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Mike Aina vs Billy Evangelista to headline Strikeforce 'Challenger Series' debut on May 15

Former Elite XC lightweight and Hawaii native Mike Aina (11-6-1) will take on undefeated five-fight Strikeforce veteran Billy Evangelista at SHO MMA: "Strikeforce Challenger Series I" from the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif., on May 15, according to the Star-Bulletin.

Strikeforce will debut its brand new "Challenger Series" on the premium cable network Showtime, which are designed to give up-and-coming, less heralded Strikeforce fighters an opportunity to do their thing in front of a large television audience. It's essentially similar to what Elite XC used to do with its SHO XC Challenger Series.

Here's a snip from company founder and CEO, Scott Coker, on SHO MMA:

"This is where the men — and women — will be separated from the boys, so to speak. The growth and future of our sport just got a turbo injection. For regional fighters and up-and-coming men and women looking to test themselves against other top prospects and get on the fast track to stardom, SHO MMA: Strikeforce Challengers is the place to do it. I can’t wait for this first event."

Aina is probably best known for having taken Nick Diaz the distance and dropping a razor close split decision in his Elite XC debut at "Uprising" in September of 2007. He competed only one more time for the promotion since then before it went under last year, defeating Kaleo Kwan by unanimous decision at "Return of the King" in June.

The Hilo resident is an 11-fight veteran of the Hawaiian-based Rumble on the Rock promotion where he made a name for himself amongst the "Aloha State" faithful. The BJ Penn-trainee has fought some pretty tough guys to this point in his career, including Roger Huerta (loss), Ryan Schultz (loss), Albert Rios (win), Diaz (loss) and others.

His last fight was a first round submission win over Ismael Gonzalves at Rumble on the Rock: "Beatdown 8" last August.

Evangelista is one of Strikeforce's top young prospects in the lightweight division. He brings a solid wrestling and jiu-jitsu base to the cage with him, but the Team Buhawe product can also strike with his opponents.

In fact, he's defeated four of his nine victims by (technical) knockout. His hit list includes "The Ultimate Fighter" alum Marlon Sims (knockout), UFC veteran Luke Caudillo (decision), Nam Phan (decision), Ryan Healey (technical knockout) and others.

His most recent action came in January at Palace Fighting Championships 12, where he out pointed Harris Sarmiento on the judge's scorecards for a unanimous decision win.

Kim "Sugar Free" Couture, wife of former UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion Randy Couture, has also been rumored for this card. Tickets go on sale starting next Monday (April 13).

Stay tuned to for more on SHO MMA: "Strikeforce Challenger Series I."

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