by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com (Photo courtesy of Esther Lin)
Just being in the cage at Friday night’s Strikeforce Challengers 7 was a huge accomplishment for Lavar Johnson.

Gang members gunned Johnson down at a family gathering over the Independence Day holiday last summer. He suffered three gunshot wounds that nearly ended his life. Johnson emerged from the hospital a month later and 50 pounds lighter. His cousin, Anthony Johnson, wasn’t so lucky. He died at the scene.

No mixed martial arts fight will ever compare to what Johnson went through that night, but the same resilience that lead him to survive such a tragedy also led him to victory at the Save Mart Center in front of his hometown crowd in Fresno, Calif.

His opponent, Lolohea Mahe, took the fight to Johnson early, repeatedly unloading a powerful overhand right that found its mark more than once and scoring multiple takedowns. As the two hit midstream in the second round, both were floundering for air, but this is where Johnson’s resilience paid off.

As Mahe’s tank neared empty, Johnson wavered, but dug deep, unleashing a series of punishing right hands that drove him to the mat. The referee was a little slow to call a halt to the bout, but Johnson kept up his assault until he did.

“It feels great just to be a part of this,” Johnson stated after the fight. “I was kind of nervous. Just being able to overcome the gunshots and all this and with a tough opponent, this feels good, this feels real good.”

Ron “Abongo” Humphrey began his mixed martial arts career on a six-fight winning streak, but was derailed by hard-hitting heavyweight Brett Rogers last April. He returned to the right side of the tracks in his light heavyweight debut with a quick submission of Hammer House fighter George Bush III on Friday night.

Just when Bush seemed to get things moving, landing an uppercut and several stinging leg kicks, he gave up the stand-up attack and shot for the takedown. Humphrey caught him in a guillotine choke, cinched it up, and earned the submission less than two minutes into the round.

“It feels great. I feel like I can move better; I feel a lot more mobile,” said Humphrey of the move down to 205 pounds. He doesn’t have a target on anyone in the new class yet, but said he’s ready to fight whoever they throw at him.

Decorated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert Andre Galvao took Luke Stewart down throughout their bout, but was reversed on nearly every attempt, left to defend Stewart’s ground and pound. While the two negated each other’s grappling, Stewart seemed to edge ahead in the bout with his ground and pound tactics and varied kicking attack in the stand-up. The judges, however, saw it differently, handing a split decision to Galvao, likely giving more weight to his takedowns and counterpunching.

Meisha Tate on Friday night continued her quest for a rematch with current Strikeforce women’s welterweight champion Sarah Kaufman. She lived up to her nickname, Takedown Tate, by putting a headhunting Zoila Frausto on her back several times in their fight, softening her up with a ground and pound attack.

Tate nearly finished Frausto with a Von Flue shoulder choke in round two. She couldn’t finish the choke, but moved to full mount and then transitioned to an armbar. Frausto tried to escape, but the “Warrior Princess” tapped out near the end of round two.

Despite some trash talk leading up to the fight, Tate had nothing but respect for the previously unbeaten Frausto afterwards. “I don’t take anything away from her; that was a war.”

Obviously, the goal is a shot at Kaufman’s belt, but Tate said, “(I’ll fight) whoever Strikeforce puts in front of me, anybody, I don’t care.”

Kicking off the Showtime telecast was an impressive display from Justin Wilcox. Shamar Bailey showed a few sparks in the bout, but it was Wilcox, who used his strong wrestling skills and varied striking attack, courtesy of American Kickboxing Academy, to pummel Bailey into a near finish in the second round before settling for a unanimous decision.

-Lavar Johnson def. Lolohea Mahe by TKO (Strikes) at 3:29, R2
-Ron “Abongo” Humphrey def. George Bush III by Submission (Guillotine Choke) at 1:44, R1
-Andre Galvao def. Luke Stewart by Split Decision (27-30, 30-27, 29-28), R3
-Meisha Tate def. Zoila Frausto by Submission (Armbar) at 4:09, R2
-Justin Wilcox def. Shamar Bailey by Unanimous Decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27), R3