James Terry will aim for his fifth win in six fights in Las Vegas. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood
Strikeforce returns to Showtime on Saturday, marking the Zuffa LLC-owned promotion’s first effort of 2012 after negotiating a new deal to stay on the premium cable network for at least another year.
Highlighting the Saturday offering at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas is a middleweight title fight between champion Luke Rockhold and Keith Jardine. Aside from the headliner, the main draw is populated with a handful of pivotal contests, featuring the likes of Robbie Lawler, Muhammed Lawal and Tarec Saffiedine, among others.
While the preliminary draw took a significant hit with Bobby Green’s injury and subsequent withdrawal from his bout with Alonzo Martinez, the undercard still boasts a quality bill worth watching before the big boys throw down in primetime. Here are five reasons to care about the Strikeforce “Rockhold vs. Jardine” prelims.
Nothing screams mainstream acceptance like Showtime Extreme, right?
Jokes aside, it is a welcome thought to know that every Strikeforce undercard bout in 2012 will be televised, even if it is on a channel that I honestly had no idea even existed until I heard Showtime Sports General Manager Stephen Espinoza speak its name.
Bottom line: more MMA on TV is a good thing for fans, media and fighters alike. Providing a regular platform for up-and-coming talent is not a new idea for the promotion, but this will be a marked departure from the Challengers series.
Fans interested in Strikeforce’s name talent now need only flip on the tube a few hours earlier to scope the organization’s up-and-comers, rather than setting aside time to watch an entirely separate event that may provide excellent fights but little in the way of star power.
Besides having one of the coolest names in the business, Nah-Shon Burrell appears to hold legitimate potential in his budding welterweight frame. Just 21 years old, Burrell has used some springy athleticism and heavy hands to win his last five fights.
Though Burrell has finished six of his seven career wins by knockout, the young gun was forced to show his resolve in his June clash with seasoned opponent Joe Ray. After surviving multiple excellent submission attempts in the first frame, Burrell used superior conditioning and an active work rate to outlast his fellow prospect -- a sign that the Philadelphia-based fighter might be ready to step up his competition.
If he can navigate James Terry, Burrell could make a strong case for a crack at a welterweight contender, but that is by no means a given.
Enter Terry, a veteran welterweight who recently completed a two-fight stint at 155 pounds. A solid talent but unable to break through into the division’s upper echelon thus far, Terry will prove to be Burrell’s most seasoned opponent to-date.
At 30 years old, Terry must make the most of his cage time if he is to ever graduate from gatekeeper to noisemaker in the Strikeforce 170-pound division. As previously mentioned, Burrell possesses a variety of dangerous tools but has yet to conquer a foe as cagy as Terry. Will the 30-year-old Californian halt the up-and-comer’s hot streak, or will Terry hold onto his spot in Strikeforce’s competitive welterweight ranks?
It was not so long ago that Gian Villante looked like a million bucks.
Holding a professional record of 7-1, the chiseled former Hofstra University linebacker has seen his momentum slow considerably since arriving in Strikeforce as a serious heavyweight prospect. He was welcomed rudely to the hexagon, as he was knocked out in less than three minutes by durable battler Chad Griggs in February. Villante fared no better after cutting to light heavyweight, dropping a unanimous decision to striker Lorenz Larkin after neutralizing Larkin’s extensive standup arsenal in the first round of their June collision.
Villante rebounded in his most recent effort, gathering a bit of momentum by outpointing Keith Berry in August. Just 26 years old, time is still on the New Yorker’s side. However, in a few years, he will no longer have the luxury of leaning on youth or inexperience as reasons for coming up short in big fights.
If Villante is serious about becoming an elite light heavyweight and not finishing as an also-ran, he will need to push his way to the front of the prospect line. A win over once-beaten Trevor Smith could go a long way toward silencing his doubters while making a positive impression on a television audience.
Likewise, a win over Villante would be monumental for the red-hot Smith, who has finished eight of his nine career victims by submission.
The Washingtonian joined Strikeforce in June and put on a show in front of his home-state crowd, putting Berry to sleep with a vice-like north-south choke. Most recently, he tapped T.J. Cook at Strikeforce Challengers 20 in November, bringing his Strikeforce record to a perfect 2-0.
Will Smith be able to snatch one of Villante’s appendages, or will the former linebacker prove too athletic and agile for the submission ace? Just as a win for Villante would serve to settle any anxiety about holding down his job, a win for Smith would propel him that much closer to a main card appearance and would undoubtedly grant him the greatest exposure of his young career.