Strikeforce Signs Villante, Announces Heavyweight Reserve Bouts

Gian Villante (top) | Keith Mills/Sherdog.com

Strikeforce has signed Ring of Combat heavyweight champion Gian Villante to a multi-fight deal, and the once-beaten New Yorker is set to make his promotional debut on Feb. 12.

The promotion announced today that Villante will face Chad Griggs in one of three heavyweight grand prix reserve bouts at Strikeforce “Fedor vs. Silva,” which takes place at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J. Also made official for the card were reserve matches pitting Valentijn Overeem against Ray Sefo, and Shane del Rosario against Lavar Johnson.

The Showtime-televised main card will consist of all heavyweight contests, topped by a tournament quarterfinal match between “The Last Emperor,” Fedor Emelianenko, and towering Brazilian Antonio Silva. In the show’s other quarterfinal, former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski meets Pride standout Sergei Kharitonov.

Once a promising NFL prospect, Villante turned to MMA in 2009 and rattled off six straight wins under the ROC banner. The 25-year-old’s first setback came in April 2010, when he suffered a TKO loss to Demetrius Richards after dislocating his elbow, but Villante rebounded in December with a 63-second knockout of Joseph Reyes.

Griggs made a name for himself last August when he handed former pro-wrestler Bobby Lashley his first MMA loss at Strikeforce “Houston.” The full-time Tucson, Ariz., firefighter and paramedic holds a career mark of 9-1 and has won his last four bouts, though he has competed only twice in the last two years.

The older brother of Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem, Valentijn “The Python” Overeem is a 14-year veteran of MMA who has competed throughout the world. In 2010, he scored a pair of knockout wins against Tengiz Tedoradze and Catalin Zmarandescu in a combined 47 seconds. His opponent, Sefo, is a K-1 mainstay with a 2-0 record in MMA. In his September 2009 Strikeforce debut, the 39-year-old “Sugarfoot” claimed a second-round TKO win after opponent Kevin Jordan suffered a knee injury.

Del Rosario and Johnson will each make their main-stage Strikeforce debut after spending time in the promotion’s “Challengers” series. In the pair’s combined 28 bouts, neither has ever gone to a decision. Del Rosario possesses a perfect 10-0 ledger and was last seen blasting Lolohea Mahe with knees and punches en route to a TKO win at last July’s “Challengers 9.” Johnson, 15-3, also defeated Mahe in 2010, but most recently knocked out Virgil Zwicker at “Challengers 11” in October.

“This event will showcase the depth of talent in the Strikeforce heavyweight roster,” Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said in a statement. “Shane and Lavar are two products of the Strikeforce Challengers series that has been instrumental in developing new talent.”
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