For the first time under the Zuffa banner, Strikeforce returned to its spiritual home of San Jose, California for the Heavyweight Grand Prix finals between Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier, featuring a title defense by Gilbert Melendez against Josh Thomson. The undercard – televised on SHO Extreme – featured a roster of familiar Strikeforce names, local talent, and rising stars.
JZ “Gesias” Cavalcante vs. Isaac Vallie-Flagg
Seasoned lightweights JZ Cavalcante and Isaac Vallie-Flagg turned in a competitive scrap in the featured prelim bout, one that appeared to take place in fast-forward after the plodding light heavyweight third round that San Jose fans had most recently seen. After three rounds Vallie-Flagg’s endurance and versatility on the feet earned him a split decision nod.
Gesias sped forward early on and got a huge takedown, then took Vallie-Flagg’s back on the way up, trying for a rear-naked choke and a guillotine against the cage. That was the high point of the bout for Cavalcante, who slowed gradually over the next 12 minutes as Vallie-Flagg only improved.
Vallie-Flagg escaped that early exchange and came out swinging. He chased down his opponent with jabs and kicks, adding in a flying knee that connected for the first of several times throughout the bout. A body kick from Vallie-Flagg earned a head kick from Cavalcante, and the two stood and traded for the rest of the round.
Gesias earned another takedown in the second, this one in the center of the hexagon, and worked to smother Vallie-Flagg. Vallie-Flagg remained calm, trapping one of Cavalcante’s legs before deftly spinning out of the position and returning to his feet. The two stood up trading punches, and for the rest of the bout, the advantage was Vallie-Flagg’s, who’d seemed to find his range. He peppered Cavalcante with jabs, overhand rights, front kicks (including one that snapped Cavalcante’s head back) and those flying knees. Cavalcante worked for takedowns, but was refused on all further attempts. Vallie-Flagg also capitalized in exchanges on the fence, mixing up body shots with hammerfists to the face and a half dozen brutal close-quarters elbows.
Judges turned in scores of 29-28, 29-28 and 28-29 for Vallie-Flagg, who is now 13-3-1; Cavalcante slips to 18-5-1. ““This is by far my biggest win,” said “Vallie-Flagg. “JZ has beaten top guys like Bart Palaszewski and this is huge for me to stand in there for three rounds and get the win. I knew he was going to tire in the third so I tried to turn up the intensity”
Virgil Zwicker vs. Carlos “Guto” Inocente
Light heavyweight Virgil Zwicker showed incredible heart and chin in a three-round slobberknocker against Brazilian kickboxing champ Carlos “Guto” Inocente, who showed off his brilliant technique and still-developing gas tank.
Round one was a clinic for Inocente’s kicks, as he landed body kicks (spinning and otherwise), knees, and a huge high kick that would have dropped most men. Instead, Zwicker responded with an instinctive takedown, and the two worked their way back back to the feet. The end seemed imminent as Zwicker was wobbly, exhausted and staggered with his hands down, but he somehow survived the round and got a takedown on the way out.
In rounds two and three, Zwicker caught few of Inocente’s kicks, using the leg to bull him against the fence or mat. Inocente stayed active with his own takedowns and landed a spinning back fist that cracked throughout the arena. By the end of round two, Inocente appeared nearly as exhausted as his opponent.
Both men fought round three on fumes, with their hands held low as they winged sloppy fists at one another. The tide seemed to have turned as Zwicker connected several times, but Inocente rallied often enough to remind judges of the accurate kicks that had earlier made his win seem a foregone conclusion.
Judges gave the bout to Inocente 30-27 and 29-28 twice, much to the disappointment of the crowd. Inocente stays perfect with a 6-0 record, while Zwicker drops to 10-3 plus one clear moral victory. “It was a difficult fight,” said Inocente. “He’s a very good fighter and I was very surprised he was able to take all of those shots from me.”
“I was able to show my heart out there but I came up short,” said Zwicker, who said that his finger was broken by a kick in the first round. “I have to get back to the drawing board and come back stronger.”
Gian Villante vs. Derrick Mehmen
Long Island light heavyweight Gian Villante used crisp strikes and nasty leg kicks to batter fellow wrestler Derrick Mehmen over three rounds.
Villante set the tone early, dropping Mehmen with a right uppercut. Mehmen survived the follow-up attack, but the edge had gone to Villante, who continued a relaxed approach to delivering his short straight-body-uppercut combos. He staggered Mehmen again with a huge right hand and ended the round with a high headkick for good measure.
Rounds two and three were more of the same, with Villante mixing in more low kicks and left jabs, both of which clearly affected his opponent. Mehmen tried for takedowns each round, but was refused by Villante save one at the end of round three. Mehmen launched two explosive offenses in the third, rushing forward with strikes, but none of them appeared to damage – or faze – Villante, who nimbly escaped the clinch attempts and returned to his post in the center of the cage.
Villante easily nabbed a unanimous decision with scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28, boosting his record to 10-3; Mehmen stumbles to 12-5. “I played it a little too safe in there because I knew he was going to try to take it to the mat,” said Villante post-fight. “I found a home for my jab and did my best to keep the distance and capitalize on his mistakes.
Quinn Mulhern vs. Yuri Villefort
Two welterweight brown belts engaged in a series of scrambles, and ultimately Quinn Mulhern used his long legs and experience to end the 21-year old Yuri Villefort’s undefeated streak.
All three rounds started on the feet but quickly went to the mat. It was Mulhern who stayed busier with nonstop submission attempts, including omoplatas, a north-south choke, a guillotine and a solid-looking kneebar. It was also Mulhern who scored more consistent takedowns.
For his part, Villefort showed excellent submission defense, nimbly reversing and escaping throughout the bout. In the first round, he drew blood with vicious elbows and scored with body shots, all from guard. But these attacks waned as the fight wore on and by round three, he was all reaction.
Judges scored the bout 30-27, 29-28 and 28-29 for the underrated Mulhern, who now stands at 18-2, including three in a row in Strikeforce; Villefort drops to 6-1 in his Strikeforce debut.
James Terry vs. Bobby Green
In the night’s first bout (and only dark match of the card), two California lightweights fought tooth and nail for a full three rounds. In the end, it was SoCal’s “King” Bobby Green who pulled out the split decision win over San Jose’s own James Terry.
The two standout wrestlers kept the bout on the feet for much of the action, obviously both looking for the knockout. Green stayed on the outside, looking for the counter, and both tested the waters with leg kicks. In the last 90 seconds, both men made thwarted takedown attempts and erupted in huge flurries. Round two went almost exactly the same way. Terry staggered Green twice with strikes, but Green just stuck his tongue out and waved Terry on.
Green continued to hype the crowd up to open the third, taking the center of the cage and stalking Terry, who was now bleeding from the nose. This time, Green rocked Terry with a knee and punches, and the two stood and traded wild strikes, with Terry making one last-ditch effort at a takedown. It wasn’t enough, though, as judges had it 29-28, 29-28 and 28-29 for Green.
“I got this fight on 18 days’ notice and that’s the longest I’ve had to prepare for a fight in Strikeforce,” said Green afterward. “I actually knew very little about James so I Facebooked him when I got the fight to let him know that I was looking forward to getting in there and bleeding with him. I’m excited to get back in there show the fans what I can really do on a full training camp.”
Green’s record improves to 18-5, while Terry drops to 11-5 in this, his tenth Strikeforce appearance.
Strikeforce San Jose Prelim Results
Results for the first five preliminary bouts at Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier, which took place Saturday, May 19 at HP Pavilion in San Jose, California.