Press Release (Courtesy of Strikeforce)
Former NCAA Division I wrestler turned lightweight mixed martial arts sensation, Josh “The Punk” Thomson, will be put to the test by K-1 Max veteran and rising star, Nick “The Ghost” Gonzalez, during the live Pay Per View broadcast of “Shamrock vs. Baroni,” which will take place at San Jose, California’s HP Pavilion on Friday, June 22nd. The mixed martial arts mega-card, which is co-produced by EliteXC and Strikeforce, will be headlined by the long-awaited showdown between former UFC middleweight king, Frank Shamrock, and UFC and Pride veteran, “The New York Badass” Phil Baroni.

At stake during the fight between Shamrock and Baroni will be the vacant Strikeforce world middleweight (185-pound limit) championship.

The 28-year old Thomson, whose appearance on the card will be his first of 2007, is coming off a banner year. After losing a five-round decision last March to former junior collegiate wrestling standout, Clay Guida, in what was recognized as one of the greatest see-saw battles in mixed martial arts history, Thomson rebounded valiantly to stop Harris Sarmiento with an arm triangle choke at the HP Pavilion on June 9th.

In October, Thomson returned to the cage during the first-ever mixed martial arts fight card at Fresno, California’s Save Mart Center, and submitted world Muay Thai champion and K-1 Max star, Duane “Bang” Ludwig, with a guillotine choke during the second round of a featured matchup on the Strikeforce-promoted bill. In December, the former Stanford University wrestler staged another dominant performance against Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu force, Nam Phan, and walked away with a three-round, unanimous judges’ decision.

“I’m gonna pick up where I left off,” said Thomson of his plans for the new year. “Everyone knows the way I fight. I’m gonna stand. I’m gonna take him to the ground. I’m gonna do everything and fight at a very fast pace.”

While Gonzalez has not yet achieved superstar status in the sport of mixed martial arts, the 26-year-old Austin, Texas native has developed a reputation for his striking abilities and for being difficult to hit, an attribute that earned him his nickname. His efforts to develop his punching game inspired him to set foot in the professional boxing ring where he holds an overall record of 3-1-1.

“It helps in MMA because, if you can box in a boxing ring and look strong and look good at a professional level, you can do the same in MMA,” explained Gonzalez. “If you’re standing and engaging with somebody in punching, it doesn’t mean that you have to stand there and take everything. There’s head movement, slipping, ducking, and rolling.

“I think that’s definitely something I’m gonna bring in that hasn’t been implemented a lot in MMA and I’m really hoping to be the first one to start it.”

It is his stand-up combat skills that Gonzalez insists give him an edge over Thomson.

“Duane Ludwig would’ve probably had me at the biggest disadvantage on the feet, but I still stood a tiny bit with him,” argued Thomson, who also brings to the cage a pair of professional Muay Thai rules bouts, both of which he won by way of knockout.

“Duane is really good and, if this kid is going to try to compare himself to Bang, then he’s got another thing coming.”

In 2004, Gonzalez ventured to Las Vegas, Nevada for an open fighter tryout being offered by the K-1 organization in an attempt to discover new American blood for the Japan-based fight promotion. Selected from a pool of over 100 hopefuls that auditioned alongside him, Gonzalez found himself in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Stadium on April 5, 2006 and, before a crowd of over 10,000, he went the three round distance with top Japanese prospect, Tatsuji, during a K-1 World Max event.

“It was a big learning experience,” said Gonzalez of his first K-1 bout. “It definitely gave me an idea of what kind of training you have to do for big fights. I trained for that fight, but I thought I would be able to go in and be naturally more gifted at something and be able to win like I’ve done before.

“At a certain level, you can’t get away with talent anymore. You have to train and that fight, I think, was the one that told me that I’ve got a lot of talent, but I really should’ve trained harder.

The live pay-per-view event will be distributed by SHOWTIME® PPV beginning at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT with a suggested retail price of $34.95. For more information and to order “Shamrock vs. Baroni,” viewers should contact their pay-per-view provider.

For more information on the free online broadcast of the four-fight undercard, visit www.ProElite.com or www.strikeforceusa.net.

Ticket prices for “Shamrock vs. Baroni” start at $30 and are on sale at Ticketmaster (408-998-TIXS) and Ticketmaster online (www.ticketmaster.com) as well as at the HP Pavilion box office (408-287-7070).

The star-studded event will also feature the return of undefeated world San Shou kickboxing champion and middleweight mixed martial arts contender, Cung Le, who will face his greatest test to date in Tony “The Freak” Fryklund.

Strikeforce’s latest recruit, 2003 K-1 North America tournament champion, Carter Williams, will meet hard-hitting Paul Buentello in a heavyweight matchup.

In another top-notch bout, EliteXC’s Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett, who is coming off a stunning, upset knockout victory over EliteXC’s KJ Noons, will take on Victor “Joe Boxer” Valenzuela.

EliteXC fighters, Joey Villasenor and former Pride star, Murilo “Ninja” Rua, will lock horns for the vacant EliteXC middleweight title. On February 10th, Villasenor pulled off a shocking upset by outmaneuvering and, eventually earning a unanimous decision over EliteXC’s David “The Crow” Loiseau. Villasenor’s career is highlighted by a 15 fight-winning streak put together between December 2002 and April 2006. A member of the famed Chute Boxe fight squad in Brazil, Rua was last seen in action on September 30th when he submitted British kickboxer Mark Weir, with an arm triangle choke in the second round of their meeting.

UFC veteran and K-1 Max star, Duane “Bang” Ludwig, will go head to head with British Cage Rage champion, Paul “Semtex” Daley, in a bout that will be shown to viewers should there be sufficient time remaining on the Pay Per View broadcast following the first three of six main card bouts scheduled to air live.