The long awaited finale for the Heavyweight Grand Prix is upon us, as takes place this Saturday night from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California. Catch-wrestling connoisseur : Barnett vs. CormierJosh Barnett meets Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier in the headliner of the 4-piece main card and the 5 preliminary matches listed below will air on Showtime Extreme.
Once expected to become an undisputed force in the stateside lightweight class, "JZ" Cavalcante (16-4) has hit a rough stretch of road after setting the overseas market afire. The Brazilian drew attention right out of the gate with a commendable 8 wins throughout a 9-fight stretch. The sequence included a submission (1st-round guillotine choke) of Bart Palaszewski and becoming only 1 of 2 fighters to stop the venerable Michihiro Omigawa with strikes (1st-round TKO). The sole defeat was in his 3rd pro-fight; a competitive decision to Joachim Hansen, who had just lost the Shooto welterweight (154-pounds) title to Vitor Ribeiro by submission.
More Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier Dissections
The surge earned Cavalcante a spot on the K-1 Hero's roster and his dominance continued, only with more intensity and against higher-caliber opposition. JZ devoured a who's-who of the Japanese lightweight scene, finishing 6 of his next 7 foes in the 1st round -- and did so with supreme violence. Hiroyuki Takaya, Nam Phan and the aforementioned Ribeiro were all vanquished by TKO while Rani Yahya -- the WEC/UFC fighter and former ADCC World Champion -- and Chute Boxe rep Andre Amado were dealt submission losses. Savvy veteran Caol Uno was the only to survive to a decision.
Cavalcante is a dually (2006 and 2007) crowned champion of the K-1 Hero's Middleweight (154-pounds) Grand Prix and amplified his hype even more with a game decision loss to Masato in a straight kickboxing match. He transferred to the Dream organization in 2008 and things went downhill from there.
Continued in the full entry.
In his last 7 turns, Cavalcante has won a measly 2 (split-decisions over Katsunori Kikuno and Bobby Green) with 3 defeats (Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Josh Thomson; all by decision) and 2 No Contests (vs. Aoki for illegal elbows and Justin Wilcox for an inadvertent eye poke). Many things are worth noting from this stretch: JZ was plagued with a number of injuries that hindered him from 2008-2010, the lightweights he lost to undoubtedly represent the most elite competition outside of the UFC and many thought he deserved the nod against Thomson -- which was one of the most controversial decisions of 2010.
Isaac Vallie-Flagg (12-3) is a Greg Jackson welterweight now dropping to lightweight for the first time. Starting his MMA career in pedestrian fashion in 2003, Vallie-Flagg split results in his first 6 turns (all losses were via submission) but has gone undefeated in his last 10 with 9 wins and a draw. He's earned 5 wins via TKO and 3 by submission, holds a purple belt in BJJ and could be a handful at 155.
Despite his momentum and size advantage, this will be an astronomical leap in competition for Vallie-Flagg. He crept by brawler Brian Melancon by split decision in his last outing and was nearly choked out in the opening moments. Cavalcante has a stiff set of hands, wicked knees (especially of the flying variety), a strong clinch with good wrestling and an elaborate, black-belt-level ground game. He might not be the terror he once was, but he's still competitive with top-tier lightweights and should have his way with Vallie-Flagg, standing or on the mat.
My Prediction: JZ Cavalcante by submission.
James Terry (11-4) vs. Bobby "King" Green (17-5)
James Terry is a student of Cung Le who started wrestling at age five and went on to wrestle for Arizona State University. However, he can chain a variety of kickboxing techniques together so fluently that you'd never guess his background is in wrestling. Terry started as welterweight and won 7 of his first 8 matches to get a shot at Tarec Saffiediene in Strikeforce. In the 6 outings since, Terry has dropped to lightweight and won 4, though he's dropped 2 of his last 3 to stiff competition in Caros Fodor and main-card participant Nah-Shon Burrell.
You might recognize the name Bobby Green from a few different places: he's the reigning King of the Cage lightweight champion, he appeared on MTV's Bully Beatdown and petrified his inexperienced "opponent" into quitting in between rounds and he unleashed a confusing but vicious animosity toward Dan Lauzon's groin on the Affliction: Day of Reckoning card. (Green had two-points deducted and lost by 1st-round submission.) Green is a quick and athletic fighter with 8 wins by sub and 7 TKOs. Since the Lauzon fight, Green has won 9 of 12 with losses to legit, A-level competition in "JZ" Cavalcante and the UFC's Tim Means and David Mitchell.
This match up is extremely close on paper and a virtual toss-up. Terry has displayed huge potential with his effective combination of footwork, kickboxing and wrestling, and Green has a similar arsenal and physical stature. Both fighters typically draw from their agility, strength, striking and/or wrestling to pinpoint their opponent's weakness and have been difficult to put away. I can see this one going in either direction but will take the polished kickboxing and pedigreed wrestling of Terry in what could be a great scrap.
My Prediction: James Terry by decision.
Virgil "Rezdog" Zwicker is a Team Quest fighter of Native American descent and a former heavyweight making the drop to 205-pounds for the first time. He was undefeated throughout his first 8 fights, which ended with an impressive TKO over Ovince St. Preux, but has dropped 2 of his last 4, the most recent being a 1st-round knockout loss to Lavar Johnson. Zwicker was always a smaller heavyweight (222-pounds) who relied on quickness and heavy-handed boxing (7 TKO wins, 2 subs), so it will be interesting to see how his size and speed translates to 205.
Carlos Augusto Filho, aka "Guto Inocente," is an undefeated member of the newly formed Blackzilians team with a nice medley of striking and BJJ. Though only 5-fights deep and lacking big-name wins, Inocente is a solid prospect who's long overdue for his stateside debut: he signed with Strikeforce many moons ago (July of 2011) and also turned down a 4-fight deal from the UFC.
Zwicker is a tough cat and will be Inocente's biggest test, but I don't think the drop in weight will help much against the Brazilian, who is a good-sized light-heavy himself (6'3") and a young (25-years-old) up and comer.
My Prediction: Guto Inocente by submission.
Villante was a standout wrestler and football player at Hofstra University with hopes for a career in the NFL. He's the current Ring of Combat heavyweight champion and even after 4 appearances in Strikeforce, though both losses were to reputable opposition in Chad Griggs (in the Heavyweight Grand Prix reserve bout) and Lorenz Larkin (back at his intended weight of 205-pounds). Villante is a physical specimen and a banger with 6 TKOs and 2 subs.
"Caveman" Mehmen has also fallen to respectable names in former UFCers Rodney Wallace (decision), David Branch (rear-naked choke) and Mike Ciesnolevic (guillotine choke). Mehmen trains at ATT and is a heavy-handed clubber as well, lacking big-name wins but finishing 9 of 12 by TKO with 2 catches.
Anything could happen with these sluggers. 2 of Villante's 3 losses are by TKO and Mehmen is a beefy 6'4" who will come out swinging. His hands are pretty quick for being such a hulking 205er, but Villante is a little more polished with his boxing and should be able to out-finesse the "Caveman" if he keeps his chin protected.
My Prediction: Gian Villante by decision.
Mulhern is a gangly (6'3") BJJ specialist with submissions accounting for 11 of his 17 wins with 3 TKOs. His only defeats are to UFC-level fighters in Mike Guymon (submission via strikes) and Jason High (decision). Yuri trains with the Blackzilians and is one-time UFCer Danillo Villefort's brother. He's an intriguing concoction of Judo, BJJ and Muay Thai, and just a mean S.O.B. overall. He's finished 5 of his 6 wins with 3 TKOs and 2 submissions.
Mulhern will have an edge in experience -- both in volume and value of competition -- and is fluid on the mat. I see him struggling to match the physical strength and aggressive Thai onslaught of Villefort, who should have the grappling savvy to avoid entanglements on the mat.
My Prediction: Yuri Villefort by TKO.