Opening the main card on Saturday night at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva, Ring of Combat heavyweight champion Gian Villante (7-1, 0-0 SF) will make his promotional debut as he battles IFL veteran Chad Griggs (9-1, 1-0 SF) in one of three Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix reserve bouts. Griggs, as you may recall, is the man that Strikeforce brought in to face Bobby Lashley in August of last year as a sacrificial lamb to progress Lashley's burgeoning mixed martial arts career. Despite being a heavy underdog, the 32-year-old shocked many fans by surviving an opening round onslaught by Lashley and battering the professional wrestling star turned mixed martial artist in the second round. Lashley quit on the stool in-between rounds, and he has yet to return to the cage since the defeat.
Villante was recently featured on the 2011 World MMA Light Heavyweight Scouting Report as the #2 ranked prospect in the world at 205 pounds. Strangely, Villante was signed by Strikeforce to fill one of the six spots in the three heavyweight grand prix reserve bouts. While Villante is a bit small to fight effectively against the larger opponents that loom in the heavyweight division, most writers, including myself, believe this will only act as a stepping stone for Villante to showcase himself as a potential standout at 205 pounds once the grand prix ends.
A standout high school wrestler and linebacker at General Douglas Macarthur High School in Wantagh, New York, Villante moved on to the collegiate-level at Hofstra and gained national attention as a potential NFL-caliber linebacker. While the NFL never panned out for Villante, his athleticism and speed did transition over to the sport of mixed martial arts. At 6'2", 225 pounds, he won't be the largest man inside the cage on Saturday night, but he will be one of the quickest and most athletic of the ten heavyweights on the card. Powerful wrestling, proven knockout power, and tremendous speed make Villante an exceptional addition to the Strikeforce roster.
While Villante may not have the tools to compete with veteran fighters like Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, and Josh Barnett, this will be an opportunity for Villante to showcase exactly what he can offer as a light heavyweight fighter. A sneak peak, if you will. Griggs is unlikely to rise from the pack and make a run at the heavyweight title, and he provides the perfect match-up for Villante to prove he's a credible danger to the 205 pound weight class.
If Griggs is still high off the fumes of defeating an overly-hyped wrestler like Bobby Lashley, he's going to be brought back down to Earth quickly. Villante will come out hard and strong in the opening moments of this fight, throwing massive one-two combinations that will ultimately lead to dominant top control. He'll be much stronger than Griggs, and it will benefit him greatly to control Griggs from top control to avoid any "unpredictable" blows from clipping his chin. Villante blasts away, gains top control, and punches out Griggs inside the opening frame on Saturday night.