Punch Drunk Preview – Strikeforce: Houston
There is no rest for the wicked. Not this month and not this week, as only three days after the WEC delivered mid-week goodness in Las Vegas, Strikeforce is hitting the hometown of our lead staff writer here at Heavy MMA, Jeremy Botter, with a pair of titles at stake.
Though the top end of this event presents three quality contests and another chance to see exactly where former WWE star Bobby Lashley stacks up in the heavyweight division, the early part of the evening offers some suspect match-making.
While I would normally give each contest a moment in the sun, I can’t do it here. Two of the first four fights look like pro wrestling-style squash matches, as unbeaten Chad Robichaux (8-0-0) takes on Humberto Deleon (5-3-0), while 1-6 Kier Gooch is somehow deemed a reasonable test for 7-1 Adam Schindler.
Jose Santibanez (9-2-0) versus Reynaldo Trujillo (7-2-0) looks even enough on paper, and the opening bout of the night (Chad Cook vs. Arteneus Young) appears to be a step-up-in-competition contest for Young, who has earned three-straight wins after a split decision defeat in his debut.
The fight that really comes as a head-scratcher to me is the bout between Vinicius Magalhaes and Rocky Long.
At first I thought this was the Vinicius Magalhaes that Ryan Bader beat in the finals of TUF 8, but it’s not; it’s a 145-pounder with a 1-1 record that looks like an accountant in his photo on Sherdog. He’s facing veteran Rocky Long, a Conroe, Texas native who has lost 15 of his last 20 contests.
Thankfully, things get better as we move on in the evening.
Andre Galvao (4-1-0) vs. Jorge “Macaco” Patino (20-12-1)
A lot of people have been asking Strikeforce to give more opportunities and they get their wish with this one. Originally scheduled to face Nate Moore, the Brazilian jiu jitsu specialist will now face countryman Jorge Patino instead.
To call Galvao a decorated grappler would be an understatement; he’s won seven gold medals at Mundials, six at the Pan-Am Games, and has medalled in both his appearances at the ADCC Championships. Despite his accomplishments on the ground, he has yet to truly assert himself in MMA. After dropping a split decision to Jason High in the semifinals of the DREAM Welterweight Grand Prix last year, Galvao came out on the favorable side of the split against Luke Stewart in his Strikeforce debut, though many questioned the decision.
“Macaco” has faced some quality competition over his career, notably handing “Jacare” a loss in his professional debut. More recently, he’s gone 1-2 over his last three fights against Roan Carnerio (loss), Beau Baker (win) and Kyacey Uscola (loss).
He’s a tough out when you’ve been preparing for him for six weeks, which makes him even more challenging on short notice. A win here could be the springboard Galvao needs to bigger opportunities with Strikeforce, while a loss would be catastrophic for his career with the company.
Daniel Cormier (4-0-0) vs. Jason Riley (9-3-0)
The two-time Olympian who trains out of American Kickboxing Academy is keeping a crazy pace right now. Cormier defeated Lucas Browne on July 31 in Australia, tapped Tony Johnson Jr. to win the King of the Cage Heavyweight title in New Mexico on Friday, and now touches down in Texas to face Jason Riley.
Three fights in 19 days – Chris Leben’s got nothing on Daniel Cormier.
Riley is best known for getting beat up by Tim Sylvia back in September, the start of Sylvia’s current three-fight winning streak. He’s a reasonable challenge for Cormier, especially considering the former Olympian made his MMA debut a week after Riley lost to Sylvia, but make no mistake – this is a chance to showcase one of the few true prospects Strikeforce has on their roster and Cormier should come away with the win in this one.
Bobby Lashley (5-0-0) vs. Chad Griggs (8-1-0)
While Brock Lesnar was thrown to the wolves upon his arrival on the biggest stage in the MMA universe, fellow former WWE star Bobby Lashley has worked his way through the regional circuit to arrive on the Strikeforce roster.
I have no problem with the path he’s taken to get to this point in his career. To be honest – it’s probably the smart way to do things. But now that he’s on the second-biggest stage in the business, commanding media attention and asking for opportunities against Fedor, Alistair Overeem and the elite of the Strikeforce heavyweight division, how the hell does he end up facing Chad Griggs?
His first fight under the Strikeforce banner saw one opponent denied by the Florida State Athletic Commission, and journeyman Jimmy Ambritz announced and scrapped in the span of a day or two before landing on UFC cast off Wes Sims. Not surprisingly, Lashley dominated Sims to earn the victory.
If he wants the space on the poster and is calling out the upper echelon of the company’s heavyweight division, Lashley needs to stop fighting the Chad Griggs’ of the world and step up against someone who can really test him.
KJ Noons (9-2-0) vs. Jorge Gurgel (13-6-0)
This one has Fight of the Year possibilities.
Both Noons and Gurgel love nothing more than to stand in the center of the cage trading shots. They have both successfully done just that with Connor Huen and will most likely follow the same strategy this time around against each other.
Noons is a potential contender in the lightweight division, based on both his name value from his rivalry with Nick Diaz in the EliteXC days and his solid boxing. He has won five-straight and another win or two over solid competition like Gurgel could put him in the mix for a meeting with Gilbert Melendez.
Personally, I find Gurgel to be one of the most frustrating fighters in the game. He has an outstanding jiu jitsu but never uses it, preferring to stand-and-bang. While it wins him fans, it also got him bounced from the UFC following a Fight of the Night performance against Aaron Riley. If he ever thought of combining the two traits together – mixing his solid striking with his smooth jiu jitsu –he just might be a contender.
Instead, he’s content being a fan favorite with a 50/50 record.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (12-2-1) vs. Tim Kennedy (12-2-0)
This one is for the vacant Strikeforce middleweight title, and I’m glad they have gone this route instead of putting together a title tournament. These are the two fighters most deserving of a title opportunity at this point, and it should be a great fight.
“Jacare” is one of the most talented grapplers in the game, and a guy who has improved his stand-up considerably over the last few years. He dominated veteran Matt Lindland in his company debut, forcing him to tap to an arm triangle in the first round before earning a unanimous decision win over Joey Villasenor back in May.
Tim Kennedy just might be the best fighter you’ve never heard of and that could certainly change following this fight. A member of the United States Army, Kennedy has won the Army Combatives tournament three times, and put together a trio of impressive submission finishes over Nick Thompson, Zak Cummings and Trevor Prangley since signing with Strikeforce.
Muhammed Lawal (7-0-0) vs. Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante (9-2-0)
The spectacle that is “King Mo” Lawal makes its way to Houston, as the Strikeforce light heavyweight champion puts his belt on the line for the first time against Black House member Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante.
People better get used to seeing Mo Lawal because the charismatic champion is going to be a force in this sport for quite some time. He’s a world-class wrestler who has earned championship gold in just seven fights, winning the belt from the highly-regarded Gegard Mousasi back in April. While his wrestling base may be the antithesis of exciting for some, until someone can stop his double leg and put a loss on his record, we’re going to continue seeing Lawal dumping opponents on their back.
“Feijao” earned this opportunity by knocking out Antwain Britt back in May. The fact that Renato “Babalu” Sobral refused to face his friend for the belt also played a part in getting him into this position. He has solid striking and the power to put opponents to sleep, but the problem is that he might not get to use it.
Britt was able to take him down – though not keep him there for very long – when they met in St. Louis, and Lawal’s wrestling is on a whole different level than that of “The Juggernaut.” Unless he’s shored up his takedown defense in the last three months, “Feijao” is in for a long night.