Last night's Strikeforce Challengers 15 event did not have much buzz heading in, but the event delivered. The five bout main card saw four outstanding performances, including an out of nowhere showing by a man making his Strikeforce debut on late notice. Let's run down the action:
- Normally I go in card order, but I can't help myself. I'm still buzzing over the performance of Lorenz Larkin. Larkin came in as a relative unknown, starting his career in 2009 and fighting seven times in 2010 piling up a 9-0 record. In Scott Lighty he faced a man who had been fairly successful at the K-1 level (finishing as runner-up in the 2005 World Grand Prix in Vegas II runner up) and who had only lost once as a professional mixed martial artist while picking up three impressive KO wins in Strikeforce.
From the opening bell it was clear that Larkin had a huge edge in speed. He used that edge to get in and out while throwing blistering punches and kicks that kept Lighty from ever getting comfortable. The sheer variety of Larkin's attack was impressive as he threw punishing punches, leaping kicks, slashing elbows and went to the body and legs effectively. Lighty was able to land the occasional punch but he never really stood much of a chance as Larkin was just too fast and too strong.
While Larkin appeared to keep his hands a little too low while facing a striker, as soon as distance was closed he put his hands into proper defensive position and was stellar at picking off the strikes of Lighty. There are plenty of questions about Larkin's ground game to be answered but he showed good positional awareness when he was on top and displayed good balance in defending against the few takedown attempts of his foe.
I could talk about this performance all day, so I probably should move on. I'll end my Larkin mancrushing by saying that I can not wait to see him fight again. That's the kind of thing that makes Challengers a worthwhile piece of MMA programming.
- In the main event, Justin Wilcox absolutely destroyed Rodrigo Damm. The bout got off to a weird start as the ringside paramedic was missing in action and after the introductions the fighters were stuck staring at each other in the cage for several minutes. The delay was the best moment of the night for Damm as once referee Josh Rosenthal started the fight it was simply a massacre. Damm made the same mistake he made against Gilbert Melendez and Maximo Blanco and continually circled into the power of Wilcox. He would end up paying dearly as Wilcox blasted him with high kicks and straight punches that eventually left Damm refusing to get off his knees and Wilcox obliging by following him to the floor to let loose with elbows.
By the end of the first round Damm was rattled and bleeding badly. It was as one sided a round as you're likely to ever see and left me begging for his corner to not allow their fighter to come out for the start of the next round. Luckily the doctor made the call for them and waived the fight off giving Wilcox a very impressive TKO win. I'm excited to see Wilcox against some more well-rounded competition in the near future as he has slowly put together a very good MMA game.
- David Douglas fought Caros Fodor in the second bout from the top. Douglas had success early in the first round before tiring out badly as Fodor continually clinched and leaned on him, making him work non-stop. Once Douglas started to fade, Fodor picked up his intensity and dominated the stand-up and on the ground. It was a grinding performance by Fodor and one that showed a lot of the reasons many have him pegged as a legitimate prospect. He needs to show a little bit more killer instinct in going for the finish on a badly wounded and gassed opponent, but he admitted as much in the post-fight interview. If his career is handled right, we may be talking about Fodor as a title challenger down the road.
- James Terry's right hand counter that shut off Josh Thornburg's lights was a thing of beauty. Terry's striking looked crisp early, which one would expect given Terry's close relationship with Cung Le, but Thornburg did have a few moments where he was able to land punches. Josh's striking defense is just awful though as he had lost roughly one month before the bout to Roger Bowling in a fight where he took a ridiculous number of punches. Terry blasted him with more and landed the crushing right that sent Thornburg tumbling awkwardly to the mat. I hate to say it but I hope Thornburg is given a lengthy medical suspension to give his brain a bit of a rest.
- The opening bout between Damian Douglas and Wayne Phillips was not good. While I can find a lot of good things to say about the other bouts on the card, the less said about this one the better. Both men gassed, neither man was able to take advantage. I scored the bout 29-28 Douglas, Luke Thomas scored the bout 29-28 Phillips over at SBNation.com/MMA and either score was fine.