Strikeforce returned to Las Vegas on Friday night for the second time in two months for Strikeforce Challengers 18. The promotion now makes its home for its launching pad series at The Palms Casino Resort in Sin City.
Jorge Gurgel entered his main event fight with Joe Duarte wanting to fight more within himself. Instead of throwing caution to the wind and blitzing, Gurgel pressed the action, but in a much more deliberate style than has been typical in his more recent fights.
Gurgel did a good job maintaining the center of the cage, landing strong leg kicks and impressive punch combinations, particularly in the opening stanza.
The second round swung more to Duarte’s favor as he stepped up his movement foot and head movement, avoiding the majority of Gurgel’s attacks, while amping up his own punching. Duarte’s impressive hand speed was on display and he started to land much cleaner and frequent punch combinations.
Gurgel stepped up the pace in round three, although still not allowing himself to morph into the out-of-control Gurgel he has sometimes shown. He seemed to get the better of Duarte on the feet, while Duarte scored top position in two takedowns during the round.
It was a close fight that could realistically have tipped in either direction. The judges scored the fight in Duarte’s favor, one of them giving him all three rounds.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy fight,” Duarte said afterwards, crediting a strong training camp for his second victory under the Strikeforce banner.
The win improved Duarte’s overall record to 10-2, running his current winning streak to five consecutive bouts, and liking putting him on the fast track in Strikeforce’s thin lightweight division.
Gurgel had a lot on his mind heading into the fight, nearly pulling out due to his father-in-law recently being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.
The loss, however, dropped Gurgel’s record to 14-8, including losing six out of his last nine bouts. So he will likely have the cloudiness of his fight career’s future hanging over him as he tries to focus on his family during such trying times.
It wasn’t pretty, but Nathan James, in his Strikeforce debut, spoiled the premier of Danillo Villefort.
Both fighters started strong with their striking, but Villefort quickly took over, executing an impressive throw from the clinch. He took full mount then transitioned to the back, searching for a rear naked choke that James defended well.
Villefort seemed to fade a bit from round two on. While it remained close, James did a good job mixing up his punch combinations and jab to eke ahead on the feet. He coupled that with his wrestling skills to maintain control and apply some solid ground and pound on the mat.
In the end, James did enough in the judges’ eyes to earn the unanimous decision.
“I think the striking was a little better on my part and also the wrestling,” James later said, “staying on top and doing damage.”
“I really want to finish him. I want to use my grinding style to set stuff up. He’s never been finished in 22 fights, so I want to be the first one to do that,” Pat Healy said of Eric Wisely prior to their fight on Friday night.
He utilized his grinding style, and he won the fight, but he was unable to secure the finish that he wanted.
Healy took Wisely down and controlled top position throughout the majority of the fight – save for some solid submission attempts from his opponent – doing enough to earn a unanimous nod from all three judges.
“It wasn’t my best fight. I only had one fight in the last year, so I looked a little rusty, I felt,” said Healy after the fight.
Olympic judo bronze medalist Ronda Rousey’s Strikeforce debut was short, but sweet, although there was a dash of sour controversy thrown in as well.
She immediately drew on her judo background, missing a throw, but jumping to an armbar and dragging her opponent, Sarah D’Alelio to the mat. Once they hit the mat, Rousey started talking to referee Steve Mazzagatti, who waited briefly, but then stopped the fight saying, “There’s a tap; there’s a tap.”
The replays clearly showed no physical tap, and D’Alelio denied any verbal tap.
“I felt her elbow go out and she said, ‘tap, tap’,” said Rousey after the fight. “I just turned to the referee and said she said tap, cause I didn’t think she could use her other arm. I was just trying to be respectful to her.”
D’Alelio flatly denied saying anything of the kind.
“I didn’t say tap. I said, aaahhh.”
Mazzagatti left the cage without talking with post-fight interviewer Mauro Ranallo.
Already on UFC president Dana White’s list as “the worst referee in history,” Mazzagatti isn’t likely to sway opinion to his favor following his decision to stop this fight.
Roy Jones, Jr., looked a little more like Jon Jones than his more famous boxing namesake, launching flying knees and starting to pick Derrick Mehmen apart with his striking from the opening bell.
Mehmen, however, grounded Jones midway through the first round and didn’t let up for the rest of the fight.
Mehmen suffered a severe gash over his left eye at the opening of round two when he caught Jones in the air midway through a spinning kick. It appeared Jones’ knee caused the damage. He still planted Jones and, although the fight was stopped briefly to check the cut, the doctor allowed it to continue.
Mehmen didn’t do much damage, save for the final 30 seconds of the fight, but he kept Jones out of his element, smothering his way to a unanimous decision victory.
Joe Duarte def. Jorge Gurgel by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28), R3
Nathan James def. Danillo Villefort by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28), R3
Pat Healy def. Eric Wisely by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28), R3
Ronda Rousey def. Sarah D’Alelio by Verbal Submission (Armbar) at 0:25, R1
Derrick Mehmen def. Roy Jones, Jr. by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28), R3
Gian Villante def. Keith Berry by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27), R3
Nah-Shon Burrell def. Lukasz Les by TKO at 2:30, R2
Mike Bronzoulis def. Chad Leonhardt by TKO at 1:30, R3
Milton Vieira def. Sterling Ford by Submission at 4:49, R1
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