Bleacher Report is on hand at the HP Pavilion in San Jose for Showtime's Strikeforce: Evolution card, featuring the return of former Strikeforce World Middleweight Champion Cung Le in a three-round main event attraction against Scott "Hands of Steel" Smith.
A lull in Le's budding acting career presented the opportunity to return to the cage in his hometown to face Smith, but not before he relinquished his middleweight belt after nearly two years of inactivity.
The card will not be void of a title fight however, as Strikeforce World Lightweight champ Josh Thomson has passed the injury bug and will unify his title with the current interim lightweight champ, Gilbert Melendez.
Other main card attractions include Matt "The Law" Lindland taking on jiu-jitsu ace "Jacare" Souza, and "King" Mo Lawal facing Mike Whitehead in a heavyweight tilt.
B/R MMA writer Dray Miller will be posting updates as the show unfolds, and in between his own intermittent WEC check-ups.
5:22--Welcome to the live B/R Strikeforce blog. The undercard is starting later than scheduled due to the loss of a few fights. As already widely reported, Trevor Prangley withdrew due to a knee injury, leading to opponent Robbie Lawler being dropped completely from the card.
Additionally, Greg Savage from Sherdog.com reports that Bay Area fighters Bobby Stack and David Douglas will not meet tonight, as Douglas has been hospitalized with an illness all day.
Spoke with lightweight champ Josh Thomson and his jiu-jitsu coach Dave Camarillo prior to the doors opening. Thomson seems very loose and simply ready to get the rematch over with.
Interesting tidbit: Thomson said the California State Athletic Commission was only giving him and Melendez one chance to make the exact weight of 155 pounds, in case anyone was wondering why both weighed in in the buff on their first attempt. Only in California...
6:05--In the first match of the evening, Ralph Gracie black belt Alexander Crispim defeats Team Alpha Male's AJ Fonseca by unanimous decision in a somewhat lackluster fight, much to the dismay of someone in the crowd who was shouting obscenities most of the fight to encourage Fonseca.
Crispim caught Fonseca in the third with a fairly blatant illegal knee while he was grounded, and apparently it's now cliche at MMA events to refer to a fighter who has been dazed by an illegal knee as "Koscheck."
In other news, there may actually be more dudes here in long NFL jerseys than tight Affliction t-shirts.
6:14--Round one of Justin Wilcox vs. Daisuke Nakamura is in the books. so far a decent slugfest, with the wrestler wilcox showing off the striking skills he's been developing at the American Kickboxing Academy. Nakamura missed a flying arm-lock attempt late in the round.
Also, Nakamura is sporting the straight up old school Ken Shamrock-Pancrase skimpy wrestling tights, which may diminish this fight's chances of being shown by Showtime if time permits.
6:29--Another fight goes the distance, this time in more entertaining fashion than the first. Most of it took place on the feet, with both fighters landing their shots but Wilcox being more active and having the better exchanges. Nakamura showed a willingness to go for broke in this fight, which mostly led to him slipping to the mat and losing positioning.
Wilcox wins by unanimous decision.
MMA stars in attendance so far include Dan Henderson and Josh Koscheck, both sitting cageside.
6:38--The fight between SLO Kickboxing's Scott Lighty and Antwain Britt is called in between the first and second rounds. Britt dominated the action in what probably was a 10-8 round. Lighty fought off about 4-5 onslaughts that many refs would have stopped, but great job by referee Josh Rosenthal of letting Lighty fight through.
After the bell, Lighty looked to be on queerstreet as he wobbled back to the corner, and the doctor stops the fight, giving him his first career MMA loss.
About 7,000 tickets sold prior to the event, and most appear to be in the arena already.
The televised portion of the card starts next.
7:01--Officially announced by Jimmy Lennon Jr. as being in attendance include Brett Rogers, Jake Shields, Robbie Lawler, "Cyborg" Santos, Herschel Walker, and former pro wrestler Bobby Lashley.
Recently signed lightweight KJ Noons was dealt a pretty cold welcome by the Bay Area crowd when announced, and moments later they gave nemesis Nick Diaz a nice ovation when Lennon rattled off his name. But by far, the loudest cheers went to Chuck Liddell and Strikeforce's most recent high profile signee, Dan Henderson.
7:17--3:08 is all it took King Mo to knock out Mike Whitehead, in match of near polar oppoasites. Whitehead came in looking like he's pulled a Ricco Rodriguez and decided cutting weight and fighting trim is a thing of the past for him. King Mo danced his way to the cage with five chicks by his side, and it probably took him about three minutes to regain the energy he spent doing so.
After the fight, King Mo celebrated with a spraying can of Rock Star reminiscent of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin back in the day with his Natty Lights.
7:33--The best fight of the night so far sees Jacare finish "The Law" by submission in the first round. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of jiu-jitsu, this was a fantastic display of grappling flows and attacks by both fighters.
The jiu-jitsu play-by-play from memory: Jacare hits a nice armlock from his guard, extends Lindland's arm completely but he somehow escapes; Jacare transitions to an omaplata (shoulder-lock), and Linland escapes by hitting his OWN omaplata off a rolling escape. Lindland showed his skills off his back with some triangle attacks, and it it culminates in Jacare passing Lindland's half guard into an arm-triangle finish.
7:53--Round one in the books for Thomson-Melendez, with great action as expected from both fighters. Members of media row seem to be having a hard time deciding who that round should go to.
Both came out to huge ovations, with "El Nino" chants raining over the arena as Melendez entered, and the loud shrieks of female admirers greeting Thomson as he entered.
8:00--Round two clearly went to "El Nino" as dropped Thomson twice, however both had their moments. Pheominal action that has really woken up this crowd. Fans on both sides are starting to take issue with each other in the stands.
8:47--Lost my connection, so to catch up:
Great fight between "The Punk" and "El Nino." What stood out to me was the contrast in this fight from the first one in terms of the kicking game. Having had the honor, and displeasure, of sparring with both fighters regularly about three years ago (I know, name-dropper) I know that Melendez used to never even wear shinpads when sparring because he never threw kicks.
This time around he was throwing Thomson off with his awkwards--yet effective--leg kicks. Conversely, it wasn't until the fourth round that Thomson started utilizing the push kicks that were so effective in their first fight. Despite his assurances that injuries ploayed no part in his loss, one has to wonder if the lack of leg kicks and his inability to keep his feet throughout the fights is a sign of Thomson hadn't completely healed for this fight.
8:55--You have to love Scott Smith. He has been getting nearly sawed in half the entire fight by Le's kicks, but continues to stalk him like a wounded bear. Never a boring fight when Smith is involved.
9:00--UNBELIEVABLE! Maybe not...Scott Smith proves why he's never out of a fight until the final seconds tick off. After being outclassed by Le throughout the fight, he dropped him toward the end of the third and final round for possibly the most dramatic fight ending in Strikeforce history.
To their credit, this overwhelmingly pro-Le crowd is giving Smith his due respect for his performance tonight.
Great night of fights from Strikeforce tonight.