After a highly entertaining Thursday night that featured Eddie Alvarez's absolute destruction of former UFC fighter Roger Huerta at Bellator 33, fans were treated to another solid roster of entertaining battles last night at Strikeforce Challengers XI, which aired live on Showtime from Fresno, California. The event featured a rematch between touted prospects Bobby Voelker and Roger Bowling, the mixed martial arts debut of Muay Thai striker Julia Budd, and an action-packed war between Billy Evangelista and Waachim Spiritwolf. While these smaller events certainly don't spark the interest from the much larger casual fanbase, they can truly fill a void if you're seeking some explosive action.
Last night's action provided that filler, and while the names on the card didn't strike a chord with even the hardest of the hardcore fans in most cases -- some of the talents that were on display last night could find their way into Strikeforce's top cards.
Main Event: Bobby Voelker vs. Roger Bowling: This rematch of their Strikeforce Challengers VIII battle back in May ran parallel with the previous fight. Bowling came out quick and hard as usual, throwing mean right and left hooks from the start and mixing body kicks into his offense. Bowling's transition to the takedown definitely needs some work as it looked like he was changing levels rather prematurely, and Voelker was picking up on it and stuffing Bowling with ease. That ended up being a game changer in the second round as Bowling couldn't find a home for his hands and Voelker began to tag him. One stiff punch and a guard pull by Bowling put Voelker into prime position, finishing off Bowling in the second.
Voelker has never been on the right end of a fight when it comes to battling prospective UFC talents. Losses to Jacob Volkmann, Kevin Burns, and Roger Bowling have solidified his stance as an outside looking in candidate to the bigger money and fights, but this win may give him the opportunity with Strikeforce.
For Bowling, this is a slight obstacle in his progression to become a solid fighter in a bigger organization. He has the quick hands and power to be formidable in the future, but his wrestling and transition skills need some work if he intends it to be a ground and pound type of fighter.
Heavyweight: Lavar Johnson vs. Virgil Zwicker: Zwicker's obvious weight disadvantage coupled with Johnson's reach and power advantage were the root of his demise in this fight. While he threw speedy combinations and landed a few solid shots, Johnson's lead jab set up his power quite well. Solid performance from Johnson, but I fear the challenge was a bit sub-par for Johnson.
Johnson is looking up as he tries to make his mark in the Strikeforce heavyweight division, but I'm not completely convinced he can challenge the chins of guys like Brett Rogers or Andrei Arlovski. Well, maybe Arlovski. While he's certainly a challenge to opponents with his range and power, he's a bit sloppy in his technique. I think the more explosive and powerful strikers above him may take advantage of his pawing and unleash an overhand he didn't see coming. If he can tighten up his defense a bit and work on a more offensive clinch game, he has some potential.
Catchweight: Billy Evangelista vs. Waachim Spiritwolf: Great fight, full of action, and Waachim's toughness and unpredictability truly made this a battle until the end. Billy's technical prowess in the stand-up game overcame Waachim's possum play and powerful overhands, but Waachim's ability to continually wing punches quickly kept Evangelista at a distance for most of the fight. Unfortunately, Waachim's output was hindered by his one punch fighting and limited ground skills from top control.
I'd definitely be interested in seeing Evangelista taking on KJ Noons down the line. While I don't think his skill-set is ideal in a bout with Noons, it seems like the best test at this point for Evangelista. Noons has the boxing to completely dominate Evangelista on the feet however, and that could spell disaster for his aspirations to make a run in the lightweight division. It's tough to see Billy challenging the top fighters as well, but Noons is the first step. Can he improve enough to give him a run? Maybe, but I'm not holding out hope.
Women's: Julia Budd vs. Shana Olsen: Women's MMA is still in its infancy, and outcomes like this aren't uncommon. A neophyte mixed martial artist coming in and dominating a woman who has made a name for herself in the division isn't exactly surprising, but Budd's background in Muay Thai along with her physical attributes didn't make it a surprise either once they stepped into the cage. Budd's power, huge size, and skills on the feet made this an almost impossible obstacle for Olsen, and Budd's ground skills were enough to punish Olsen in that manner as well. Solid debut performance, but I hope Strikeforce doesn't have any immediate ideas of throwing her into the mix with Cyborg.
Sure, casual fans likely didn't watch this event or eat up the action as I did, but these smaller cards always have a certain spark about them. Perhaps it's the hungry determination of these fighters to progress to the bigger paydays and better exposure, or maybe the lower level of skills create an environment for impressive action. I would believe the latter as the pressure and the skills of the top fighters can make for very boring action at times. In any case, Strikeforce provided us with some great action on an otherwise barren Friday night, and for that -- kudos.