(Press Release Courtesy of Strikeforce; Photos by Esther Lin)
On an exhilarating evening that featured action fights highlighted by crowd-pleasing victories by Fresno fan favorites Lavar Johnson and Billy Evangelista, Bobby Voelker (23-8) evened the score with previously undefeated Roger Bowling (8-1) with a second-round TKO (punches) in the main event Friday on Strikeforce Challengers live on Showtime from the Save Mart Center.
In other results on the televised portion the event: Johnson (15-3) scored an explosive 2:17, first-round knockout over Virgil Zwicker (9-2), in a heavyweight scrap; the comebacking Evangelista (11-0, 1 NC) won the fight of the night with a thrilling, crowd-pleasing, hard-fought three-round unanimous decision over Waachiim Spirit Wolf (8-7-1), in a catchweight bout at 165 pounds; Julia “The Jewel” Budd (1-0) made an instant impression at 145 pounds, impressively winning her pro debut with a second-round TKO (punches) over previously unbeaten Shana Olsen (4-1); and John Devine (5-2) submitted (rear-naked choke) Brandon Cash (5-3) at 3:20 of the first round in a heavyweight match.
Voelker lost a technical decision to Bowling five months ago on Strikeforce Challengers when an exciting encounter ended prematurely due to an accidental poke in the eye in the third round. Friday, however, the six-foot, 31-year-old Voelker shook off a fast start from the aggressive-minded Bowling to triumph decisively in perhaps a career-best performance. It was Voelker’s ninth victory in 12 starts.
“I really trained hard and I really wanted to win this fight,’’ said Voelker after the match was stopped at 3:58 of the round. “I felt like I had something to prove. If they want a third fight, I’m for it, or I will just move on. I’m just very happy that all the hard work I put in morning, noon, and night paid off like it did.’’
Johnson was fighting for the second time since he was gunned down while attending a family barbeque during the July 4 holiday in 2009. The six-foot-two, 33-year-old survived three gunshot wounds sustained during the walk-by shooting that led to the death of a cousin. A father of two young boys, Johnson spent 30 days in a hospital, fighting for his life, and several more months rehabilitating.
Friday, the hard-hitting Johnson, who has never been victorious via decision, looked as good as new as he earned his seventh consecutive knockout victory.
“This was just the kind of fight I wanted,’’ said Johnson after dropping the game Zwicker with a four-punch salvo that prompted the referee to step in and halt matters at 2:17.
“I give Zwicker a lot of credit. He came to fight like I knew he would. But I wanted to make a statement. There are a lot of big-name heavyweights in Strikeforce and I feel it’s time I get my shot at one of them.”
Evangelista, making his first start since Nov. 6, 2009, won an absolute slugfest by the scores of 30-27 twice and 29-28. The extremely popular local fighter is a natural 155-pounder and Friday’s fight was at a catch weight of 165. The naturally bigger and stronger Spirit Wolf, who fights at welterweight (170), used his size and strength to his advantage throughout and some thought the scoring could have been closer.
“I love fighting in front of the hometown fans in Fresno,’’ the five-foot-eight, 29-year-old Evangelista said, “but this was a very hard fight. I wanted to make it into more of a stand-up fight but this guy was tough and game as they come.’’
Spirit Wolf, who took down Evangelista no less than three times, felt he deserved much better.
“I come to fight and that’s what I did tonight,’’ he said. “It is bad enough I thought I deserved the decision, but to not get a round on those scorecards is ridiculous. Honestly, I feel I got ripped off.
“But I hope Strikeforce liked what they saw and they give me another chance. I had to drop weight for this, and that wasn’t easy, but I will fight anybody.’’
Despite losing a blow for delivering an illegal elbow late in the first round, Budd dominated the more experienced Olsen.
“I am very happy right now,’’ said the highly regarded Canadian Muay Thai Champion, who was the only fighter to defeat Gina Carano in Muay Thai. “I wanted to keep it standing more, but Shana was tough.’’
Although it would be unrealistic, after just one fight, for her to even entertain thoughts of facing Strikeforce champion Cris Cyborg, Budd’s performance against Olsen clearly showed that she deserves to be mentioned at or near the top of a short list of possible challengers at 145 pounds.
“It’s up to my coaches,’’ said Budd, who graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Kinetics. “But I’d be game for it.’’
The victory by Devine came in his first start since losing to Daniel Cormier last March 26 on Strikeforce Challengers.
“This is obviously a big win,’’ said Devine after dealing Cash his third consecutive defeat. “I knew he was heavy-handed, but I did what I had to do. I am fortunate and appreciative for everyone involved in making this fight happen.’’