Strikeforce Challengers 17 takes place tonight from The Pearl at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas and will air live on Showtime at 11 p.m. ET.
The trilogy between welterweights Roger Bowling and Bobby Voelker headlines the card, and former 135-pound champion Sarah Kaufman, who returns to Strikeforce for the first time since losing the title, will face Liz Carmouche. The other bouts highlighting the main are Ovince St. Preux vs. Joe Cason, vs. Devin Cole, and Adlan Amagov vs. Ronald Stallings.
Bobby Voelker (23-8) vs. Roger Bowling (9-1)
Bowling made his Strikeforce debut against Voelker at the Challengers 8 show with an undefeated record and in rock-star fashion. He leveled Voelker with left hands and uppercuts while mixing in powerful takedowns, never letting Voelker catch his breath or gather his wits. He cleaved open a gash above Voelker's eye in the first and crumpled him with a tight left hook to open the second.
Misfortune struck in the third when Voelker accidentally grazed Bowling's eye with the seam of his glove during a restart in the clinch. Bowling was unable to continue, and the unintentional foul brought the score cards into play, which all favored Bowling for his sheer domination in the first two rounds.
Voelker reappeared two months later at Challengers 9 and scored a split decision over Cory Devela, then set his eyes on the rematch with Bowling. The pair reconvened at Challengers 11 where Voelker showed his respect for Bowling's multi-dimensional blitzkrieg by maintaining space and staying in motion, which allowed him to anticipate and defend the whirling combinations and deft takedowns. Voelker hurled an unanswered flurry of strikes in the second for a redeeming TKO victory from the top position.
The main event analysis and a preview of the prominent match ups are posted after the jump.
The distinct difference in their second encounter was the way Voelker commanded distance. Instead of fearlessly locking horns whenever Bowling initiated an exchange, Voelker was either circling back and out of reach or needling straight punches in the pocket. His footwork and movement put him in complete control. Bowling's thunderous lead left hook was either avoided entirely or answered with a tight right counter, and the double-leg takedowns were attentively neutralized.
After their first fight, Voelker went back to the drawing board and assembled the perfect strategy to dismantle Bowling, and now that ability -- or burden -- to adapt now rests on Bowling's shoulders. The loss was also Bowling's first; being a moderately hyped fighter on the rise, he's now enduring that transitional acceptance of the screeching brakes and realizing mortality.
Voelker has more experience, strength, and a four-inch height and reach advantage. Bowling is clearly the more diverse and explosive athlete, but must draw upon his intelligence to extract and implement those benefits. The aspect of jousting back and forth on the feet -- instead of just running someone over -- has to be integrated into his striking. While the lunging left hook is a thing of beauty, it becomes a liability with repetition, especially when almost all of the punches he throws are wide.
Infusing some traditional filler, like a jab and a straight one-two, to augment his unorthodox flair would go a long way, as would undertaking some semblance of defense and protection. He's dexterous on the feet, but doesn't use a lot of angles to complement his striking. His standard tactic of squeezing the trigger relentlessly and shooting for takedowns at random intervals appears to have been accommodated for by Voelker.
I'm a little surprised to see Bowling a substantial favorite on the betting lines, only because I feel the onus of evolution is on him. Voelker is a crafty old bull who won't go down easy and seems to have Bowling's number, so despite my estimation that Bowling will adopt the proper strategy and persevere, I would not be surprised if Voelker triumphed.
My Prediction: Bowling by decision
Sarah Kaufman (13-1) vs. Liz Carmouche (5-1)
The sole blemish on both records was dealt by Strikeforce 135-pound champion Marloes Coenen, who submitted Kaufman with an armbar to win the title, then defended against Carmouche and latched a fourth-round triangle. Both matches were competitive, but Carmouche accepted the bout on short notice and clenched rounds two and three before succumbing to the submission.
Carmouche is a former Marine with heavy hands and brutal fighting instincts. While Kaufman may hold the more thorough and complete arsenal, Carmouche is hell on wheels. She has less than half the amount of fights Kaufman does, but brings a rugged tenacity and ferociousness that could compensate for her relative inexperience.
The betting lines hold Kaufman as a slight favorite, which I feel is appropriate. She's been around for a while and is widely considered the second best welterweight behind Coenen. However, in a three rounder, Carmouche will present quite a formidable challenge and could relegate Kaufman to constant defense with her unyielding aggression.
"Girl-Rilla" has shown a strong chin and will be difficult to manipulate, and, while Kaufman has excellent stand-up, power is not her strong suit; her submission game is solid, but I'm not sure she can catch Carmouche. This bout will likely end in a decision, and I feel Carmouche has the better chance of imposing her will.
My Prediction: Carmouche by decision
Ovince St. Preux (10-4) vs. Joe Cason (9-1)
St. Preux, better known as OSP, is a former linebacker for the Tennessee Volunteers and now hitting his stride in MMA. He lost his first two fights, won three, then lost two more. After the rocky start, OSP is undefeated in a seven-fight stretch while his level of competition has significantly increased. The noteworthy names on his recent resume are previous UFC fighters Benji Radach and Jason Day, along with Strikeforce light-heavies Antwain Britt and Abongo Humphrey.
OSP is a gifted southpaw -- though he's known to mix his stance up -- with a quick left hand that's released in the form of frightening hooks and uppercuts. His freakishly proportioned reach length (79") combined with his natural strength, agility and alarming technical adaptation puts him on the cusp of graduating to the premiere Strikeforce cards.
While any Duke Roufus product with only loss in ten fights will never be a push-over, most of the victims on Joe Cason's record are far from flattering, and he's got his work cut out for him against St. Preux.
My Prediction: Ovince St. Preux by submission