An ambitious 2011 is officially underway for Strikeforce -- the thirteenth edition of the promotion's Challenger Series took place last night (Jan. 7, 2011) from the Nashville Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee.
And the San Jose boys are out of the gates strong.
"Woodley vs. Saffiedine" aired live on Showtime and featured a fight card that was jam-packed with rising talent. Former University of Missouri wrestling stud and undefeated welterweight prospect Tyron Woodley headlined the card opposite 24-year-old Team Quest member Tarec Saffiedine. There was a lot at stake for both men, with potential future title implications on the line.
The match up was a nice clash of styles on paper, with Saffiedine being the superior striker and Woodley having his wrestling pedigree to his advantage. It was pretty much assumed by most fans that the outcome would be decided by whichever fighter had more success keeping the fight in his own comfort zone.
They were right.
"T-Wood" did a great job turning the fight into a wrestling match. Most of the bout was contested in the clinch, and Woodley scored with several takedowns throughout the match, too. His control was the difference, and the end result was a unanimous decision nod in his favor.
It wasn't the most action-packed main event fight of all time, but it was still an interesting chess match between two of the promotion's top up and coming 170 pounders and another quality win for Woodley's resume as he makes his push toward title contention.
He's more than likely not ready for Nick Diaz just yet, but if he keeps scoring wins over guys like Saffiedine, he's going to find himself standing across the cage from the champ sooner rather than later.
Ovince St. Preux was right at home in the cage tonight. Not only was he making his third start in less than two months for Strikeforce, but the former University of Tennessee linebacker was also making a homecoming, fighting in his home state for the fourth time in his young career.
"Abongo" Humphrey had some difficulty with St. Preux's size and was forced into fighting off his back for a good bit of the fight. St. Preux's cardio started to wane towards the second half of the fight, though, and "Abongo" seemed to get stronger as the fight went on.
The former "Iron Ring" contestant got off with some big punches in the second and third rounds, but he didn't do nearly enough to win over the judges. St. Preux stayed composed, hung tough on his feet, and continued to dominate on the ground for as long as he could keep it there.
The end result was a clear cut unanimous decision win, with all three judges scoring the fight 30-27 for the Volunteer.
Daniel Cormier continued his dominating transition to mixed martial arts with another one-sided win tonight. The former United States Olympic wrestler manhandled a much more experienced Devin Cole for three rounds en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Cole did all he could to keep the fight competitive, but in the end Cormier's wrestling ability was too much. Cole couldn't stop the takedowns, and he spent a lot of the fight on his back. Cormier also looked much improved in the stand-up, connecting on some big strikes during the fifteen minute battle.
Cole deserves a lot of credit for eating those shots and continuing to stand in there and exchange, but this fight was all Cormier.
Afterward the AKA product seemed a little bit disappointed with himself for having been taken the distance for the first time in his career. All six of his previous professional opponents were stopped before the final bell. Cole was a sizable step up in competition, though. Despite not getting the finish, Cormier was still very impressive tonight.
Cormier wasn't the only former U.S. Olympian on the card tonight, though.
Judo specialist Rhadi Ferguson was also in action, making his Strikeforce debut. The American Top Team trainee had to overcome a slow start, but he did not disappoint, remaining unbeaten with a second round submission victory over a game John Richard.
Richard filled in on short notice and tried like hell to make the most of his opportunity. He came out guns blazing and had Dr. Ferguson on the ropes in the early going. However, once Rhadi warmed up he was eventually able to grapple his way to the win via heel hook.
He remains unbeaten in MMA.
Brazilian middleweight Amanda Nunes made the most of her first fight under the Strikeforce banner, dropping one of the promotion's top up and coming stars, Julia Budd, with a stunning knockout just 14 seconds into the bout. The win makes six in a row for the aggressive Nunes, and the loss is a big setback for Budd who was super impressive a couple of months back in her own promotional debut.
Watch out Cyborg.
That's a wrap from "Music City." Next up for the San Jose-based organization is a return home to the HP Pavilion for "Diaz vs. Cyborg" on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011.
Welterweight champion Nick Diaz will defend his title in the main event of the Showtime televised card against Evangelista Santos, while middleweight boss Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza will put his gold on the line in the co-featured fight against former Elite XC kingpin "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler. Former NFL great Herschel Walker will also be in action.
Keep it locked to MMAmania.com. We'll be all over that event, as well as the start of the promotion's heavyweight grand prix tournament, which is scheduled to take place two weeks later in New Jersey.