could go either way. Pick: Stinson via Decision.

RICHARD MANN: Stinson is a solid guy and pretty much the ultimate gate keeper. Mein is a next-level prospect with a very diverse game. He may not be able to finish the fight, but he will show that he is a much better fighter than Stinson. Mein by decision.

BRIAN FURBY: Jordan Mein.

JAN GAETJENS: Jordan Mein managed to notch wins against Marius Zaromskis and Evangelista Santos all before his twenty-second birthday. He’s mature well beyond his years and has the patience to counter punch his way through three rounds against the aggressiveness of Bellator vet Stinson. Winner: Mein by decision.

JACK BRATCHER: Interesting fight here. Both guys have very similar records and both are coming off split decision losses to tough opponents; Mein, to Tyron Woodley, and Stinson, to Tarec Saffiedine. Both guys are also very well-rounded, having finished numerous fights via submission and by (T)KO. Both guys have also been fighting pro since 2006. Here’s where I see the difference: Jordan Mein’s recent competition has been much stiffer in my opinion. He has recent wins over Joe Riggs, Josh Burkman, Marius Zaromskis and Evangelista Santos. And dropping a split decision against undefeated Strikeforce champ Woodley is nothing to be ashamed of. Stinson is a tough customer too though and has some recent quality wins, including a knockout victory over Black House’s Eduardo Pamplona (25-3) in July 2011. Mein via decision.

GARY THOMAS: Both Stinson and Mein are coming off of losses to very tough opponents. There is no lack of experience between these two warriors. Stinson has the one punch knockout power. Mein is a grinder and fought a split decision against Tyron Woodley. Great fight on this card. I want to see the old Strikeforce come out and play. Pick – Stinson via KO.

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