Tonight's Strikeforce Challengers 15 card will air on Showtime at 11 p.m. ET from the Stockton Arena in Stockton, CA. Originally slated to feature the American debut of 2008 Olympic Judo gold medalist Satoshi Ishii, Ishii had to pull out due to visa issues, a divorce, or the lingering aftermath of the tragic tsunami in Japan (or a combination of all three, reports vary, take your pick)
Regardless it remains a night of MMA action featuring the cream of Strikeforce's prospect crop. Here's a quick preview of each main card fight.
Lightweights: Justin Wilcox (10-3) vs. Rodrigo Damm (9-4)
Wilcox is coming in off a big win over Vitor Ribeiro last November to bring him to five straight wins since losing to Mitsuhiro Ishida back in 2008 (a fight immortalized in the first ever Judo Chop). Among the scalps Wilcox has taken are current The Ultimate Fighter contestant Shamar Bailey and David Douglas. He brings a dominating wrestling-based style that seems perfectly suited to getting a decision over Damm.
Damm's lost 3 of his last 4 but against pretty steep competition including Sengoku champ Maximo Blanco and Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez. The Brazilian is primarily a submission artist. At age 31 he's pretty much facing his last chance to be a factor in the division tonight against Wilcox.
Lightweights: David Douglas (6-2) vs. Caros Fodor (7-2)
This is a big step for the hard-hitting Douglas. He got submitted by Justin Wilcox back in 2009 and has since won two straight. The Cesar Gracie trained fighter is a brawler with a solid base of skills, but make no mistake Douglas likes to scrap and put the hurt on people. If he wins big, expect Strikeforce to put him on the top of a future Challengers card.
But the Matt Hume trained Caros Fodor is no stepping stone. Like all Hume products, he brings an extremely well-rounded game to the cage along with a two fight win streak of his own. I expect this one to break down as a classic brawler vs grappler match as Fodor tries to evade Douglas' hard punches and apply his submission skills on the ground.
Light Heavyweight: Lorenz Larkin (8-0) vs Scott Lighty (6-1)
Former K-1 kickboxer Scott Lighty was supposed to be facing Judoka Ishii but instead will be getting another striker in Lorenz Larkin. Lighty trains under Chuck Liddell trainer John Hackleman at "the Pit". He should bring an advantage in technical polish as well as conditioning over the short-noticed Larkin. But Larkin has dynamite in his hands so he'll be looking for the quick KO.
Catchweight: James Terry (9-2) vs Josh Thornburg (6-2)
Terry was scheduled to face Conor Heun but Thornburg, a Cesar Gracie fighter, stepped up when Heun dropped out. Thornburg didn't have time to make weight so they'll be fighting at 160lbs. Terry, who trains under Cung Le, has amassed a 4-1 Strikeforce record and will look to capitalize on Thornburg's porous striking defense. Thornburg, who just took about 400 blows in a loss to Roger Bowling at Strikeforce: Henderson vs Feijao in March will be looking to get the fight to the ground and keep it there.
Welterweight: Damian Douglas (3-1) vs Wayne Phillips (5-3)
Damian, win brother of David, will be returning to the cage after a nearly three year layoff. He brings a more cerebral style to his fights and likes to show off the jiu jitsu he learns training under Cesar Gracie. Phillips is riding a two-fight Strikeforce win streak and this could be a fun grappling match as he also favors the submission game.