Sorry, no time for a catchy title tonight—it took me about an hour just to get out of San Francisco so I'm a little late to the party at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. The first fight was 10 minutes away when I sat down (which means it's closer now) so there's no time to be clever.
Not that it would be well spent in any event.
OK, the powers-that-be fudged the start time a bit on the email I got so we've yet to begin. Perhaps they're waiting for the auditorium to fill up a bit because it's a freakin' ghost town at the moment.
Or maybe just the official listed start of 5:00 PM. Details, details...
Anyway, the quiet and calm gives me a chance to spy the early arrivers.
Strikeforce's Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez is ringside; you can pick that flat brim out of a crowd and he's not standing in one. With El Nino in the house, you'd expect either Nick Diaz or Jake Shields to be circulating as well, but I haven't seen anyone else from the Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu entourage.
Granted, this particular fight organization ups the ante as far as cage girls are concerned so I'm a tad distracted. What they lack for in quality, they make up for in quantity by throwing at least four scantily clad lovelies at the crowd.
We'll make due.
The music's been cued up (now it's gone) and Gus Johnson's voice is starting to echo through the arena so we can't be too far from the action.
Herschel Walker's made an appearance as has Renato Sobral, who's quite literally covered in tattoos. The ink and the overall demeanor make Babalu an easy guy to make for a fighter. Which, given his temper and antics in the cage, is probably a good thing.
Here we go.
Bobby Stack vs. Derrick Burnsed—Lightweights
Burnsed makes his entry first to Ludacris' "Stand Up." Since I'm about a hundred years behind the rap/hip-hop curve, I'm satisfied with the track.
Stack is rolling out of San Francisco compared to Burnsed's Sacramento so he gets a pretty sturdy ovation. He also selects a much better intro, Kanye West's "Amazing."
We'll see if he does the song justice.
That familiar female referee gets the first bout; I swear, they're not announcing her name.
The crowd is letting its allegiance to the local get the better of it because a harmless knee gets a big "oooh" from the crowd. As is pretty much everything Stack does.
In truth, Burnsed is holding his own as they exchange leg kicks and fists. Stack pushes the action to the cage and the two battle for leverage without scoring much. A few knees here and there, some awkward heel kicks, and a lot of yawning.
You'd have to say the man from San Francisco is getting the upper hand, but even the ref isn't satisfied with the pace because she separates the two.
A flurry of action from Stack results in a takedown and he dishes out a bit of punishment from the top. He lets Burnsed reclaim his feet, but takes him right back down after a bit of sparring.
The horns sounds with Bobby in side control; the underwhelming round is his 10-9.
Yahoo, the second starts with a bang as the two lightweights meet in the center of the cage. Stack tosses up an ill-advised high kick that is blocked and then Burnsed puts the favorite on his posterior with a big right hand.
But the shot seems to have awakened stack as he bounces back nicely and assumes control on the ground, almost rolling into a choke. He's back on top, but in Burnsed's full guard and that doesn't seem to be to his liking.
A mad scramble results in both competitors back on their feet, but Stack shoots back in before anything of consequence lands. The Sacramento entrant does well to stuff the shot and then reverses the momentum to end up on top of Stack.
Stack wriggles through a couple sincere-looking side choke, but spends the rest of the round on the bottom in a defensive posture. That and the knockdown give the round to Burnsed, 10-9.
These gents clearly like to start quickly as a stiff left jab lands from Burnsed, but Stack keeps coming forward. He seems to be intent on taking the fight to the ground as a wild high kick is immediately followed by another takedown attempt.
Derrick appears to have something figured out as he stuffs the shot and, instead, ends up in the dominant position on the ground yet again.
Stack is back in trouble as Burnsed steps over into full mount and then proceeds to take his adversary's back. But in a smooth reversal, the fan favorite shakes him off and takes the top position.
That didn't last too long as Burnsed rolls into an armbar attempt that Stack evades.
Each fighter knows he needs the round because the pace is much faster.
Stack follows a clean exchange on the feet with another shot and this one is giving Burnsed more trouble. He manages to defend for a while, but eventually ends up on his back and eats some punches up until the final bell.
By a razor-thin margin, I'd give that round to Stack, 10-9 so the unanimous decision would be his.
Close, the judges split in favor of...Stack.
Stack by split-decision
Ah, well that explains Melendez' unaccompanied presence—Stack just passed by our table with the lightweight champ in tow.
Yancey Medeiros vs. Gareth Joseph—Middleweights
No dilly-dallying in between the prelims, the next gladiators are already in the cage.
Joseph comes to us from San Diego and entered to Linkin Park's "One Step Closer" while Medeiros hails from Hawaii. His song was unrecognizable rap, a popular choice as far as I can tell.
Little known fact about Hawaiians—they travel really well. A small but strong cheer went up for Yancey. He's also undefeated so maybe that explains the love.
Joseph opens the pleasantries with a nice leg kick than lands, the second one isn't quite as successful. Now he's letting his hands go and Medeiros looks a little taken aback.
That doesn't last long as the Hawaiian wades in and scores with some strikes of his own. Gareth seems to be getting the better of the stand-up, but clinches and works to drag the scrap to the canvas.
It doesn't work as Yancey defends and the two separate.
Medeiros begins to work the midsection with a jab or two before returning to head shots. One lands and spits Joseph out of the exchange, sideways. He's not badly hurt, though, as he steps back into the pocket.
Some back-and-forth feinting as each contender takes a breather.
They're back at it now—both men are holding their hands too low and Medeiros spends a good amount of time with them out wide, like a very open Muay Thai stance. The horn ends a close round, one I'd give to Joseph, 10-9.
Second stanza begins with the Hawaiian walking his prey down until Gareth springs forward with a wild, looping left hook. Shockingly, it doesn't land as the pair shift to the other side of the cage.
Maybe both are gassed from the first as the pace has slowed way down.
Yikes, big shot from Medeiros has Joseph stumbling and another drops him against the cage. He's not moving, but the ref lets a couple more bombs fall before bringing the beating to a halt.
Medeiros by KO at 1:19 of the second.
We now know why Yancey is undefeated; that was an eye-opener.
Brett Bergmark vs. Vagner Rocha—Welterweights
The last of the prelims is upon us.
Rocha enters to Three Doors Down's "Kryponite." I've gotta call bulls*** on that; really, Three Doors Down? That's terrible. Bergmark doesn't do a whole lot better with Fat Boy Slim's "The Rockafeller Skank."
What year is it?
Vagner (pronounced exactly how it's spelled, which is awesome) is undefeated, but Bergmark still gets the bigger hand since he's from nearby Concord.
Bergmark is substantially thicker than Rocha and has an obvious power advantage, but Rocha is using his speed to keep the tables even. Vagner is the first to switch up tactics and goes for the takedown.
He's got it and sits in Bergmark's guard before posturing up and letting some hammerfists (or what passes for them at welterweight) do some damage. Bergmark, who is reminiscent of Sean Sherk, kicks his opponent off and retakes his feet.
They've restarted the striking affair and it's beginning to look like his evening won't end well if Rocha can't get the tussle to the ground.
Luckily for him, he does just that and is back in the Californian's guard.
The smaller fighter finishes the round with some more abuse from above. It wasn't pretty, but a 10-9 round goes to the undefeated Rocha.
Five minutes in and it's clear that Rocha will win if he can operate on the ground. Contrarily, he's playing with serious fire when he stands toe-to-toe with Bergmark. After wearing a few power shots from Brett, Vagner pulls a Demian Maia and tries to fall backward with his adversary in his guard.
Bergmark's having none of it as his knees barely touch the mat before he's back up.
The two work their way across the cage and Bergmark decides he will follow Rocha to the ground this time. But he's careful to stay out of guard, instead opting to throw punches while crouched over the downed fighter.
It might not be wise, but Brett is definitely scoring points with ground 'n' pound. Still, Rocha is at least a theat on his back. On his feet, he's a de-clawed kitten.
The second ends with some standing exchanges that Bergmark wins. Call it 10-9 for him.
Rocha comes out kicking and Bergmark disapproves, which he shows by tossing Vagner to the ground like a small child. This isn't going well for the grappler—he looks overmatched on his feet and the Bergmark looks too strong for him to do much with on the ground.
Brett gets the better of more striking and then stuffs a haphazard shot from Rocha. The stuff turns into a submission attempt as he goes for an arm-in guillotine. Vagner tries to roll back ino his guard, but Bergmark thrashes himself clear.
Now, they're back standing and Rocha's getting picked apart.
The crowd has completely turned on Vagner as he's spent most of the last two rounds running from Bergmark's fists. The battle ends with Rocha on his back, wiping blood or moisture from his mouth.
That was an easy 10-9 for Bergmark who should take a unanimous decision.
Bergmark by unanimous decision.
Jimmy Lennon, Jr. just relates that Bergmark's nickname is the Angry Hick. Amazing.
Time for some more star-gazing as we weight for the main card to kick off.
Dangerous Dan Henderson with his mangled mug is sitting ringside and Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Jake Shields just passed by after taking a couple pictures with his fans.
No, I don't think they're sitting together.
Hendo's decided to chat with a platinum blond instead. Shields seems like a nice dude, but I think Dan made the right choice.
Uhh...just kidding about the main card bit.
Ron Keslar vs. Chris Cope—Middleweights
I swear, this fight wasn't on the Wikipedia slate until about 30 seconds ago and the Strikeforce materials we received still listed Magomed Shikhshabekov as Keslar's opponent. Magomed was forced out by visa issues and I hadn't heard a replacement named so I didn't know what to think.
Keslar came out to House of Pain's "Jump Around" for what it's worth.
Keslar's from San Jose so he's predictably got the masses behind him.
He also seems to have an advantage in strength and skill because he has no trouble moving the fight to the ground. Once there, he quickly takes Cope's back and sinks in a rear naked choke.
The favorite can't get his arm under Cope's chin so he goes to work softening his target up. Keslar's hooks are in so deep, he's almost got a body triangle. At certain points, he does lock in the triangle i.e. the late replacement is in a heap o' trouble.
Cope manages to twist free from the choke attempt, but Keslar takes full mount so Cope gives up his back once again.
That was essentially a five-minute rear naked choke attempt from the native of San Jose. Dominating, but boring so 10-9 for Keslar.
I'd imagine Cope's corner told him to keep the fight standing. The problem is that Keslar looks much quicker and stronger.
Translation: we're back on the ground with Keslar on Cope's back. Chris manages to reverse the position and take top position, but he's a fish-out-of-water on the ground in this bout so he backs up and we're back on the feet.
Cope proceeds to take advantage by kick Ron in the goodies, which sends Keslar for some deep breaths.
They re-engage and Chris comes forward with leather flying. One heavy hand finds its mark and the crowd groans in appreciation. Another crumples Keslar and he's hanging onto Cope's leg for dear life while his opponent tenderizes him.
The San Jose product isn't resisting and he's not really covering up at all so the ref stops the contest. Can't blame her, but it's still not a popular move.
Cope by TKO at 4:32 of the second.
NOW, we're waiting on the main card.
We're a couple minutes away now, but I thought I'd report that Alistair Overeem is here for a closer look at the class of his organization's heavyweight division. There's a three-deep throng around the Demolition Man, but he still sticks out.
It's virtually impossible to believe that guy ever fought at 205, much less 185.
Mohammed Lawal has also made the scene.
It bears mentioning that Strikeforce channels a little inner PRIDE Fighting Championships for its televised intros. There's the fireball, the strobe lights, the fog, and a walkway flanked by the crowd.
Makes for a pretty spectacle.
Josh Thomson vs. Pat Healy—Lightweights
Bam Bam Healy enters to more nondescript rap—I have no comment on that so I'll flash a little movie trivia. Wasn't Pat Healy the name of Matt Dillon's character in "There's Something About Mary?"
If so, I think it be wonderful if the Punk knocked out his front teeth and Healy had to get dentures. Wouldn't he have to get an oversized set?
Thomson's another San Jose rep; he gets the biggest ovation thus far.
The 155-pounders touch gloves and they're off, an active clinch sends both men cartwheeling into the cage. Somehow, they don't leave their feet for more than a second or two and the standing hostilities continue.
My view was blocked, but the action's now on the ground with Thomson taking Healy's back before transitioning between an armbar attempt, then into a leg triangle, and back to the armbar attempt.
Healy's out of danger for the moment, but he's getting chewed up in the grappling game. Bam Bam manages to get good control of the Punk's body and, as the fight struggles to the feet, he tosses Thomson.
The move backfires after Healy momentarily takes Thomson's back because his opponent is able to use his submission game to escape.
The first ends with neither individual scoring any more significant points. Call it 10-9 for Thomson for controlling most of the round.
Thomson leaves his corner, scores a couple leg kicks before Healy grabs him, and then goes for a ride. Bam Bam proceeds to the Punk's back and begins working for a rear naked church.
As the fans and Big John McCarthy get restless, Healy lets go of Thomson's back and ends up in his opponent's half guard, inflicting minor damage with strikes from the top.
The Punk works free briefly, but Bam Bam gets another mini-slam. The execution isn't perfect, though, as he ends up in another of Thomson's armbar attempts. Healy reverses, but finds himself in a much more troublesome armbar attempt that sends the crowd into a frenzy.
Healy calmly works out of it and is back in the familiar Thomson guard.
The second ends with Healy on top and the owner of a 10-9 round.
My scorecard says the third will decide the fight as both men have taken one round and lost the other. They come out as if they agree—the exchanges have been more furious to open the final stanza.
And, as I type that, the pace slows to a crawl.
Both Thomson and Healy are finding homes for their jabs, but everything of more wicked intent is missing. Healy uses a flurry of nothing to close the distance and clinch against the cage.
This is another tight round so a takedown might decide it and Bam Bam's just gotten one. He tries to take the Punk's back, but slips off and is a dominated position. Thomson uses the blunder to take Healy's back and lock in a body triangle.
Now, he's working for the rear naked choke and the HP Pavilion is on its feat. At first the arm didn't look deep enough across Healy's throat, but it just slipped in deeper and it's only a matter of time.
Finally, Healy has no choice but to tap.
Thomson by submission (rear naked choke) at 4:27 of the third.
The celebrities are starting to surface—Forest Whitaker just got a rousing round of applause as he talked to Walker.
Cristiane Santos vs. Jan Finney—Women's Middleweight Championship
Next up is the women's championship—Cyborg comes in without much serious doubt about her lace in the women's game.
Her 8-7 suggests there's not much doubt about her, either. For very different reasons. Nonetheless, she's in a title bout and anything can happen once the cage door closes.
Or so they tell us.
Finney fights out of Springfield, Ohio while Santos is the well-known Brazilian.
Good grief, Cyborg comes out throwing vicious shots and promptly eats a stiff jab from Finney. That might've been a bad idea as the champion looks angry.
After a clinch against the cage, Cyborg resumes her artillery attack and staggers Cuddles. She then lands a crushing knee to the grill, but the American is still standing. For the moment.
Another series of savage rights and lefts send Finney back down to the canvas and, what's even more impressive than a conscious Jan Finney, is the fact that the ref is letting the brawl go on.
More and more punishment is dished out by the Brazilian until the ref sees something illegal and stops the slaughter. A point gets deducted from the champ (for punches to the back of the head) and Cuddles gets some time to recover.
She probably should've taken more given the abuse she's taken, but she gamely comes back out after a few lungfuls.
This is getting ridiculous—Santos is absolutely annihilating Finney, but the ref just lets it go and go and go. She (the ref) might be a little gun-shy from her last stoppage of the Keslar-Cope match because this is a much more one-sided affair.
And it's going to a second round.
They're showing the slo-mo replay of the best strikes from the first round and it looks like everything Cyborg lands is flush. The second stanza begins much like the first—a good fist lands from Finney and then she gets a full plate of fists from the Brazilian.
The Ohioan is back on the ground, playing punching bag for Santos' fists.
Cyborg apparently gets bored so she lets Finney stand back up and the carnage continues there.
Give Cuddles credit, I'm not sure I'd be interested in carrying on after this onslaught. But there she is...eating five or six shots for every one she lands.
Wow, Cyborg is simply whaling away at a stationary target. Mercifully, the ref's seen enough and calls an end to the mess.
Santos by TKO at 2:56 of the second to retain the Women's Middleweight Championship.
Gus Johnson makes his first appearance inside the cage.
Frank Shamrock just got an extended show of appreciation from the HP Pavilion crowd. He also took a moment to show some back—sadly, I was at the mercy of a higher calling in the restroom.
Another San Jose legend is up next. Let's hope Le's turn in the cage tonight goes better than his cameo in Fighting, which is—without question—one of the more terrible movies you'll ever regret seeing.
Cung Le vs. Scott Smith—Middleweights
No surprise here, the San Jose crowd loses its collective, beer-addled mind when the Vietnamese dynamo approaches the enclosure. For a 38-year-old pro, Cung has a scant few bouts on his resume.
Granted, his kickboxing hit-list is full.
Hands of Steel saunters out next and he is clearly the villain in this encounter. Not only is he not Cung Le and not from San Jose, he's not even from California.
He also defeated the San Jose hero in both warriors' last scuffle. So, yeah, he's not universally loved inside the arena (there were a few cheers, though).
There is some serious juice for this one—a few in the crowd are already on their feet and chants are being traded across the sea of humanity.
Smith gets it started quickly by racing across the open space and then falling/diving at Le's feet. Much ado about nothing, though, as nothing is traded for about 30 seconds and the melee stagnates against the cage.
Hands of Steel is pressing the early pace as the San Jose favorite retreats and looks for counterstriking chances. The first significant damage goes against Smith as Le seems to wobble him ever so slightly, causing Scott to shoot in for a takedown.
Cung Le has little trouble foiling the attempt and is content to soften up his antagonist's midsection. Smith's had enough of that so he struggles to his feet and the standing exchanges resume.
Le rocks with another combo and goes to work with the knees as Smith folds to the canvas. Smith said he wanted to prove the first meeting wasn't a fluke, but that plan has jumped a rail.
The first comes to a close with Le still pummeling from a dominant position. Easy 10-9 for Le.
Cung Le tees off to start the second, three consecutive right hooks are followed by a firm left high kick. More strikes find their home before a spinning back kick sends Hands of Steel straight back into the cage.
That might've hurt him badly because he isn't showing much vigor in an attempt to get out of a vulnerable spot. He does manage to escape, but it looks like he's done.
Another enormous right collapses Smith and its followed by another salvo of the same to the head and body. Le's right must be punched out because he changes to the left and finishes Scott's night.
Le by TKO at 1:46 of the second.
That was a resounding victory and a display of straight ownership. Cung Le should ditch the acting career; he looks like a nightmare for most middleweights (cough, cough).
After a long, sincere thank you to his support team, Le promises to pay them back by washing some dishes. I think they'll settle for that fight purse.
The rumbles have already started and the previous athletes haven't even left the cage yet. It's fair to say there's a decent amount of anticipation for this next fight.
Apparently, the people are excited to see some Russian guy.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Fabricio Werdum—Heavyweights
The lights are down and the final hype reels have started, we're only moments away from Fedor Emelianenko's staunchest challenge since he left PRIDE. I'm a pretty mellow guy, but I'll admit I've been getting chills ever since stepping inside the HP Pavilion.
The Last Emperor could prove to be the single greatest mixed martial artist the sport will ever see. The chance to see a living legend doesn't come around too frequently, but here it comes.
Werdum enters the cage first and I'm not sure anyone cares—all eyes are turned toward the entrance, awaiting the quiet king.
If you can't tell from Showtime's feed, the female ref is actually taller than Emelianenko. I've never seen an individual whose aura creates such a huge impression despite a relatively small frame.
It's easy to forget that his is one of the smaller heavyweights plying the trade.
As Lennon says, "it's Showtime!"
Big John McCarthy gets the honors.
The wait's over as the two heavyweights take the center of the cage without touching glvoes. Leg kick from Werdum misses as Fedord stalks down his prey.
This might not take too long—Fedor comes out swinging his patented sambo casts and appears to floor Werdum. He follows him to the ground and shakes off a leg triangle before beginning to administer some abuse.
But Werdum locks in a much tighter leg triangle and Emelianenko's in horrible trouble. He tries to thrash the Brazilian off his hold, but no luck. He comes close to tapping, thinks better of it, and finally has no choice.
Werdum succeeds (as he predicted, right down to the round) where Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and other submission specialists have failed.
Werdum by submission (triangle armbar) at 1:09 of the first.
Quick shot of Overeem at cageside and he looks like someone just stole his candy bar. Meanwhile, Emelianenko looks like a kid called into the principal's office as he stands next to Big John and Vai Cavalo's raised arm.
Give Fabricio Werdum all the credit in the world, he proved—once and for all—everyone can be beaten.
Even Fedor Emelianenko.