It was the first Strikeforce event of 2011, it was arguably the best Challengers Series card ever, and it was free on Showtime. Maybe it didn’t quite deliver as much action as fans hoped, mainly thanks to a lackluster main event, but it was still a good night of fights and a nice way for Strikeforce to kick off the year leading into their bigger events in the coming months. One of the few disappointing things of this event was the lack of Kelli Hutcherson, who no doubt would have attracted at least one person to purchase Showtime for the opportunity to see her on a monthly basis.
Tyron Woodley defeated Tarec Saffiedine by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
In a battle of top welterweight prospects, many thought the winner between Tyron Woodley and Tarec Saffiedine would shed the “prospect” label. Not so fast my friends. Even though one man won, he didn’t turn in the performance that many had hoped.
This wasn’t the most exciting fight in the world but it was interesting to watch it play out. Woodley imposed his game plan on Saffiedine by going for takedowns and keeping the fight in the clinch when he couldn’t get Saffiedine on his back. He never really did much damage with the clinch position outside of some short punches and knees to the body but he definitely controlled the action. When Woodley was able to get Saffiedine on his back, again, he didn’t do much damage but he stuffed a couple of submission attempts and grinding out Saffiedine on the ground. In the third round, Woodley seemed to tire a bit, which allowed Saffiedine to take control of things but the fight was still primarily fought in the clinch. Even when Saffiedine broke away to strike, he would land a punch but then initiate a clinch of his own. Neither man had his opponent in any real danger during the fight and it never felt like either fighter was close to finishing the other but in the end, Woodley controlled two of the three rounds and that was enough to earn him the decision victory.
Even though he lost, I was once again impressed with Saffiedine in this fight. He stuffed a lot of Woodley’s takedowns and when he was on his back, he wasn’t afraid to attack. Saffiedine’s problem was that he was too willing to fight in the clinch and Woodley’s clinch control had improved since the Nathan Coy fight. He’s only 24 and for a guy with a kickboxing background, his wrestling is very good and will only get better considering that he trains at Team Quest. Look for him to have a good 2011 where he fights solid but not quite spectacular competition and then have his breakout year in 2012.
Woodley might not have looked as exciting as fans had hoped but I like what he did in this fight. As mentioned already, his clinch control has improved over the months and he never let Saffiedine rest or find his rhythm on the feet. He was getting off first with his strikes and constantly going to takedowns, where, even if they failed, he still forced a clinch situation. It wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing fight but it was the kind of grinding fight that Woodley needed it to be. I know Paul Daley mentioned Woodley as a possible opponent and while some might see that as too big of a jump in competition for Woodley, it’s a very good match up for him.
Predicted Next Fights: Saffiedine vs. Marius Zaromskis – Woodley vs. Daley
Ovince St. Preux defeated Abongo Humphrey by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Taking his third fight in as many months, Ovince St. Preux added to his impressive list of victories with an exciting victory over the very tough Abongo Humphrey.
Humphrey wanted to stand and bang with St. Preux but that didn’t work out so well for him early as St. Preux stunned him with the first punch thrown and then landed a takedown. When Humphrey got his chance on top, he went for an ill-advised leg lock and ended up on his back for the rest of the round. St. Preux really started to open up on the ground at the end of the first, landing some very good ground and pound and almost finishing with an arm triangle. The second and third round saw Humphrey trying to slug it out and landing his fair share of good right hands but St. Preux hang in there, returned fire, and when he felt like he was getting hit too much, he got a takedown. St. Preux didn’t do too much on the ground in rounds two and three but he controlled Humphrey and roughed him up a bit on his way to a decision victory.
Humphrey is as tough as they come and his style makes for exciting fights but he just can’t seem to get that signature win. I’d put his chin up against anyone’s in the world though and take my chances because he can definitely take a punch. His biggest problem is clearly his takedown defense because St. Preux was badly gassed in the third round and taking big punches yet he was able to land a relatively weak takedown. Humphrey isn’t someone who is going to challenge for the title anytime soon but match him up against another fighter willing to stand and trade and expect fireworks.
Right now, St. Preux is essentially getting by on his pure athleticism. There is no doubt that he has talent but he’s able to get away with a lot of things simply because he’s stronger and quicker than his opponents. His build reminds me a lot of Jon Jones and while he’s not as polished or spectacular as Jones, he seems to have just as much talent. He obviously needs to improve his cardio but other than that, right now, he just needs to take time off to train and get better. Taking three fights in three months is a great way to raise your profile but when you’re training to fight, you’re not really training to improve. The light heavyweight division in Strikeforce isn’t very deep so it’s possible that St. Preux could find himself in title contention with another win or two.
Predicted Next Fight: Humphrey vs. Sokoudjou – St. Pruex vs. Renato Sobral
Daniel Cormier defeated Devin Cole by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Daniel Cormier faced his toughest test to date in Devin Cole and while he didn’t steamroll him like many expected, he still turned in a solid performance over the tough veteran.
Cormier showed off his improved striking in this fight by throwing some nasty leg kicks early and landing some very good over hand rights that might have dropped a lesser man. Even though he was doing extremely well on the feet, Cormier elected to take the fight to the ground multiple times and although Cole fought him off, Cormier eventually put Cole on his back. Cormier wasn’t as explosive with his ground and pound as he’s been in previous fights but he still roughed up Cole on the ground with punches to the head and body. At one point I thought Cormier was going to finish Cole with an underhook on one arm and using his free arm to punch Cole while he was trying to stand up ala Cain Velasquez finishing Ben Rothwell but Cole did a nice job surviving on the ground and working up to his feet multiple times. Even though he didn’t finish Cole, it was a dominating victory for Cormier and a good test to see where he is in MMA.
Cole is a solid veteran and proved to be very tough in this fight by being the first person to take Cormier to decision. He didn’t really do anything wrong in this fight, he was just beat by a guy who was superior in every aspect of the game. I doubt he challenges for the title at any point in his career, especially considering the talent depth at heavyweight, but he could be a good gatekeeper for the company and test up and coming heavyweights to see if they’re ready for the big shows.
This was a telling fight for Cormier. He was obviously the better fighter but the fact that he couldn’t put Cole away despite having numerous chances had to be disappointing and judging by the look on his face after the fight, he was disappointed. Cormier may have been able to finish Cole had he spent more time striking because he was dominating in that department but instead elected to get the fight to the ground more often than not. If I’m Cormier, I spend a lot of time working on my submission offense because he had the opportunity to lock in a guillotine choke a number of times in the fight but never went for it. I still think Cormier has the talent and drive to be a beast in this sport but he has a ways to go before he gets there. Right now he’s penciled in as a Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix alternate so unless someone drops out, I assume he’ll just fight the winner of the other alternate fight between Valentijn Overeem and Ray Sefo.
Predicted Next Fights: Cole vs. Bobby Lashley – Cormier vs. Overeem/Sefo winner
Amanda Nunes defeated Julia Budd by KO (Punches) at 0:14 in Round One
Julia Budd came into this fight with a lot of hype behind her but none of that mattered to Amanda Nunes who is now the one being hyped as the next contender to the Strikeforce Women’s 145 lb Title.
There wasn’t too much to this fight. Nunes came out quickly, got into a brawl with Budd, dropped her with a right hand, and then pounded her out on the ground with hammerfists. It was an old school beatdown that reminded a lot of fans of the performances of Wanderlei Silva and it was a star making performance for Nunes.
This had to be disappointing for Budd. There was a lot of hype behind her coming into this fight and she was quickly knocked out. I don’t think the hype went to her head or that this proves that she’s a bad fighter, she just tried to slug it out and ended up being the one who fell. It was a bad idea to try and stand in the pocket and bang with Nunes but hopefully she learns from this and comes back with a strong performance.
I knew Nunes wasn’t afraid to stand in there and trade and I figured she would try to do so early but what really impressed me was her power. Now lets not put too much stock into a quick knockout because anyone can get knocked out within the first 30 seconds of a fight. Given the lack of depth in the Strikeforce 145 lb women’s division, there is already talk of Nunes facing Cristiane Santos but I hope she takes one more fight before doing so. Not only would it help build her name a bit but she looks small for the weight class and going in there to try and slug it out against Santos is a recipe for disaster.
Predicted Next Fights: Budd vs. Willow Bailey – Nunes vs. Shayne Baszler
Rhadi Ferguson defeated John Richard by Submission (Kneebar) at 2:00 in Round Two
Taking the fight on a weeks notice, John Richard tried making the most of his opportunity but Rhadi Ferguson proved to be a little too much for him.
Richard started off quickly in this fight. He threw a wild right hand to get inside, managed a trip takedown, and even got the back of Ferguson for a short period of time. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t put Ferguson away and then he began to gas out. When that happened, Ferguson managed to get on top and pound away on Richard as he tried his best to survive, including spitting out his mouthpiece multiple times in order to gain a short rest. In the second round, Richard hit Ferguson with a kick that, according to Ferguson, was a groin shot but according to the ref, was perfectly legal. Ferguson ended up going down but he quickly regained his composure and locked on a kneebar for the victory. It might now have been as impressive as some hoped but it was good enough to Ferguson to do a dance to.
I hope Richard gets another chance in Strikeforce because he did take this fight on a weeks notices, he usually fights at heavyweight, and he didn’t do terrible for himself but he just wasn’t in shape to make it a competitive fight past a minute or two. So hopefully Strikeforce brings him back and gives him a fair shot at the weight he feels most comfortable at.
For all the hype surrounding Ferguson, I wasn’t impressed. He was taken down by a lower-level grappler and was being controlled until Richard gassed. His striking didn’t appear to be anything special either. I do like that he was attacking for submissions on the ground but other than that, he left a lot to be desired. Now he says he had multiple injuries coming into the fight, which I’m sure are true, but I don’t want to hear about them, especially when your opponent wasn’t 100% either. I doubt Strikeforce has any legitimate plans for Ferguson and that they’re just going to use him a lot like they’re using Herschel Walker, which I’m fine with.
Predicted Next Fights: Richard vs. Wes Shivers – Ferguson vs. Ion Cherdivara