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Strikeforce Challengers VII preview and quick picks for 'Johnson vs Mahe'


Strikeforce Challengers VII: "Johnson vs Mahe" is all set for this Friday night (Mar. 26) at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California. The five-fight main card will air live on the premium cable channel Showtime beginning at 11 p.m. ET on fight night.

Reminder: Showtime is offering a free preview weekend that runs today (March 25) through Sunday (March 28) and gives you a chance to checkout what the cable network has to offer -- including Strikeforce Challengers.

Strikeforce Challenger Series serves as a proving ground to promote up-and-coming (and lesser known) fighters. The events are similar to what Elite XC used to promote with its SHO XC: "Challenger Series" on Showtime.

Monster heavyweights Lavar "Big" Johnson and Lolohea Mahe will headline the show in a battle of hard hitting big men. The fight will be Mahe's debut for the organization, while Johnson made his first appearance with the promotion on the "Challenger Series I" card nearly a year ago, knocking out Carl Seumanutafa in less than twenty seconds.

The co-main event also looks like a quality slugfest, as former BET's "Iron Ring" reality contestant Ron "Abongo" Humphrey locks horns with George Bush III, who once out-pointed former TUF finalist Vinny Magalhaes by unanimous decision.

Brazilian jiu jitsu players Luke Stewart and Andre Galvao are also set to do battle in a welterweight contest. Both fighters are coming off uncharacteristic losses.

To help get you better prepared for the festivities, I've given my analysis and predictions for four of the main card bouts that are set to hit the Showtime airwaves on Friday night.

Check it out below:

265 lbs.: Lavar "Big" Johnson (13-3) vs. Lolohea Mahe (4-0-1)

Johnson is making his return to the cage after surviving an attack in which he was shot multiple times at a family gathering in California last fourth of July. The American Kickboxing Academy product wasn't able to train for five months after the shooting, and it's been nearly a year since his last fight - a first round drubbing of Carl Seumanutafa last May.

It remains to be seen what kind of rust he'll bring with him to the cage on Friday night, but it's not like this fight is going to be the most technical mixed martial arts match of all time anyway.

Neither one of these guys are likely to be looking for anything other than an early knockout. They're both power punchers with proven track records of ending fights with their hands. All four of Mahe's wins have been stoppages from strikes and twelve of Johnson's thirteen victims have gone out that way as well.

This one shouldn't even sniff the second round. Look for fireworks right from the get go and expect one of these two monsters to be sleeping within minutes, or even seconds, of the opening bell.

For my money, I'm going with Johnson. Not only has he dominated every man that has stood across from him in the last two years, but now he's training with one of the best, if not the best, camps in the world at AKA.

These are two men that can end a fight in the blink of an eye, so anything is possible, but these are the types of fights that Johnson has been dominant in. The guys that come into that cage looking to trade blows with him have all been dealt the same fate. I don't see that changing on Friday night with Lolohea Mahe.

Final Prediction: Lavar Johnson via first round knockout.

205 lbs.: Ron "Abongo" Humphrey (5-1) vs. George Bush III (5-1)

Bush started his professional career back in 2005, but he's only fought once in the last three years - a loss to former UFC champion Ricco Rodriguez by unanimous decision. He does hold a unanimous decision win over TUF finalist Vinny Magalhaes, but again, that was three years ago.

Abongo has also been on the sidelines for a minute, although he's certainly been more active than Bush. He hasn't fought since being stopped in the second round by Brett Rogers last April.

Much like the main event, this is a match up of power strikers. Abongo has six career wins and they have all been knockouts inside the first round. Bush has five wins, four of which have been decided by his finishing ability with his hands.

I like Abongo in this fight though, and the reason for that is because he has more experience in these types of fights. Bush's last four fights were against Brazilian jiu jitsu guys that were threats to take him to the mat and submit him. While he's done decent in those types of fights, he's never really faced a guy like Abongo, who is going to try and rip his head off right from the opening bell.

Look for the former "Iron Ring" contestant to put the heat on Bush early and often, and don't expect this thing to go any deeper than a minute or two into the second round, at the latest.

Final Prediction: Ron "Abongo" Humphrey via technical knockout.

170 lbs.: Luke Stewart (6-2) vs. Andre Galvao (3-1)

This is the fight I'm the most excited about on this card. Both of these guys are absolutely sick jiu jitsu players. Stewart holds a black belt under Ralph Gracie and Galvao is a seven time world champion in the sport.

Stewart has a little bit more experience on the MMA stage, but Galvao is probably the more gifted athlete of the two and so far he hasn't shown any reason to believe his transition to MMA won't be a successful one.

Both guys have had recent minor setbacks inside the cage. Stewart was stopped by strikes from Joe Riggs in his last fight and Galvao was out-pointed on the scorecards by Jason High his last time out.

This, however, is a style of fight that both men, especially Stewart, should be a lot more comfortable in. That doesn't mean that I think this fight will be a fifteen minute grappling session. In fact, a lot of times, these types of match-ups produce more of a stand-up battle as both men are reluctant to flip coins with the other guy on the ground.

With these two guys, I think we'll get the best of both of those worlds on Friday night. Unlike the two headlining bouts, this is going to be a true chess match that will be won by the man with the better gameplan, and I think that man will be Andre Galvao.

I think Galvao may have the advantage on the ground, although I don't think he'll be able to submit Stewart. I also think he's more athletic and has more recent experience in tough fights. Keep in mind that Stewart has been out of action for a year and a half, while Galvao was able to submit journeyman John Alessio in the first round and fight a razor close back and forth battle with Jason High during that time.

I'm a fan of Luke Stewart, but I think Galvao will do enough to impress the judges in this one for a decision victory.

Final Prediction: Andre Galvao via unanimous decision.

135 lbs.: Zoila Frausto (5-0) vs. Miesha "Takedown" Tate (8-2)

Miesha Tate is more than just a pretty face. She's tough as nails and one of those types of fighters that will push the pace for the entire fifteen minutes of the fight. And her nickname is "Takedown" for a reason. Her wrestling and ground and pound skills are both at a very high level, and that's usually how she wins most of her fights.

Don't expect her strategy to be any different in this one, even though Frausto is no slouch in the wrestling department either. Regardless of what Frausto does though, Tate's best chance to win is still going to be with her ground and pound.

Frausto's last fight under the Strikeforce banner saw her pick apart Elisha Helspur en route to a unanimous decision win. The Team Buhawe member also displayed some decent takedown defense, which she'll need a lot more of to be successful in this fight.

Still, her stand-up looked sharp against Helspur and if she wants to beat Tate, she's going to need to keep this fight upright for as long as possible. If she can do that, then her leg kicking ability and overall striking game might be enough to persuade the judges.

A knockout or submission seem unlikely against Tate though, and I'm doubting her ability to avoid the "Takedown" in this one as well. I've got Miesha winning by decision with a strong ground and pound attack.

Final Prediction: Miesha Tate via unanimous decision.

That's a wrap.

Remember that will provide live coverage of the main card beginning with the Showtime telecast at 11 p.m. ET as well as up to the minute results of the under card action beginning at around 9 p.m.

Check in early and often, it should be an exciting night of fights.

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