Fans will need to make a choice on Friday night. Do I want to see a behemoth Polish Strongman try to defeat a former UFC champion, or would I rather watch a number of Northwest region prospects and a legend of the sport in Matt Lindland fight? For some, it probably isn't a tough choice, but I have a thirst for seeing up-and-coming prospects perform. That's exactly what fans will get on Showtime as Strikeforce Challengers VIII takes place on Friday evening from the Rose Garden Arena in Portland, Oregon. It will air LIVE at 11:00 PM EST.
Main Event, Middleweight: Matt Lindland (21-7, 0-1 SF) vs. Kevin Casey (3-1, 1-0 SF): Matt Lindland claims he's not done in the sport, but he'll need to make a case that he can still come out victorious despite being 40 years of age on Friday night. The 2000 Sydney Olympic silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling will try to avoid a third straight loss as he battles Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt and Spencer Pratt entourage member Kevin Casey. Lindland lost to both Vitor Belfort and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza in 2009 while Casey has won three straight with his most recent victory coming against Chad Vance at Strikeforce Challengers V.
Let's be honest. Does Kevin Casey have an opportunity to win in this fight? Lindland is obviously a guy who has a plethora of experience and significant wrestling ability in his arsenal, but he's reached a point in his career where age is a huge concern. Casey has a Brazilian jiu-jitsu background, but he's far from a beastly opponent like Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza. In fact, he's far from being a well-rounded prospect that can threaten even mid-level competition.
I think, skill-wise, Lindland should be able to fend off Casey's ground game pretty easily and smother him in a dominant top control for most of the fight. Most casual fans just want to see Pratt "roid rage" when Casey loses anyways, so it's really a win-win for everyone. In any case, I'm not sold on Casey as a legit prospect, and I really think Lindland, at the very least, gets a win and increases his confidence as he eyes some more relevant fights. Will he ever reach the top again? Probably not.
Welterweight: Tyron Woodley (5-0, 3-0 SF) vs. Nathan Coy (8-2, 0-0 SF): 2003 NCAA Division I All-American and Big 12 champion wrestler Tyron Woodley will make his fourth appearance under the Strikeforce banner as he battles an intriguing opponent in Team Quest member and Oregon State All-American wrestler Nathan Coy. Coy holds victories over Rick Story, Mike Pierce, and Jesse Taylor, but his aspirations for the UFC were derailed in losses to Brian Foster and Paul Bradley. He's also managed to defeat his last three opponents in first round finishes.
Woodley continues to progress up the ladder against fairly mediocre competition, but this should be a solid step-up. In fact, I think it is actually the perfect fight for Woodley to showcase his improving skills, if he is actually improving past what he's already shown fans in the cage. Coy's wins over very tough wrestlers like Story and Pierce should give you an idea of the skills he presents in this fight. Solid wrestling, decent punching ability, and a fairly well-rounded skill-set that really only lacks quality.
Woodley is rather one-dimensional in that he's a wrestler first and foremost with some rudimentary striking skills. Coy should have the edge in that regard, and the fact that his base is in wrestling should help him stifle some of Woodley's attempts at shooting for takedowns. Where this fight gets a bit more interesting is in questioning whether Coy can stuff those takedowns as Woodley is the better wrestler on paper. Keep an eye on this fight on Friday.
Welterweight: Roger Bowling (7-0, 0-0 SF) vs. Bobby Voelker (21-7, 1-0 SF): Bowling has been a prospect on the radar for quite some time who's fought a majority of his battles in MMA Big Show, a Midwest regional promotion. Nearly all of his wins have come from first round finishes with the exception of his most recent coming at 0:14 mark of the second round against Jerrod Appenzeller. He holds some notable wins over Shamar Bailey and Seth Baczynski.
Voelker has been a solid regional veteran for most of his career, amassing 21 wins against low to mid-level competition. He's ran into some roadblocks that have hurt his chances at bigger shows as he lost to former UFC fighter Kevin Burns, current UFC fighter Jacob Volkmann, and dropped an unanimous decision to journeyman Brendan Seguin in a more recent battle.
Bowling should be an attractive prospect for Strikeforce. He has solid power, good skills, and the physique that Americans typically correlate to great athletes. I don't expect Voelker to give Bowling too many problems other than possibly lasting longer than many of his last opponents, but Bowling's knockout power should prove to be too much for Voelker.
Welterweight: Tarec Saffiedine (8-2, 1-0 SF) vs. Nate Moore (6-1, 1-0 SF): Team Quest member Tarec Saffiedine will look to continue his road to relevance as he battles American Kickboxing Academy's Nate Moore. Interestingly enough, Moore has come from the same mold as Jon Fitch in that he's a former Purdue wrestling captain turned MMA fighter. He's also been training heavily with Fitch, even so far as heading to Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand to improve his stand-up. He's shown some heavy hands in past fights, and in reality - he was a better wrestler collegiately than Fitch.
This is a pretty interesting battle. Saffiedine has been on the radar since his battles in DREAM. While not the best finisher, he has been able to neutralize a lot of his opponents with his wrestling. He also seems to be improving his stand-up to an extent, but Moore seems to be more of a finisher and has the top notch welterweight wrestlers behind him in training to defeat a tough wrestler like Saffiedine. I think this could be a fight with upset potential written all over it.
Lightweight: Bryan Travers (13-1) vs. Pat Healy (22-15): Former NCCA D-1 National Qualifying wrestler Bryan Travers brings a lot of hype to the table as he makes his debut with a major promotion on Friday night against the well-traveled MFC and IFL veteran Pat Healy. I won't delve deep into this fight as I think Travers is an absolute load at lightweight, but Healy can be crafty in causing some problems. Travers should be able to eek out a decision in this battle though.
Roger Bowling vs. Chris Runge
Roger Bowling vs. Brian Keller
Nathan Coy vs. Jerrod Jones
Bryan Travers vs. Tom Belt