Strikeforce

Strikeforce

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(Props to Around the Cage.)

After a pair of injuries delayed his debut on the national stage, Roger Bowling will finally get his chance Friday at Strikeforce: Challengers 8 in Portland, Ore. The undefeated Cincinnati-based fighter will face Bobby Voelker (21-7) on the main card which will air on Showtime.

“This is my coming out party,” Bowling said. “I am really focused for this fight.”

A powerhouse with quick hands, Bowling (7-0) has beaten six of seven opponents in the first round, but the 28-year-old’s career has stalled on the launching pad twice before. Injuries forced him out of two fights with War Machine and limited his fighting opportunities in the last 11 months.

“He’d probably be 8-0 or 9-0 by now if not for those injuries,” manager and former training partner Jason Appleton said. “No one has been able to stop him or even challenge him.”

Bowling needed just nine seconds to knock out Seth Baczynski in March 2009. The victory ran Bowling’s record to 5-0. Baczynski went on to become a cast member of “The Ultimate Fighter 11.”

“Seth deserves it,” Bowling said. “He is an awesome guy. That was just my night and my fight.”

The victory set up a fight with War Machine at the MMA Big Show. But a freak lathe accident at work broke Bowling’s left forearm in half. The break was severe, but clean.

“I didn’t have to wear a cast,” Bowling said. “The doctors put in a metal plate so I went right back to training.”

The bout with War Machine was rescheduled for September – this time for the XFC on HDNet. But first, Bowling scheduled a tune-up fight with Devon Plaisance in July. It took Bowling 41 seconds to secure a Pyrrhic victory.

“I broke my right hand on the first punch,” Bowling said. “I felt it break. I took him down and finished him pretty quickly. My hand was numb and when the adrenaline is going, you don’t really feel it.”

But the injury forced him to back out of the fight with War Machine – yet again. Despite the two false starts and some expletive-filled smack talk from War Machine, Bowling no longer covets a fight against the former TUF cast member and porn star.

“At this point, I feel like I am above him,” Bowling said. “Before, when I was coming up, I felt it would be a good name to put on my resume. I don’t think that is the case anymore. He is always getting in trouble. I think he is a bad representative of the sport. That’s just my opinion.”

Bowling has only fought once since Plaisance, a second-round TKO of Jerrod Appenzeller in February. On Friday, Voelker will represent a step up in competition. He is easily the most experienced fighter Bowling has faced.

“Bobby is a tough fighter and is very seasoned,” Bowling said. “I think I am cleaner. He swings a little wider and my punches are a little more crisp. But this will be a tough fight for sure.”

Bowling is no stranger to tough fights. Economic and transportation issues prevented Bowling from participating in sports as a youth, but he grew up in a family where fighting was a matter of course.

“I thought it was a normal thing and that everybody did it,” he said. “Obviously that’s not the case. But I think you have to be born with something in you that really makes you love fighting.”

He took up amateur boxing as a 16-year-old and then discovered jiu-jitsu four years later. The dream of turning pro remained in the back of Bowling’s mind – firmly.

“When you first start training, you are getting beat up all the time by guys better than you,” he said. “But it was always an idea that I could do it someday.”

Bowling excelled almost immediately in the amateur ranks.

“I won six or seven amateur boxing matches, all in the first round,” he said.

At first MMA wasn’t much harder. He won his first two amateur matches easily. In his third, however, Bowling was choked out. The classic fighting cliché of learning more from a loss than a win proved true. Bowling dropped a weight class and adjusted his training methods. No opponent has been close to beating him since.

“I don’t want to lose anymore,” Bowling said. “I don’t really like that.”

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Overeem defended his belt in St. Louis, and Feijao, Jacare, and Fancy Pants put themselves in position to move up the ladder in their respective divisions.

FIGHT! Results

Alistair Overeem def. Brett Rogers by TKO in Round 1.
Antonio Silva def. Andrei Arlovski by unanimous decision.
Ronaldo Souza def. Joey Villasenor by unanimous decision.
Roger Gracie def. Kevin Randleman by submission (rear naked choke) at 4:10 of Round 2.
Rafael Cavalcante vs. Antwain Britt by KO (punch) at 3:45 of Round 1.
Jesse Finney def. Justin DeMoney by submission (guillotine) at Round 1.
Lyle Beerbohm def. Vitor Ribeiro by split decision.
Darryl Cobb def. Booker Derousse by split decision.
Mike Chandler def. Sal Woods by submission (rear naked choke) at 0:59 of Round 1.
Fransisco France def. Lee Brousseau by submission (rear naked choke) at 1:27 of Round 1.
Tom Aaron def. Erik Steenberg by submission (guillotine) at 0:56 of Round 1.
Matt Ricehouse def. Greg Wilson by submission (rear naked choke) at 0:45 of Round 3.

FIGHT! Picks

We are currently 46-21 with our picks in 2010.

Alistair Overeem (-280) vs. Brett Rogers (+220)
FIGHT! Pick: Rogers Resulting Outcome:  INCORRECT

Andrei Arlovski (-180) vs. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva (+150)
FIGHT! Pick: Arlovski Resulting Outcome:  INCORRECT

Roger Gracie (-450) vs. Kevin Randleman (+300)
FIGHT! Pick: Gracie Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

Ronald “Jacare” Souza (-600) vs. Joey Villasenor (+400)
FIGHT! Pick: Souza Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

Rafael Cavalcante (-160) vs. Antwain Britt (+130)
FIGHT! Pick: Cavalcante Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

Odds & Ends

Strikeforce announced attendance of 8,136 at the Scottrade Center.

Robbie Lawler and Renato “Babalu” Sobral were in St. Louis to promote Strikeforce: Los Angeles on June 16. Dan Henderson and Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal were in town just because. Anderson Silva cornered Rafael Cavalcante while Gesias Calcanvante was in town with the American Top Team contingent.

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On Sat., April 9, Nick Diaz (#6 Welterweight) will defend his Strikeforce Welterweight Championship against Paul Daley (#11). A win would solidify Diaz as the best and best-known 170-pounder outside of the UFC but due to the fighter’s anxiety and erratic behavior may prevent him from ever again having a working relationship with Strikeforce’s new sister promotion.

Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley takes place in San Diego, Calif. airs on Showtime at 10 p.m. EST on Sat., April 9. Go here to view the full fight card.

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(Props to Middle Easy.)

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Strikeforce middleweight Luke Rockhold talks with FIGHT!’s Danny Acosta about his opponent Paul Bradley and the realities of the Santa Cruz surf scene.

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(Photo by Beau Bailey.)

Strikeforce’s 2009 was a hit.

The San Jose, Calif.-based promotion grew from a regional show to nationally televised fight nights 53 weeks ago with Nick Diaz’s dismantling of Frank Shamrock. They delivered many more times throughout the year: the first ever major female headlining title bout in North America, pound-for-pound great Fedor Emelianenko on CBS and a FIGHT! 2009 Fight of the Year nominee in Gilbert Melendez-Josh Thomson II.

But Strikeforce needs to address an array of problems with fight promotion, production, and its strategic partnership with DREAM that cropped up over those 53 weeks in order to avoid a sophomore slump and continue to stake its claim as the Pepsi to the UFC’s Coke.

On the eve of its second CBS offering that features three title fights with five world-ranked fighters and one of the sports brightest prospects Stirkeforce has chosen to employ a boxing-style promotional model centered on a single fight, the middleweight title tilt between Jake Shields and Dan Henderson.

The campaign is a step backward in a sport where promotions are judged by their ability to book strong cards from stem to stern. And Strikeforce: Nashville delivers with Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal — one of fighting’s most dynamic personalities — challenging FIGHT!’s #2-ranked 205-er Gegard Mousasi for the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Championship and Gilbert Melendez defending his Lightweight Championship versus DREAM champ Shinya Aoki. In addition to three title fights, Jason “Mayhem” Miller will take on a local opponent in a match that Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker promises will make in on air in highlight form at the very least. It begs the question: why hasn’t the promotional push created a big fight atmosphere around?

Of course, it’s hard to promote fights that aren’t booked and lately Strikeforce has borrowed a page from the Japanese fight promoting playbook, announcing fights so close to curtain call that fans often don’t know who’s on the card. And even when they get it right they get it wrong; Matt Lindland is headlining the next Strikeforce Challengers card on May 21 in Portland, Ore. Against who? No one knows, his opponent is TBA.

This brings us to another of Strikeforce’s nagging problems – its Challengers series. With seven champions (five mens weight classes, two womens), producing one marquee event per month shouldn’t be difficult. Rather than put quality prospects like Andre Galvao, Luke Stewart, Luke Rockhold, Daniel Cormier, Lyle Beerbohn, Billy Evangelista, Conor Heun, Tyron Woodley, Zoila Frausto, Kerry Vera and Miesha Tate on poorly produced and promoted Challengers shows where they’ll go unseen, let them lead off the main card of monthly arena shows headlined by promotional champions and established names like Silva, Rogers, Arlovski, Babalu, Sokodjou, Lawler, Smith, Le, Manhoef, Hieron, Riggs, Gurgel, and Noons?

Strikeforce doesn’t yet have the brand recognition necessary to garner interest for fights between relative unknowns. Twelve solid cards in major markets with a solid promotional push by Showtime and CBS will do more to grow Strikeforce than 20 that vary in quality. Having Justin Wilcox fight in a dark match in front of 14,000 people in Chicago is better than having him fight on Showtime in a half empty arena in Fresno. Plus, Challengers’ shoddy production value make the show seem more like the regional promotion it used to be than the worldwide brand it aspires to be. Fewer, larger events would provide more meaningful preliminary bouts, providing Showtime with compelling content even on nights when CBS is airing the main card and creating clarity to the promotions muddled title picture.

The most integral component in Strikeforce having a strong sophomore year on the national stage is their relationship with Japanese promotion DREAM. If Strikeforce fighter K.J. Noons competes in DREAM, there’s no sense in letting him go unseen. Of course DREAM has a broadcast deal with HDNet stateside, but there has to be some way for Strikeforce/Showtime to negotiate rights to fights featuring Strikeforce fighters. If Strikeforce owns the EliteXC video library they could be packaging old fights to promote upcoming cards. The UFC does this brilliantly with its Unleashed, Wired, and Countdown shows. Getting more eyeballs on DREAM fights would help when Strikeforce brings guys like Melvin Manhoef, Marius Zaromskis and Shinya Aoki to fight stateside; they’re all great fighters but they are also all complete unknowns to the casual fan.

In reality, Strikeforce’s co-promotional relationship isn’t co-promotional, it’s a fighter-sharing deal. While Melendez vs. Aoki is a cool fight for the hardcores, the casual viewer won’t care until he or she feels strongly about the competitors, and that kind of promotional push takes more time and energy than Strikforce, Showtime, and CBS have spent so far.

A year after stepping onto the national stage, Strikeforce is still finding its identity. Strikeforce has the resources (namely fighters and broadcast partners) to be a lasting force in the industry but its lack of promotion, brand-tarnishing Challengers shows, and failure to maximize its strategic partnership with DREAM are slowing the company’s ascent.

Danny Acosta will be a guest on Sherdog’s pre-Strikeforce: Nashville round table today at 10 a.m. PST.

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(“Jacare” creeps to the cage.)

Strikeforce will determine its new 185-pound champion live on Showtime Sat., Aug. 21 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Founder and CEO Scott Coker opened the pre-fight conference call by endorsing Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Tim Kennedy’s clash for gold after Jake Shields left the organization and vacated his championship to pursue greater fortunes in the UFC.

“It’s a privilege and an honor for both of these guys to compete for our vacant middleweight championship belt,” said Coker.

Souza is one of the world’s greatest ground fighters and his nickname, the Portugese word for alligator, is a reference to the way he snares his prey and drags them into deep water to finish the kill. The grappler expressed his belief either he or Kennedy would have been challenging Shields as the number one contender so they are worthy of stepping into the title fight.

“Both have a good card—both guys have been winning fights. It shows that will be a great fight,” he said through a translator. “Both guys deserve fighting for the belt. Its gonna be a war. I’m gonna be happy to see what comes out from the fight.”

Kennedy pointed out similar sentiments, adding “I don’t think it lessens the value of the Strikeforce title” and “I think maybe it puts a little more responsibility on us as we become champions to become very exceptional champions.”

A U.S. Army veteran, Kennedy (12-2), feels ready for his first ever title bout.

“The only thing that you can do when getting ready for a big fight like this is to prepare for every inevitable possibility and I think that’s what I’ve done,” he said, revealing he worked with Jon Jones, Brian Stann and Carlos Condit among others at Greg Jackson’s famed MMA school in Albuquerque. A consistent roster of world-class trainers and training partners is something new for the nine-year MMA veteran because his military career prevented a full-time training schedule.

“I’ve been a self-coached guy my entire career since I left The Pit and joined the Army for the past seven years,” he said. “Now, it is a strength to be able to have a guy to say ‘Tim, you look like crap when you do that.’ I’m like, ‘Oh man, I’m gonna do this better.’ Every aspect of my game has changed—for the better—since I started training full-time 10 months ago.

“Jacare” has made adjustments, too, leading up to the championship contest.

“I’ve been working a lot on my cardio so I have a better cardio. I’m trying to be more calm,” said the Brazilian. “I’ve been training a lot and hard and have a better strategy. I’m bringing a better fighter for this fight.”

“Jacare” notes increased movement standing and comfort trading as training camp improvements, but still emphasizes grappling. He’s elevated his cardio to the best point in his life to match Kennedy’s. The ADCC and Mundials Champion welcomes war en route to gold. But despite the marked grappling advantage over Kennedy, the Army sniper isn’t backing down against the gator’s jiu-jitsu lockjaw.

“This isn’t Abu-Dhabi or NAGA or worlds, this is MMA. We have four ounce gloves on,” said Kennedy. “Every position we’re gonna be in, I’m gonna be intent on trying to damage him.”

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Strikeforce returns to its home base of San Jose, Calif. this Saturday night with an event billed as the greatest male and female fighter on the same card for the first time ever. A rematch of a strikers dream match and a former champion bolster the event live from the HP Pavilion on Showtime. Here are FIGHT!’s picks for Saturday night’s bouts with odds courtesy of bodog. We are 65-35 with our picks in 2010.

Fedor Emelianenko (-525) vs Fabricio Werdum (+325)

Consensus no. 1 heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko meets the most decorated jiu-jitsu player in the division, Fabricio Werdum. The Brazilian is a two-time ADCC champion and holds an arm-triangle win over Fedor’s younger brother Aleksander. Despite his accomplishments, fighting “The Last Emperor,” who has never been stopped, submitted or dropped a decision in 34 contests, is the tallest task in the sport.

Werdum’s best bet is employing his world-class jiu-jitsu to secure and maintain top position. Emelianenko has lightweight hips, but “Vai Cavalo” won’t meet his demise by submission. In 15-minutes, wearing the Russian against unfamiliar territory—the cage, ala Gabriel Gonzaga-Mirko Crocop—can be enough to eek out a decision; however, the former PRIDE Heavyweight Champion has the speed and takedown defense to dispose of Werdum standing before the final bell.

FIGHT! Pick: Emelianenko

Cung Le (-270) vs Scott Smith (+210)

Scott Smith is Captain Comeback. Although he handed Cung Le his first loss in December, he still enters the rematch an underdog because the beating he took prior to emerging victorious. With Le’s movie obligations on the back burner and a full training camp under his belt, the flashy striker is likely to bounce the brawler off cage walls again before “Hands of Steel” can connect flush.

FIGHT! Pick: Le

Cris Santos (-1500) vs Jan Finney (+750)


(“Hi, we’re the Cyborgs, and we like to hurt people.”)

Aggression is a key component to victory and Jan Finney knows that. Unfortunately, Strikeforce’s 145-pound female titleholder “Cyborg” Santos has the wrestling to dictate where damage is dished out and nothing we’ve seen from her or Finney leads us to believe that the challenger can hang with the Brazilian’s muay Thay, either.

FIGHT! Pick: Santos

Josh Thomson (-450) vs Pat Healy (+300)

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Welterweight turned lightweight Pat Healy challenges former Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Josh Thomson for the first time since “The Punk” dropped the belt to Gilbert Melendez in December. “Bam Bam” last competed against Thomson’s training partner, Bryan Travers, earning a unanimous decision.

Thomson is the sharper, speedier striker and stronger finisher—all of which can shine thanks to reemphasis on wrestling against a fellow UFC veteran.

FIGHT! Pick: Thomson

RECAP
Fedor Emelianenko (-525) vs Fabricio Werdum (+325)
FIGHT! Pick: Emelianenko Resulting Outcome:  INCORRECT

Cung Le (-270) vs Scott Smith (+210)
FIGHT! Pick: Le Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

Cris Santos (-1500) vs Jan Finney (+750)
FIGHT! Pick: Santos Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

Josh Thomson (-450) vs Pat Healy (+300)
FIGHT! Pick: Thomson Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

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(Courtesy of NBC Sports)
(Courtesy of NBC Sports)

Sometimes losing matters less than the way you lose. Gilbert Melendez neglected his wrestling, the skill that helped him break into the sport, in losses to Mitsuhiro Ishida and Josh Thomson and it’s been weighing on his mind.

“I wish I could have had a whole two months to just, you know, eat, sleep, breath and dream about Ishida, but these things happen sometimes and I’m looking forward to fighting him,” Melendez told Fox Sports Radio’s Inside the Cage. Melendez will face Ishida for the Strikeforce interim lightweight title on Aug. 15 in San Jose, Calif.

Once a highly ranked lightweight, Melendez is 2-2 in his last four bouts thanks to Ishida and Thomson. Training to avenge his most recent loss, Melendez heard just a week and a half ago he would be battling the first man to defeat him, Ishida, and not Thomson, who pulled out due to a lingering leg injury.

“During that whole two and a half three weeks, there’s Ishida probably training his ass off training for me and I’m still thinking I’m fighting Josh, training for him,” said Melendez, unhappy Strikeforce and former training partner and friend Thomson didn’t let him know about the opponent switch.
“But nah, I didn’t get that call from [Thomson]. I wish maybe it could have been done. I don’t blame it all on him.

“There’s a lot of pressure on him for this fight, ‘Hey man, you gotta fight injured or not.’ Maybe he was thinking about doing it until the last second. I just, there shouldn’t be maybes in mixed martial arts. If you’re a maybe, then you’re out.”

Melendez reveals his frustration comes from being a strategic fighter. Going from a distant, orthodox fighter in Thomson to a short southpaw in Ishida is a major change. However, Melendez is ready, living in his San Francisco gym to prepare for the bout. He’s restructured his life and got back to his wrestling roots, scrapping with California State wrestling placers, local coach Alex Coriano and 2008 Olympian Matt Gentry.

“I hated going out there and not performing to the best of my abilities. It was almost embarrassing,” he said of his losses to Ishida and Thomson. I don’t care if I lose—I’m not scared to lose. But just being able to go out there and not be as prepared as I felt like could be or not as close to prepared as I could be, its a horrible feeling.”

If Melendez can trade in his interim title for Thomson’s 155-pound strap in the coming months, he’ll complete a revenge tour and the horrible feelings will belong to Ishida and Thomson.

Fox Sports’ Inside the Cage appears on Reno, Nevadas’s AM 1450 and is hosted by Greg Delong with co-host Danny Acosta. Gilbert Melendez appeared on August 12, 2009.

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