Ring announcer tells us the tournament semis are being fought over two five-minute rounds, which begs the question, assuming theyíre fought under the ten-point must system, if the fighters split rounds then how do they decide a winner? Sudden death round like on TUF? We are not told, sadly. Salmon was actually stepping up from the alternate bout (which wouldíve seen him face Dennis Hallman) as Japanese fighter Yuki Sasaki was forced off the card after failing a medical. Santiago meanwhile had washed out of the UFC with two losses in late 2006, but had bounced back with a pair of wins in 2007 over Andrei Semenov and Jeremy Horn, and the word was that heíd looked massively improved in the Horn fight. My pick? Santiago. ATT, baby, ATT.
Fight begins and they circle around with Santiago looking to jab to gauge the reach. Salmon leans forward looking for a takedown but doesnít really shoot. Suddenly Santiago comes in with a MASSIVE FLYING KNEE that connects and ENDS SEAN SALMONíS LIFE!~! Iím serious too, guy hits the deck as stiff as a corpse. Good LORD.
Replay shows it was more the shin bone than the knee itself that connected, ala Anderson Silva-Carlos Newton, but regardless, the result is the same. Replay also shows referee Cecil Peoples literally dive in to stop the fight, missing Santiago and hitting the cage, which would be hilarious if well, you know, Sean Salmon wasnít being attended to by EMTs who look like theyíre going to place him on a spine board. Well, he does end up getting to his feet but heís wobbly as hell and the doctors get him back down to carry him out. It was reported online that Salmon ended up having a seizure post-fight (not in the cage thankfully) which is just horrible. Thank God that sort of stuff isnít common in MMA. Never thought heíd get KOd worse than the Rashad Evans kick but there you go. As for Santiago, you canít get much better than that in terms of a one-night tournament win as the whole fight went like 20 seconds and so Jorge goes into the finals fresh as a daisy.
Pretty interesting clash between two longtime veterans in the other tournament match. Niko is one of those guys whoís always a solid fighter but never really beats the top guys outside of that fluke win over Matt Lindland when Lindland knocked himself out, while South African Prangley was on a five-fight winning streak since leaving the UFC, including wins over Yuki Kondo and Andrei Semenov. In a way heís like Vitale in that heís never really broken into the upper echelon despite showing a lot of promise at some points, like when he put a beating on Travis Lutter, which means Iíll sort-of support him in most of his fights unless heís against one of my favourites. Pre-fight we get a little delay as the ringside paramedic has apparently gone AWOL. Odds on him being with Sean Salmon somewhere are pretty great I think.
First round begins and Niko immediately lands with a one-two. Prangley comes forward throwing punches and it looks like both men are willing to trade. Nice leg kick from Prangley and they exchange into a clinch, where Vitale blocks a couple of trip takedowns and lands a knee to the midsection. Prangley breaks and comes forward, walking into a jab, an overhand right, and finally a left hook. Good chin from Prangley as he shows no effect and forces the clinch. They exchange some knees from the clinch and Prangley also throws in some dirty boxing, before the ref breaks them up. Good jab from Niko, answered by Prangley grabbing the plum clinch to deliver a pair of knees. Right hook to the body from Prangley and he clinches again, forcing Vitale into the fence. Ref breaks them quickly and Vitale lands with a leg kick, but Prangley comes in with a hard combo, landing punches and knees that have Niko in trouble. Prangley drops for a single leg but canít get Vitale down and he backs up. Big uppercut from Niko as Prangley wades in, but the South African answers with a knee to the gut. They trade off and a big left hook lands for Vitale, but Prangley again takes it and clinches against the cage. Trevor tries to trip him down again, but Vitale shows excellent balance and avoids before breaking and landing a flurry. They trade off with some heavy punches, and Vitale looks to be landing the better shots, bloodying up Prangleyís nose. Trevor gets ANGRY and throws a right hook into a backhand, crazy stuff, and then he shoots on a double leg but Vitale defends it well and ends up in the clinch. Knees from Prangley inside, and the round ends there. Fun round.
2nd round and if itís as close as the first the judges are in trouble. They get underway and both men look a little tentative before Prangley gets aggressive, landing with a combo before looking for some more knees inside. Knees to the legs from Prangley but the referee breaks them again. Big right to the body from Vitale and he follows with a one-two. Prangley answers right back with a combo and wades into the clinch again, where he goes to work at the body. They muscle for position in the clinch and then Prangley clocks him with a knee to break. Leg kick from Niko. Good body shot from Prangley and he follows with another combo that has the Hawaiian fighter backpedalling. They exchange some more and then Vitale calls a finger in the eye and the ref steps in and calls time. Looks like Vitaleís in a lot of pain as heís audibly cursing and throws his mouthpiece out. Uhoh.
Replay shows Prangleyís finger accidentally poked Vitale in the eye, and after a check the doctor decides his eyeballís been scratched and throws out the fight. Urgh. After a ton of deliberation they announce that because the round was basically halfway done, theyíre going to decision and theyíre taking the second round into account. No idea what that means if Vitale wins the decision as heís clearly in no shape to fight Santiago in the finals. I guess itíd mean Dennis Hallman gets the call?
Judges score it a majority draw, although they donít tell us which guy got the nod on the odd judging card. So it ends up going on the call of referee Marcos Rosales (whoís better known as a judge, heh) and he decides Prangleyís the winner and sends him into the finals. Really weird stuff. So itís Prangley-Santiago in the finals with the advantage on paper clearly with the fresher Brazilian. Fight was really good until the unfortunate ending, with some excellent exchanges.
Stewart is a guy who, at this time, was pretty new to MMA (this was his fifth pro fight) but heíd shown some promise in KOing TUF veteran Jason Von Flue and being a local San Jose guy he was getting a bit of a push from Strike Force. Opponent Kamaka is mainly a Superbrawl veteran from Hawaii, and Iím sure Iíve reviewed one of his fights before, although it evidently wasnít very memorable as itís a foggy memory at best.
Bell sounds and Kamaka comes out throwing HAYMAKERS, but Stewart counters with a plum clinch and drops him face-first with a pair of knees, adding an illegal one for good measure ala Heath Herring in PRIDE as the ref steps in. Doesnít matter though as itís a TKO win for Stewart.
Quick and to the point; highlight reel stuff for Stewart whose decent little run ended up coming to an end last year with losses to Tiki and Joe Riggs when he made the step up in competition. Post-fight sees Stewart celebrate as Hit Me With Your Best Shot plays, and you can guess the jokes that Webber comes out with over that one.
TUF veteran Southworth had been a fixture on these Strike Force cards since leaving the UFC, capturing the Strike Force Light-Heavyweight belt. His most memorable moment? A weird fight with James Irvin that went to a No-Contest when both men somehow fell through the cage door and Irvin was too injured to continue. Apparently all the bad feeling about Bobby from TUF is gone now as he gets a pretty decent pop from the crowd. Ruiz is your classic journeyman, not much else to say really. This is a non-title fight for some reason. What, is this PRIDE or something with the tournament and non-title ish?
Weíre underway and they circle for a moment before Southworth counters a low kick with a right hand that drops Ruiz to the mat. Bobby quickly works from the guard to full mount, and then takes the back with both hooks in. Ruiz defends the choke and turns into Bobbyís guard, but Southworth works to his feet for a second before Ruiz takes him down again. Full butterfly guard for Southworth and he uses the fence to get back to his feet. They exchange knees from the clinch and muscle along the fence, before the referee breaks them up. Both men throw some punches out but donít really land anything, and then Ruiz clinches up again after a Southworth slip. Good elbow from Ruiz in the clinch and he ducks for a single leg, but Bobby defends it nicely. They continue to muscle for position and then Southworth drops for a takedown and puts Ruiz on his back in half-guard. Southworth grinds from the top, getting a warning for shots to the back of the head, and the round ends shortly after. Round One goes to Bobby Southworth on my scorecard.
Between rounds Webber and Shamrock talk about Frank riding on a Zamboni, what the hell?
Second round and they circle before Ruiz ROCKS Southworthís world with a heavy combination. He follows by taking Bobby down and pinning him into the cage, and Southworth looks to be badly cut around the left eye. Ref calls time and as the doctors check him over the replay shows Bobby walked into an accidental headbutt that stunned him and lead to the brutal combo. Doctors stop the fight due to the cuts, giving Ruiz the TKO win.
Southworth looked good in the first round but got caught hard in the second and looked badly hurt from the punches regardless of the cut. How much the headbutt affected him I donít know though. They went on to rematch for Southworthís belt at the next Strike Force show and Southworth won the decision, so hey.
According to their records both of these guys were new to MMA and I honestly have no idea why Strike Force decided to televise this fight, especially when they couldíve put the tournamentís alternate bout (which involved Dennis Hallman whoís a well-known guy) on the televised portion. Ah well. Ahh, Schwartz is apparently a former world kickboxing champion which might explain why heís on the televised part of the show. And sure enough he gets a HUGE crowd pop. Guess that explains everything now. This is three three-minute rounds as theyíre both newcomers, good decision.
First round begins and Schwartz comes out with a couple of side kicks. Davis looks for the takedown and Schwartz decides to pull guard with a guillotine, but itís not quite locked up and Davis chops away at the body before pulling his head free. Schwartz does a decent job of tying Davis up from the bottom, but itís a stall tactic as opposed to an offensive guard and the crowd quickly get restless, popping huge when the ref stands them up. Davis quickly closes the distance off the restart and gets a bodylock, looking for the takedown again, but Schwartz defends it although heís stuck in the clinch for the rest of the round.
Second round and Schwartz looks to use his reach, throwing the side kick out again, but he doesnít land anything cleanly and Davis catches him with a right hand. Couple of jabs land for Schwartz but Davis closes the distance and lands a combo before looking for the takedown. They exchange some knees in the clinch and Schwartz throws in a foot stomp for good measure, but the ref separates them. Good leg kick from Davis and they trade briefly before Davis clinches again, and they exchange from close quarters with Schwartz landing some powerful knees. Ref calls time as one catches Davis in the groin inadvertently and they restart with Davis taunting Schwartz before the round ends.
Third and final round and Schwartz throws out some kicks before they clinch, and now Davis pulls guard to look for a guillotine. He only has half-guard though but even so, Schwartz looks in a bit of trouble, grimacing inside the choke. After what seems like ages in the guillotine Schwartz finally manages to pull his head free, and he actually takes full mount for a second before Davis escapes and goes for a double leg. Schwartz blocks it and lands some shots to the body, but Davis finishes the takedown on the buzzer.
Judges give the unanimous decision to Davis, spoiling the kickboxing champís MMA debut. Basically a nothing fight but what do you expect from two guys new to MMA? Wasnít outright horrible though thankfully.
Really interesting fight on paper for the vacant Strike Force HW belt, with this being Overeemís second fight in a row at the heavier weight, his first being a KO loss to Sergei Kharitonov (the Russian avenging an earlier loss to Overeem). Alistair had looked good at HW in his earlier run there in 2006 and this was really the start of his transformation from the lanky LHW into the jacked-up beast he is today, as heís about 225lbs here and looks HUGE. Buentello had been on a good little run since leaving UFC, with four wins, and to be honest Iím still not sure why Zuffa let him go as heís generally exciting, wasnít on a huge contract and it wasnít like he lost to anyone but Arlovski in his run there. Good fight for Strike Force to put together, at any rate.
Round One begins and Overeem opens with a jumping knee to the body and then clinches, and trips Paul to his back, landing in side control. Alistair controls him from the top, landing with a couple of punches and knees to the body as Buentello squirms, but looks a bit stuck from his back. Some good punches begin to land for Overeem and Buentello is in trouble here. Buentello manages to roll, but Overeem catches him on the way up and goes for a guillotine-neck crank combo before just controlling Buentello from the turtle position. More punches land for Overeem and as Buentello pulls himself to his feet he takes some DEVASTATING KNEES from the Dutchman. Overeem ragdolls him along the fence as Paul tries to grab it to keep himself standing, but heís still taking some serious abuse from in the clinch with punches and knees. Overeem pulls him to the ground and moves around for the guillotine again, before he actually tries what looks like the Peruvian Necktie! Buentello manages to escape though and gets to his feet, but Overeemís still on him, forcing him into the cage. Vicious knees to the gut from the Demolition Man, and the round ends shortly after. Dominant round for Alistair Overeem, a 10-8 round if I ever saw one.
Round Two and Buentello comes out swinging, but he canít land and Overeem hits a double leg takedown to guard. Punches to the body and head land for Alistair from the guard but the action slows up a little. Ref brings them back to their feet and Overeem ducks some wild swings and gets another takedown, with Buentello ending up on all fours this time. Overeem spins to the front facelock and looks for the guillotine again, then goes back to the side with an over/under and works with punches. Buentello manages to work back to his feet, but takes a pair of VICIOUS KNEES TO THE BODY that cause him to collapse and he taps out there, making Alistair Overeem your new Strike Force Heavyweight Champion.
Stunningly one-sided fight as Overeem just owned Buentello in every aspect of the fight. Buentello is a tough guy and yet he just couldnít deal with the sheer force of Overeem, who looked spectacular in this fight. Great showing for Overeem in what would turn out to be just a taster of his potential at Heavyweight, and heís now one of my favourite fighters to watch.
-Jerry Millen (tool alert!!) comes into the cage for an announcement and it turns out to be Gilbert Melendez vs. Josh Thomson for Gilbertís Strike Force Lightweight Title. Both guys are respectful but still do a good hype job on the fight. And who knew Melendez would be into plaid?
On paper given the four fighters involved this was probably the best final match we couldíve hoped for, although obviously the odd circumstances around the end of Prangley-Vitale mean itís just a bit controversial. No controversy in how Santiago got there of course and as I mentioned earlier, with his fight taking all of 20 seconds and Prangleyís fight being a tough one, the advantage is clearly with the American Top Team fighter.
Weíre underway and both men look to gauge the distance with some pawing jabs. Good leg kick lands for Santiago and he avoids a return flurry from Prangley. Nice left jab into a right uppercut from Prangley. Both men miss a couple of power strikes and then Santiago lands another leg kick as Prangley is beginning to chase him. BIG overhand right from Santiago knocks Prangley off balance and the Brazilian follows with a leg kick that buckles the knee and puts the South African down momentarily. Prangley continues to chase forward, and eats a body kick before grabbing the leg to close the distance. Santiago avoids the takedown and then goes for a trip of his own, but Prangley blocks it. They break off before clinching again, and this time Santiago NAILS him with a pair of heavy knees to the body that drop Prangley, and a couple more punches seal the deal.
Wow. Santiago takes the tournament victory with what were effectively two flawless performances. Prangley never looked comfortable standing with the Brazilian, chasing forward as Santiago danced around hitting him with leg kicks, and the final knees to the body that the ATT fighter finished him with were awesome. This result really made me happy as Santiago was my favourite guy out of the four in the tournament and it turned out to be the beginning of his rise to the elite level, as heís since reeled off a further five wins, capturing Sengokuís MW Title in the process, and is now ranked by most fans in the top five at 185lbs.
This was San Shou legend and San Jose local favourite Cung Leís fifth fight, after two wins over tomato cans, a cut stoppage over Jason Von Flue, and a weird fight with Tony Fryklund that saw Le doing his best Jean-Claude Van Damme impression while Tony did very little to stop him. Iím still convinced something shady was going on there. Anyhow, what 170lber Sammy Morgan was doing fighting Cung here I really donít know. Itís not even like Sammyís a huge Welterweight or anything. Ah well. Naturally Cung Le gets a ridiculous reception from the San Jose crowd.
Round One and Le comes out with a hopping side kick before Morgan clinches. Quick trip from Le puts Sammy in guard but they spring back up quickly. Good body kick and right hand from Cung as Morgan charges forward. Another right hand puts Morgan on the mat and he looks in trouble early. He manages to get to full guard though but Cung pulls out. Morgan swings into the clinch again but gets tripped back down. Same thing happens as Morgan comes up and swings wildly, but Cung counters with a side kick to the body that drops him again. Wild overhand right misses for Morgan and Le counters with a kick to the lower back, and then misses a wheel kick. Trip takedown for Le and he lands in side control. They come up again though and Morgan again throws a series of bolos that Le avoids, before dropping him with a Shawn Michaels-style superkick. Sammy pops up instantly and tries to clinch, but gets thrown down once more. Le lands in side mount again and then goes to a knee on belly before standing up. Side kick to the body from Le and Morgan tries a spinning wheel kick of his own that misses. They clinch again and once more Le throws him, landing on top as Morgan tries to get to half-guard. Le avoids a single leg and stands, and he throws some more flashy kicks before getting a takedown to mount, landing a punch or two and then standing. Body shot from Cung into a clinch, but they break swiftly. Couple of spinning kicks miss for Cung and Morgan continues to miss with his haymakers, before the fight goes to the ground off a Cung Le slip to close the round.
2nd round now and Morgan clips him with a right to begin, but then goes back to swinging telegraphed hooks that Le easily avoids. They clinch and Le gets an easy judo toss to side mount. Very little happens from the position and then Morgan slips free and escapes to his feet. Left hook clips Cung in an exchange and Morgan follows by shooting on a double leg, but Le defends it well and delivers a knee inside. Le works the body with punches as Morgan tries to answer back with knees, and then Cung delivers a big overhead toss to side mount again. Full mount from Cung Le and Morgan gives his back, but Cung doesnít get his hooks in and Sammy escapes to his feet. Weird moment as Morgan lunges for a clinch and just falls to his back with Le in side mount again. This time he lands a couple of punches but again little happens as you have to wonder why Le isnít going for a submission. No sooner have I typed that as Cung goes into the Hughes crucifix and looks to pound away. He doesnít finish Morgan though and simply retains position until the round ends. This is the equivalent of a cat toying with a mouse at this point.
Third and final round, and surely Cung must put him away. More of the same to begin as Morgan is still swinging way too wildly, and he takes some shots from Cung, going down off a right hand. Cung stands over him and then decides to back up to let Morgan up, where he lands another side kick to the body. More wild swings from Morgan but Le avoids them and spins him right around with a leg kick. Morgan comes back with a pair of leg kicks before Le clinches, and then they break off and Morgan clips him with a right. Spinning hook kick misses for Cung but a body kick lands. Morgan swings again but another kick to the body folds Morgan up and thatís all she wrote.
Well, I guess if youíre fighting overmatched opposition you may as well make the fight entertaining and Cung Le at least did that, throwing a plethora of flashy kicks and big throws on poor Morgan who could do little more than wildly swing. Still, if Le is serious about his MMA career (which I donít think he is to be honest, I think heís treating it as more of a side project) then he needs to be fighting guys like Robbie Lawler and Jorge Santiago, true elite-level Middleweights rather than blown up Welterweights like Sammy Morgan. And yes Iím aware he fought Frank Shamrock, but heís hardly in his physical prime either.
-And sure enough post-fight Frank Shamrock enters the cage and Cung Le tells him itíd be a great business decision for them to fight, to which Shamrock tells him the cage is only big enough for one of them. Le goes on to say heíd be happy to make a ton of money with Frank, which is fair enough but I donít think itís a great way to build a fight; either talk trash or be respectful like Thomson and Melendez were, donít just come off like youíre trying to line your pockets.
-Pretty cool highlight package set to We Are The Champions ends the show.
All in all, I thought this was an excellent show. Thanks to the strong and more importantly smart matchmaking, we were treated to some really good, well-matched fights between some of the best fighters youíll see outside of the UFC, and the tournament in particular went down well, especially when you consider the odd circumstances in the Prangley-Vitale fight. Thereís no outright classic fight on show here Ė Overeem-Buentello was my favourite of the bunch Ė but outside of the short and harmless Davis-Schwartz everything else is solid and thereís a number of highlight reel KOs, Santiago-Salmon being the best. Overall this is an easy recommendation and Iíve got to give Strike Force credit for continuing to do a great job with putting these sorts of cards together. Two thumbs up.
Best Fight: Overeem-Buentello
Worst Fight: Davis-Schwartz
Overall Rating: ****
UFC: 94-99, Fight Nights 17-18, and TUF VIII Finale.
Elite XC: Uprising, Renegade, Street Certified and Unfinished Business.
K1 Heroís: Final Battle 2007
King of the Cage: 23, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 42, 48, 52, and 58.