“Found it!” Fighting was quickly resumed after Damm recovered his lost contact lens. (Pic Props: Strikeforce.com)
Strikeforce Challengers 15 marked the promotion’s first event since Zuffa seized control, but with the exception of the addition of elbows on the ground, there were no noticeable changes to the event which took place in homey Stockton, CA. Mauro, Quadros, and Miletich made themselves at home in the commentary booth and the broadcast had the same production feel we’re accustomed to. The only thing unfamiliar about the event may have been some of the fighters themselves, but that’s par for the course for the Challengers series. Strikeforce’s endeavor to showcase the up-and-comers in the sport may not always result in overly competitive fights, but the event did put several fresh faces on the map for those unwilling or unable to follow the sport to its lower levels.
In the evening’s feature bout, AKA product Justin Wilcox served up Strikeforce rookie Rodgrigo Damm five minutes of hell before doctors stopped the bout between rounds due to cuts. Wilcox entered this bout on a five-fight win streak, having taken out Vitor Ribiero by decision last November. Both fighters suffered through an extended, awkward face-off prior to the opening bell thanks to the bumblings of the CSAC. Athletic commission staff were out of place, delaying the start of the fight and leaving both men poised to charge with the referee holding them off while looking cageside for a clue as to what the hell was taking so long. After a brief diatribe from the announce team, we were finally underway. While Wilcox’s wrestling may be his bread and butter, it was his striking on display last night. Damm employed the curious strategy of circling directly into Wilcox’s power, eating powerful kicks and punches for his efforts. The BJJ blackbelt looked to take the fight to the ground once he found himself in trouble, but “The Silverback” wasn’t interested in a ground affair until he floored Damm with a solid right hand. Wilcox hovered over Damm, dropping knees to the body and hard punches and elbows from above. Damm made it to the bell and left what looked like a bloody crime scene to return to his corner, but that’s where his night would end. Cageside physicians called a halt to the bout due to a large cut (one of several) over Damm’s eye. Earlier in the evening Steven Quadros stated that a victory for Wilcox could put him in line for a title shot against lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez. While he is on a tear, a win over a fighter coming into the bout on a three fight skid isn’t the most compelling means of building your case. From a fan’s perspective, I’d like to see him take a step up in competition in his next bout. From a marketing perspective, if they’re hoping to groom Wilcox for a title shot they should consider bumping him up from the Challengers series to build his name under the organization’s title banner. Either way, it was a dominant victory by Wilcox.
Caros Fodor proved too much for the well-muscled David Douglas. Douglas looked ferocious a few months back when he stormed Nick Gonzales and put him away in just over a minute, but that may have been more by necessity than desire. Both he and his twin brother Damion seem to suffer from the same Achilles heel. Only a few minutes into this bout it was clear that “Tarzan” was spent. Douglas escaped Fodor’s early clinch to land a short flurry and secure a takedown before taking Fodor’s back. “The Future” would quickly escape from Douglas’s rear naked choke and armbar attempts before standing back up and re-engaging in the clinch. From this position he wore on Douglas, driving him around the cage and delivering hard knees to the body. Douglas would get the fight to the ground off of a driven double leg, but he couldn’t keep top position long before Fodor reversed and landed some big elbows and punches from half guard. The fight was nearly over at the close of the round, but Douglas staved off a kimura by grabbing his shorts. Round two saw Fodor take control of a weary “Tarzan”. A failed guillotine attempt by Fodor ended with him in full mount battering an exhausted Douglas with punches and elbows. Douglas survived the round, but he wouldn’t find a second or third wind between rounds. Again Fodor abused him in the cinch, landing punches and knees as he chose. The ref stoppage may have been a bit premature, as Douglas was still on his feet, but he was unable to counter Fodor or defend himself from the onslaught, and that was not likely to change moving forward.
The night’s breakout performance had to belong to Lorenz Larkin. He threw hard, aggressive strikes from every possible angle with every possible limb en route to stopping Scott Lighty in the second round via TKO. From the opening bell the undefeated Larkin, who extended his record to a perfect 10-0 with the victory, bounced around the cage while unleashing an unrelenting storm of powerful strikes that perfectly reflect the nickname “Monsoon”. Larkin took this fight on short notice filling in for Ishii and dominated the standup against a kickboxer with numerous K1 fights to his name. Lighty was no doubt training for a drastically different fight against Olympic Judo gold medalist Ishii, but he was still grossly outgunned in a standup shootout. The performance didn’t tell us much about Larkin’s game outside of his impressive striking arsenal, but with an exciting showing like this one we’re sure Strikeforce will give us plenty of opportunities to see everything Larkin has to offer their light-heavyweight division.
Another impressive stand-up display came from the hands of James Terry as he put away Josh Thornburg via KO at 4:38 in the first round. The two duked it out at a catch weight of 160, as Cesar Gracie team’s Thornburg didn’t have significant time to cut weight after taking the fight on short notice. Whether it was due to a lack of preparation time or simply Terry’s superior striking, Thornburg was outmatched. He was game to stand and bang, but he couldn’t match Terry’s speed and footwork, and he was soon getting picked apart by clean, hard shots. At the end of the first round Terry countered his jab with a big right hand that sent Thornburg drifting to the canvas. Props to the referee for being in position to stop the action as Thornburg hit the floor.
The evening got off to a very slow start in a fight hardly worth mentioning. The aforementioned Damion Douglas won a plodding and contestable decision over Wayne Phillips. Like his brother, Douglas looked to end the fight early with a set of rear naked chokes, but in his haste he didn’t bother to really sink them in to any effect. Phillips worked his way out, and as the round unfolded Douglas began to tire. Phillips took advantage and sunk in a deep rear naked choke at the end of the round, but the bell would sound before he could force the tap. Round two saw a tired Phillips working for position against a slightly more exhausted Douglas. Round three was just killing time until the final bell rang. The crowd was not happy with the bout nor the decision for the hometown fighter. Douglas tried to convince them that they’d seen a great battle, explaining that “this is how pros look when we fight”. No, Damion, it isn’t. The Douglas brothers would both do well to set down the weights and get in some road work with Cesar Gracie teammate and triathlon competitor Nick Diaz.
One Zuffa mainstay that I was hoping to see make its way to the Strikeforce organization was the use of excess time to broadcast undercard fights. I’d dvr’d the event and started about 20 minutes late, so I’m not sure exactly how much time remained after the headline bout, but I’m sure it was plenty to cover some of the night’s other action. Showtime went directly into Nascar or something else I don’t care about, so I instantly changed the channel. I’m assuming that this programming decision exclusively belongs to Showtime, but hopefully that’s an issue they’ll reconsider down the road.
Justin Wilcox def. Rodrigo Damm- TKO (doctor stoppage due to cut) 5:00 R1.
Caros Fodor def. David Douglas- TKO 2:12 R3.
Lorenz Larkin def. Scott Lighty- TKO 3:15 R2.
James Terry def. Josh Thornburg- KO 4:38 R1.
Damian Douglas def. Wayne Phillips- Majority Decision (29-28 Phillips, 30-27 Douglas, 29-28 Damian Douglas).
- Chris Colemon