Rarely addressed in the UFC's purchase of Strikeforce is the resulting impact on the Challengers events. The Ultimate Fighter is the UFC's only reconnaissance of still-flourishing prospects, but even that road leads to the Octagon door, where the best of the best await. The Challengers series is an ideal proving ground for up and coming fighters with enough promise and potential to stand out from the pack, but might not necessarily be ready to tangle with the sport's elite.
The "Challengers 16" lineup is a prime example. Headlining the card is a guaranteed firecracker between AMC Pankration product Caros Fodor and Cung Le disciple James Terry, which I covered with greater detail in a separate piece earlier this morning.
Ryan Couture, whose last name adorns his feet with large shoes to fill, competes in his third professional fight against Matt Ricehouse. Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix reserve bout participant Gian Villante will try his hand at light-heavyweight against undefeated Kung Fu practitioner Lorenz Larkin.
Jason High, who has appeared in UFC, DREAM, and K-1, takes on King of the Cage welterweight champion Quinn Mulhern. Two women with esteemed striking credentials complete the main card, as Julia Budd, a Canadian and British Columbian Muay Thai champ who defeated Gina Carano in a kickboxing match, will duel with Germaine de Randamie, who held a 45-0 record in Muay Thai.
Fight breakdowns after the jump.
We'll start with the ladies, and work our way up to a more detailed analysis of the main event.
It's not often we see such exemplary kickboxing credentials in women's MMA. Julia "The Jewel" Budd started Muay Thai in high school and later hooked up with early SuperBrawl, Shooto, and UFC fighter Lance Gibson, who has wins over Akihiro Gono and knocked out Jermaine Andre at UFC 24.
Port Moody, British Columbia is the location of Gibson's Kickboxing and Pankration gym where Budd began with Muay Thai and now trains MMA. Her professional career is less than a year old, as she took her first bout at Strikeforce: Challengers 11 in October of 2010, defeating Shana Olsen by TKO. In January of this year, Budd was not so fortunate against Amanda Nunes, who finished her in the first with strikes.
On Budd's webpage, the only name listed as handing her a defeat in kickboxing is her Strikeforce opponent Germain de Randamie. Hailing from the Netherlands, de Randamie left Muay Thai undefeated in almost fifty fights, winning thirty by knockout.
"The Iron Lady" first crossed over in 2008, where she was burned for her inexperienced grappling and submitted by Vanessa Porto. Taking two years off to become a complete fighter, de Randamie started to work with legendary MMA trainer Cesar Gracie, who has since deemed her "the female version of Anderson Silva". Late last year, de Randamie returned with a decision victory over Nikohl Johnson, then finished Stephanie Webber with a first round knee in January of 2011 on the Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg card.
This will only be Budd's third and de Randamie's fourth MMA fight, yet each are experienced in combat sports. While Budd will display sound striking skills, Randamie is merely on another level as one of the premiere female Muay Thai artists in the sport, and her increased focus on rounding out her game will make her even more formidable in a commanding performance.
The big league promotions are obviously studying The World MMA Scouting Report, as Leland Roling's eighth-ranked welterweight prospect Quinn Mulhern takes a step up in competition against wily scrapper Jason High.
Amassing an undefeated record after seven fights, the mainstream audience first glimpsed Jason High on the "Affliction: Day of Reckoning" card in a knockout loss to Jay Hieron. "The Kansas City Bandit" then crossed the pond for DREAM's 2008 welterweight Grand Prix and started off with a bang by submitting current Deep champion Yuya Shirai. Though it was a razor thin split-decision, High surpassed BJJ World Champion Andre Galvao to advance to the finals, where Marius Zaromskis delivered his signature head-kick to win the tournament.
Still, the solid performance was enough to attract Joe Silva's attention, who paired him with standout Lock Haven University wrestler Charlie Brenneman. High was cut after the lone decision loss. Unflinchingly, he dove back into action and capped off four straight wins over Jordan Mein (a promising young Canadian talent who just beat Zaromskis and Josh Burkman), Keto Allen, legend Hayato Sakurai in K-1, and Rudy Bears.
The Scouting Report lays out the full specs on Quinn Mulhern. Unbeaten after seven fights and making waves in King of the Cage, Mulhern faced grisly old schooler Chris Brennan, a three-time KOTC champion and Pride veteran noted for his submission prowess and producing no-gi grappling instructionals. In his stiffest competition to date, Mulhern slithered an omoplata to elicit a first round tapout; a remarkable feat regardless of Brennan's career-stage.
Mulhern then suffered his first and only loss to Michael Guymon, a.k.a. UFC fighter "The Joker", but proceeded to trounce seven straight foes including Rich Clementi, finishing all but one.
Size will be a notable disparity in this bout, with the lanky Mulhern clocking in at 6'3" and the more compact High at only 5'9". Both fighters have weapons that will trouble the other: Mulhern has struggled in finding a rhythm and using his reach while standing, and the southpaw High has a heavy left straight and hook that should be able to breach the perimeter.
However, High was put in a litany of precarious positions by Galvao's technical submissions, and Mulhern has that same type of deeply layered grappling weaponry. It will be interesting to see how Mulhern tackles such a game opponent, but considering High's experience, submission defense, strong ground-and-pound, and overall toughness, I think this match-up favors him for a stoppage with strikes or a demonstrative decision.
Plenty of raw athleticism will be on display when Gian Villante, a standout wrestler in high school and at Hofstra University, collides with Lorenz Larkin.
When news broke that the highly anticipated Strikeforce debut for Olympic Judoka Satoshi Ishii was canceled and he would be replaced by an unknown fighter with a base in Kung Fu, sighs of disappointment ran aplenty. Those grumbles quickly transformed into gasps of elation when -- instead of coming out in the horse stance and poking with eagle beak strikes -- Larkin boomed out of his corner and unleashed a torrent of thunderous strikes, battering Lighty to a second round TKO.
We expected Hong Kong Phooey, but ended up with a vicious mauler that drew comparisons to Melvin Manhoef for more than his fringed gladiator trunks. The "Kung Fu" background was like an Arts and Crafts store fronting for a mafia fencing operation.
A closer look at Larkin's past reveals ten flawless stints in amateur MMA, five in amateur boxing, and he left his Strikeforce debut with ten perfect performances in pro MMA. Jumping high kicks, ruthless kicks low and to the body, crowned by a crippling set of fierce boxing combinations had the Strikeforce commentary team praising "The Monsoon" for his electrifying stand-up.
Gian Villante was a load at heavyweight, and he'll now condense his near-NFL level explosiveness and standout high school and college wrestling accolades into a light-heavyweight package. Blazing a nine-fight trail through New Jersey's "Ring of Combat" promotion with only one loss, Villante last clashed with Chad Griggs in a Strikeforce reserve bout for the heavyweight Grand Prix, and was more than holding his own before Griggs clipped him halfway through the first.
A patient but aggressive brawler, only one of Villante's matches has surpassed the first round, and with Larkin's history consisting of all strike-stoppages save two decisions, this should truly unfold as a "don't blink' affair.
While Larkin hits like a truck yet darts with frightening agility on the feet, Villante is also comfortable standing, but would be wise to fall back on his wrestling. We haven't seen much of Larkin's ground, but based on what we've seen of him standing, taking the fight to the mat is the more appealing avenue for Villante. Watch out for an upset if he spends extensive time trading with Larkin though, who has an uncanny balance of footwork, power, and delivery.
Ryan Couture, son of UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, has been brought along on a slow and steady pace in amateur and professional competition. Two showings as a pro under the Strikeforce banner have resulted in consecutive submissions.
He handles his business much like his old man, keeping a high, tight guard and snapping off basic boxing combinations, methodically springing forward to latch up the clinch position and work takedowns from there. Representing the new school, his knowledge and skill with submissions is the contrasting flavor of his style, as each of his pro and ammy bouts were won by catch.
Matt Ricehouse also has a short and undefeated record, winning all four bouts and finishing three. Hailing from Missouri, Ricehouse trains under Mike Rogers at St. Charles MMA, who is a BJJ black belt under Rodrigo Vaghi, an All American wrestler, and a two-time Golden Gloves champion.
While Couture has let a few overhand rights infiltrate his guard, he has shown the inherent ruggedness that surely runs in the family. I won't claim to be intimately familiar with Ricehouse nor immune from being swayed by name recognition, but I think Couture can avoid trouble on the feet and drag Ricehouse down for a positional decision or late submission.