The weekend is finally upon us, and MMA fans everywhere won't want to miss some of the action taking place in a weekend full of great fights to feed your fix. The Bellator Fighting Championships will promote their final event of the season on Friday night from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. The event will air on tape delay on Saturday night on ESPN Deportes. The UFC will finish the weekend off with a bang as the Ultimate Fighter Season 9 Finale will take place on Saturday night at 9 PM EST, airing on SpikeTV. The major event taking place on Friday night, however, will be Strikeforce's Challengers series, which will air on Showtime at 11 PM EST.
The card is looking very solid for a "minor league" event that has intentions of feeding Strikeforce's main promotion. In the past when EliteXC aired the ShoXC events, headlining battles usually paired a couple of fighters up with name recognition, and the Challengers' fight card is no exception. The main event will feature EliteXC veteran and Greg Jackson-trained Joey Villasenor (26-6) against PRIDE and Sengoku veteran Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos (16-12). Let's take a look at this battle and the rest of the Strikeforce Challengers card.
Main Event (Middleweight): Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos (16-12) vs. "Smokin" Joey Villasenor (26-6)
This is an intriguing match if Cyborg doesn't get stunned in the opening minutes. Joey Villasenor is the obvious favorite for the mere fact that "Cyborg" Santos hasn't really improved his skill set over the past few years. He remains a dangerous fighter due to his aggressiveness and his Chute Box training, but better fighters have been able to catch him and pound him out relatively early in the fight.
Villasenor should have the takedown defense and patience in the stand-up game to catch Santos as he becomes aggressive. Santos has potential to catch Villasenor with an aggressive attack, but there are huge drawbacks to that gameplan as we've seen in past Santos fights. Barring a Santos' ankle lock or leg lock submission, Villasenor should have the skills in the striking department to defeat "Cyborg" Santos.
Main Card (Middleweight): Tim Kennedy (9-2) vs. Nick "The Goat" Thompson (38-10-1)
Another solid middleweight matchup by Strikeforce in BodogFIGHT and Sengoku veteran Nick Thompson taking on US Army Staff Sergeant and IFL veteran Tim Kennedy. Looking at their records, it's quite obvious that Thompson holds a huge advantage in experience. He's fought in almost 50 professional fights whereas Kennedy is pushing past 10 fights currently. Kennedy is also coming off a year and a half layoff due to his service in Iraq with the US Army. Ring rust and taking on such a game veteran in Thompson will be no easy task.
I'd give the nod to Nick Thompson in this match. Thompson has some slick ground tactics, good reach, fairly technical stand-up, and a load of experience. He will probably have some reach on Kennedy, and he possesses some fundamentally sound stand-up skills that could catch Kennedy. His jab was a huge key to defeating Paul Daley, and I think he can effectively work it against Kennedy for most of the fight. On the ground, I think Thompson is better grappling-wise, but Kennedy could pummel him from top control and edge him out in a decision win. I'll rely on Thompson's jab and experience to ride out a win over Kennedy via decision.
Main Card (Catchweight 160lbs.): Conor Huen (8-2) vs. Jorge Gurgel (12-5)
In this catchweight match, former UFC fighter Jorge Gurgel will look to stop up-and-comer Conor Huen in what could be considered a lightweight showdown with an added 3-4 pounds. Gurgel has stated in recent interviews that he is refocused and looking to use his strengths from now on, which probably puts a signal out to all fighters that he'll be focusing on the ground game as opposed to trying to slug out exciting wins. Gurgel is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under former PRIDE veteran Marcus Aurelio, so he should be a formidable test for Huen on the ground.
Huen hasn't fought since last October, but he defeated a rising EliteXC star in James Edson Berto in that matchup. He's a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt under Eddie Bravo at Legends Gym, so he'll have some ability on the floor with Gurgel. Gurgel will probably have the edge in that arena even if Huen has attained brown belt skills.
Huen will probably want to turn this into a classic slugfest with Gurgel. Can Gurgel stay focused and keep trying to hit the floor? I highly doubt it. This is a tough fight to pick, but I'll go with Huen due to his strength and ability to stay away from the submission.
Main Card (Women's): Shayna Baszler (9-5) vs. Sarah Kaufman (9-0)
Cyborg vs. Carano will be the ultimate women's matchup for Strikeforce, but this matchup taking place on Friday night should also be a battle that gets some interest. Heavy-handed Sarah Kaufman's perfect record is on the line against Josh Barnett-trained submission fighter Shayna Baszler.
The key to this matchup comes in the mold of the classic grappler vs. striker showdown. Kaufman will have to show tremendous takedown defense while Baszler will have to slyly move for the takedown. After seeing Kaufman bomb Meisha Tate on the first ShoMMA card, I'm interested to see if she can be that technical against Baszler. She will have a tremendous striking advantage. I'll take Kaufman via TKO, but Baszler is surely an underdog value bet.
Main Card (Middleweight): Luke Rockhold (4-1) vs. Cory Devela (9-2)
Most fans don't know who Cory Devela is, but many hardcore fans might not actually recognize his name either. If I mention Strikeforce: At the Dome, most fans cringe as it was one of the worst events of last year, but Devela's slam of Joe Riggs that led to a back injury is probably one of the more memorable moments from the event.
He'll provide a formidable test for Strikeforce's young, up-and-comer in AKA member Luke Rockhold. Luke has been considered by many to be one of the promotion's brightest prospects. He has great jiu-jitsu and wrestling skills on the ground with a solid stand-up game to back it up. He's still currently developing those skills while trying to take on better competition as he increases his experience in MMA. Devela is surely a step up in competition, and it'll be interesting to see how far along Rockhold has come. He's definitely received a lot of hype out of AKA, and the last time we heard this much hype, we were talking about a guy by the name of Cain Velasquez. I'll take Rockhold here.
Justin Davis (10-7) vs. Dennis Hallman (40-12-2): I'm a bit amused here. Davis has lost 4 of 7 via submission, but won 5 of 10 via submission. He'll probably have to stay away from the floor here, but Hallman will likely haul him to the floor and submit Davis. Matt Hughes-kryptonite Dennis Hallman via submission.
Alex Zuniga (2-1) vs. Brian Caraway (10-3): Brian Caraway should be able to dominate Zuniga on the floor in this matchup. I know Zuniga's record isn't correct at 2-1, and I've read a few accounts of fights in which he was easily mounted. Caraway should be able to take full advantage. Brian Caraway via submission.
Duane "Bang" Ludwig (18-8) vs. Lyle "Fancy Pants" Beerbohm (9-0): I suppose I'm a bit biased here because Beerbohm's fancy pants make me laugh. The standout factor in this fight is strength of competition. Ludwig has fought much better opponents, but Beerbohm has dominated his opponents. It should be a great fight, but I'll take "Fancy Pants" for the hell of it. Ludwig is a great value bet though. "Fancy Pants" Beerbohm via decision because I feel like it.
George Stork (3-1) vs. Landon Showalter (7-12-1) : Interesting fight. Showalter has lost to a lot of guys that most fans would recognize. His strength of record is probably pretty high when you look at his sub .500 record, so he's much more skilled than you'd be led to believe. Stork is fairly new to MMA, but he actually fought TUF's Damarques Johnson back in July of 2008, losing via TKO in the first round. Pure pick'em in my opinion. I'll take Showalter as he hasn't been off for two years like Stork. Landon Showalter via decision.
Len Bentley (4-3) vs. Marques Daniels (2-2): Hmm... I'll take Len Bentley here because he trains out of Victory Athletics with most of the guys on this card. Brad Blackburn, Cory Devela, Dennis Hallman, and Brian Caraway all train there. Bentley should have the submission ability to defeat Daniels. Len Bentley via submission.
Strikeforce Challengers should be a solid card top to bottom. I'm a bit surprised that Strikeforce was able to put together some compelling matchups on this card, and it will surely fill my fix for MMA action. Check it out tonight at 11 PM EST on Showtime.
Check out more of our Strikeforce Challengers: Santos vs Villasenor coverage