Justin Wilcox has not tasted defeat in more than three years. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood
After UFC parent company Zuffa LLC purchased competitor Strikeforce in March, many felt the Las Vegas-based juggernaut would assimilate the promotion, as it had done with the WEC and Pride Fighting Championships in years past.
Instead, it appears Strikeforce will continue to operate under the Zuffa umbrella through 2012. Its broadcast deal with Showtime set to expire in roughly three months, Strikeforce is now close to reaching a renewal deal with the premium cable network, according to UFC President Dana White.
However, before the promotion embarks on yet another year of mixed martial arts competition, Strikeforce will close out 2011 with its offering at the Valley View Casino Center on Saturday in San Diego. Here are five reasons to care about the Strikeforce “Melendez vs. Masvidal” prelims.
Silverback or Silver Lining?
It is hard to know just where to place lightweight Justin Wilcox in the 155-pound pecking order, and his last two fights have provided few clues to aid in that process. After running over a clearly overmatched Rodrigo Damm, Wilcox had his bout with Gesias Cavalcante prematurely ended by an accidental eye poke before much of anything had been decided.
Wilcox appears to possess many of the tools that could make him a successful lightweight. His overstated physique seems to provide the functional strength that many others do not have, and that is only complimented by his solid boxing and wrestling skills.
His opponent, Caros Fodor, is a dangerous one for “The Silverback.” Well-trained under the watchful eye of Matt Hume but lacking any real name recognition, “The Future” could easily play spoiler if he is overlooked.
Will this mark Wilcox’s first step toward serious contender status, or will he prove that he is not yet ready for prime time?
Fodor should look at his clash with Wilcox as a tremendous opportunity. The AMC Pankration product has won his last four fights, dispatching both David Douglas and James Terry in 2011. Wilcox should prove the toughest test of Fodor’s career. As such, a win over the hulking Californian would essentially allow Fodor to snatch Wilcox’s spot in line, catapulting “The Future” to bigger and better opportunities.
It is currently unknown if the once-beaten protege of “The Wizard” will be able to showcase his typical work rate and wear down his muscled foe, but watching Fodor try will undoubtedly be good fun from the safety of your couch.
Strikes and Gutters
Roger Bowling appeared to be a strong welterweight prospect last year. Undefeated and possessing a wealth of natural athleticism, the Ohioan earned a contentious technical decision over veteran Bobby Voelker in May 2010 to bring his career mark to 8-0.
His undefeated streak was halted by Voelker in their rematch, however, as “Vicious” avenged his loss by knocking out Bowling in the second round of their Strikeforce Challengers 11 headliner. The rubber match also went Voelker’s way, as he once again pounded out his younger opponent in July.
Will Bowling be able to put the losses behind him and take a real stab at fulfilling his potential against Jerron Peoples, or will the Voelker losses forever define his career? Fans will see what kind of resolve, if any, remains inside of the welterweight.
Bowling should have his work cut out for him in Peoples. Much in the same way that Fodor could use Wilcox to significantly upgrade his resume, so, too, could Peoples turn some heads with a win over Bowling. In five pro outings, it has been kill or be killed for the Californian, as Peoples has yet to see a third round.
The welterweight came out typically aggressive against Eduardo Pamplona in his most recent contest in June, and it cost him dearly. Though he landed a nice right hand to start the bout, Peoples got caught shortly thereafter, hitting the deck and eventually succumbing to ground-and-pound courtesy of Pamplona.
Should Peoples pace himself against Bowling, he may be able to match athleticism with the Ohioan down the stretch. Whether it lasts three minutes or three rounds, both men have a lot on the line, and that should translate to some entertaining action.
Prospect or Placeholder?
Gabriel Salinas-Jones is a tricky one.
Barrel-chested and barrel-bellied, the six-foot-one, 260-pound heavyweight has shown some decent submission skills on the regional circuit, finishing current Bellator Fighting Championships talent Zak Jensen last year. After rifling off four straight finishes, Salinas-Jones made a successful Strikeforce debut on July 30.
His victory did not come easily, however, has Bryan Humes stuffed many of Salinas-Jones’ attempts to take the fight to the floor. If the 27-year-old has not worked on his wrestling, he could find himself in for a long night when he locks up with former NAIA All-American wrestler and International Fight League veteran Devin Cole, a man who went the distance rising star Daniel Cormier in January.
Should Salinas-Jones best Cole, he could prove to be a welcome addition to a Strikeforce heavyweight division that may thin dramatically in the coming months. Higher-profile bouts with talents like Lavar Johnson and Shane del Rosario could await, but those potential matchups are obviously contingent upon a victory over Cole.