|SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIAOn June 22nd the HP Pavilion was rocked by a phenomenal show in Strikeforce: Baroni vs. Shamrock. With the partnering of Strikeforce, Showtimes Elite XC, and Icon Sports, among others, this new cross promotion is poised to deliver great shows and marquee match-ups. If their next effort is anything like June 22nds show then I strongly urge any Mixed Martial Arts fans to tune in and check out the fireworks. Speaking of fireworks, the main event between The New York Badass Phil Baroni and The Legend Frank Shamrock certainly lived up to all the hype. Hell, I for one thought it was even better than expected.
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIAOn June 22nd the HP Pavilion was rocked by a phenomenal show in Strikeforce: Baroni vs. Shamrock. With the partnering of Strikeforce, Showtimes Elite XC, and Icon Sports, among others, this new cross promotion is poised to deliver great shows and marquee match-ups. If their next effort is anything like June 22nds show then I strongly urge any Mixed Martial Arts fans to tune in and check out the fireworks. Speaking of fireworks, the main event between The New York Badass Phil Baroni and The Legend Frank Shamrock certainly lived up to all the hype. Hell, I for one thought it was even better than expected. Shamrocks highly touted striking was never doubted before the fight, but many fans knew that the ground was where The Legend would most likely outclass his opponent. Baroni, on the other hand, is known for his heart, iron jaw, and of course the bricks attached to his forearms. I never would have thought that Shamrock would get the better of the striking by standing toe to toe with Baroni, and neither did the New York Badass. Boy oh boy were we wrong.
From the outset it was clear that Baroni did not have the advantage on the feet. Out the gate the two fighters were throwing bombs, Shamrock smartly throwing straight punches to counter Baronis looping widow maker hooks. Baronis cardio appeared to be working for him in this fight, as he pressed the action early and often with ferocious combinations. After the opening exchange landed the fighters in the clinch along the cage, Baroni unloaded what must have been twenty hooks to the body in rapid succession. Shamrock let go and proceeded to rock Baronis world with a 1-2 combination before gesturing that it was naptime for Baroni. Then the unthinkable happened, and for the first time in a long while Baroni was put straight on his ass by a punch combination. Shamrock hits hard, and now there is no doubt about it.
Baroni has the heart of a lion, and would not be finished that easily. As Shamrock pounced on his dazed and prone foe, Baroni attempted to stifle any attempts at finishing the match. Fighting his way out of a guillotine, Phil found himself on the bottom in a bad position. Then Shamrock played the bad guy card and intentionally struck Baroni in the back of the head several times. The ref stood the fighters up and warned Shamrock for his now infamously dubious tactics before restarting the fight. A takedown from Baroni followed soon after and for a bit he played around in Shamrocks guard, utilizing some ground and pound while trying to recover from the knockdown. After regaining their footing, the fighters traded more with Shamrock again rocking Baroni. Shamrock was landing precision 1-2 combinations punctuated by a knee to the body. Towards the end of the round Baroni stopped moving, giving Shamrock a stationary target to pick apart. And Frank did just that, unloading a series of brutal punches that had Baroni looking close to defeat. Just when the end looked impossibly near for Baroni, he picked Shamrock up and unleashed a huge slam into his guard, where he stayed until the bell.
Round two saw Baroni rally with some smart advice from corner man Shawn Thompkins. Instead of using his heart and chin to brawl it out, Baroni picked at Shamrock with a series of strong jabs and crosses. Shamrock managed to stifle the advance with a clinch, but Baroni shoe-shined again with some hard punches to the body that buckled Shamrock, finishing with a knee to the head. Then Shamrock changed the tide again with a strong right cross that buckled Baroni and made him do the fish dance. A few more strikes caused Baroni to shoot, which Shamrock avoided with a nice sprawl to a top side kimura setup. Shamrock used this position to strike with some hammer fists before moving to Baronis back, where he sunk the hooks in and looked for the finish. It wasnt long before Shamrock sunk in the choke, but Baronis tremendous heart and pride would not let him tap. Shamrocks earlier prediction rung true, and at 4:00 of round 2 it was naptime for Baroni, courtesy of a rear naked choke. The fight of the night was also a candidate for fight of the year, and it was certainly one of the most emotional back and forth battles Ive seen in a while.
Post fight Baroni was all class, even in defeat. He gave major props to Shamrock, but also stated that somewhere during the fight he pulled his groin muscle and would require surgery. He explained that after working hard on his cardio he felt that he was gaining the upper hand in his fight, and Shamrocks post fight interview confirmed this. Shamrock professed that he only had a minute or so left in the tank when he got the choke, as the high intensity and tremendous body shots from Baroni put a major dent in his cardio. Shamrock could be seen limping around the arena post-fight, as his former knee problems were exacerbated by the highly kinetic action. Hopefully we get to see a rematch between these two, as Baroni now has a major score to settle with Shamrock. The win certainly does a lot to cement Shamrocks status as Legendary, as not many people can claim that they finished Baroni. Or put him on his ass for that matter.
Cung Le was victorious in his match with Tony The Freak Fryklund, which at times looked like a glorified sparring match for the San Shou champ. Le walked out to a deafening roar from the crowd, while Fryklund thankfully got at least a modest applause from the crowd. When the fight got started I expected Fryklund to strike a little and go for a takedown. After seeing Les striking in action a few times its become readily apparent that to win against him you really need to get the fight to the ground. Unfortunately for Fryklund, he could not accomplish this task. Instead, he spent nearly the full three frames being a punching bag.
Thats really not a fair statement though. Fryklund had his moments, connecting with some good punches and low kicks, but ultimately Cung Les polished stand up and improving takedown defense were too much for the former Miletich Martial Arts student. Le utilized his diverse array of strikes to confound Fryklund, connecting with several of his patented spinning kicks and side kicks. Le almost finished the fight in the first round after dropping The Freak hard with a sharp right hook, but Fryklund shot right back up and continued to fight. Unfortunately for Fryklund, he ate a mean roundhouse liver kick in the third that bent him over, to which Le responded with a high kick and a few more punches that finally ended the beating. The official time of the stoppage came at 0:25 of the third round, which granted Cung Le access to the pizza and chocolate chip cookies he talked up in his post-fight.
Duane Bang Ludwig and Paul Semtex Daley mixed it up in a fight that strangely occurred after the main event had finished. These two Thai Boxing standouts started the same way many traditional Muay Thai bouts do: slow and methodical. Thats fine for a Thai fight, but this was an MMA bout, and it just happened to follow one of the most exciting fights of the year. Amidst a chorus of boos Ludwig and Daley carefully measured each other with kicks. Semtex, whom many American fans may have never heard of, is a very accomplished Thai style striker who has been making waves in the United Kingdom. Ludwig doesnt really need an introduction, as he is one of Americas finest Muay Thai boxers and holds several titles in the sport. That said he is also a great Mixed Martial Artist who has fallen on hard times as of late. Unfortunately for Bang, times dont seem to be changing.
Throughout this battle Daley pressed the action with stinging kicks among takedown attempts, with Ludwig looking to counter with sharp right hands and left knees to the liver. The first rounds lack of action was absent in the second, as both fighters began to open up a little more. Daley aggressively came after Ludwig, and backed him up against the fence with some big bombs. This is where Ludwigs counter fighting tendency bit him in the backside, as his jaw was met with a strong 1-2 while he was trying to counter with a hook. Ludwig dropped to the canvas where he was finished with strikes, granting Paul Daley the TKO victory at 0:42 of round 2.
San Jose favorite Josh The Punk Thompson dominated Nick The Ghost Gonzalez en rout to a first round submission victory. The Punk came out swinging and didnt give Gonzalez a chance to show his standup, as the boxer was taken down almost immediately with a duck under. Thompson then took The Ghosts back, and held it for the entirety of the bout before submitting him with a rear choke at 1:42 of round 1. Gonzalez tried valiantly to get the monkey off his back and stand back up, but The Punk is absolutely enormous at lightweight and muscled his opponent back to the mat on several occasions. Gonzalez, on the other hand, looked like he didnt cut much weight in making 155lbs, and it was a bit unfair of a match up size wise.
The Elite XC World Middleweight Championship was up for grabs as Smokin Joey Villasenor and Murilo Ninja Rua battled for the belt. Smokin Joe came of the gate and lived up to his nickname early, connecting with a sharp left hook that rocked his Chute Boxe trained nemesis. Rua has been blasted harder than that in practice though, and recovered well with a takedown. A quick ground scramble ensued that saw Villasenor use a guillotine to set up a sweep, following with a hard elbow to the head. Rua then seized a leg and cranked a hard submission before Joey escaped back to his feet. Here Joey attempted a body lock throw but ended up on bottom, and from there we got to see Ninjas slick jujitsu skills as he passed from guard to side control. After regaining their footing once again, the two went back and forth from their feet to the mat until the bell.
Round two opened with a big flying knee from Rua, followed by a strong cross that sent Joey reeling. They continued to trade at a fast and furious pace, rocking each other back and forth. It was abundantly clear that someone was about to hit the mat, whether they went for a takedown or not. Then it happened. Both fighters threw straight rights, but only one connected flush. Smokin Joey hit the mat hard, and Ninja Rua followed up with enough ground and pound to finish the fight. Murilo Rua walked away with the (T)KO win at 1:05 round 2, and shed tears of joy as the decision was announced. Joey thankfully was up on his feet after a little while, but was really bummed about the outcome.
In a first for American MMA, K-1 fighter Carter Williams was sung out by musician Rich Boy before his bout with The Headhunter Paul Buentello. Unfortunately for Williams, the wonderful musical ability of Rich Boy couldnt stop a hard right uppercut from Buentello, which resulted in a KO loss for Carter at 0:10 of round 2. The first round was competitive, and saw the fighters exchange numerous strikes throughout. After an initial tit-for-tat exchange of right hands, Williams saw fit to take Buentello to the mat, but the hometown hero managed to stand back up and resume the fight where the fans wanted it. Some time was spent in the clinch, with the fighters trading knees to the body and legs. It was Buentellos dirty boxing that made the difference, particularly his lethal right uppercut that scored several points in the first. The second round was over in the blink of an eye, as Buentello came out and KOd Williams with a series of right uppercuts from the clinch. Williams performed admirably, and continues to grow as a Mixed Martial Artist each and every fight. Buentello moves a little farther up the Heavyweight ladder, and maybe an Elite XC title shot is in order presuming they can find a suitable opponent.
Late replacement Edson Berto made short work of Victor Joe Boxer Valenzuela after Charles Crazy Horse Bennett missed his flight to the weigh-ins. At the start of the first round Berto threw a middle kick-high kick combination before scoring a single leg takedown to guard. Berto quickly stood up into a leglock, initially trying a straight Achilles before switching to a reverse heel hook for the tap. The official time of the submission came at 0:47 of round 1. With four of his other wins coming by heel hook, Valenzuela should have expected a leg lock attempt. Then again, Joe Boxer prepared for an all out war with Crazy Horse, and its doubtful that Bennett would have tried a leg lock, let alone any submissions. Who knows though, this is MMA and anything can happen.
Nik Theotikos showed Nikk Covert the dangers of being disrespectful to your opponent in the nights most brutal knockout. At the opening bell Covert refused to touch gloves with Theotikos, and instead opted to fire a low kick as his opponents guard was down. The Greek fighter responded by unleashing a plethora of punches while Covert was trapped against the cage. Covert fell to the floor, limp, where he rested until paramedics loaded him onto a stretcher and carried him out for further observation. Covert was motionless for a long time and was even hooked up to a respirator, but thankfully by the time he was carried out he was responsive and awake. Nik Theotikos officially knocked Covert out at 1:13 of round 1.
Mike Quicksand Pyle battled the game Aaron Wetherspoon and won a unanimous decision after three hard fought rounds. The majority of the first round was spent with Pyle on top in half guard pelting Wetherspoon with short punches. The second saw Aaron rally with his strong Muay Thai, landing numerous body shots, low kicks, and hard hooks to the head. Althought 2/3 judges gave the fight to Pyle 30-27, I feel that Wetherspoon definitely won the second round. The third round was all Pyle. Aaron walked into a hard knee to the head, and although he showed no ill effects, that shot alone would have KOd most people. Pyle also scored a takedown after working very hard for it, and spent a large portion of the round working Aaron over on the ground.
In a fight that should have been part of the main televised card, Jason Von Flue took on multiple time Jujitsu champion Luke Stewart. Coming into the fight, most people felt that Von Flue would easily dominate the stand up portion of the fight. Although Stewart is a huge jujitsu standout, grappling in mixed martial arts is a different animal and two amateur fights will only do so much to prepare you for the real thing. Well, after all was said and done Jason Von Flue learned a hard lesson about not underestimating your opponent. From the beginning Stewart showed brilliant Muay Thai technique, landing thudding kicks to the body and legs of Von Flue. Livewire managed to land some decent punches, but Stewart looked like the more technically sound striker and had a pretty good jaw to boot. On the ground Stewart really shined, passing guard and gaining mount with ease.
The second round was much better for Von Flue, as he began to put together his punches. He also defended the takedown well, but eventually succumbed to his opponents persistence. Heres where the trouble started, as with 10 seconds left Stewart set the rear choke and almost got the tap at the bell. The third round saw Von Flue looking a little tired, and Stewart took advantage by turning up the pressure a notch. Stewart used some great positioning to take Von Flues back while standing, and after a little struggle was able to get him to the ground and flatten him out. The punches soon followed, and Von Flue turned to his back to better see and defend the strikes. Unfortunately, this also gave Stewart a better target, and he pounded and pounded on Jasons face until the referee stopped the fight at 2:17 of round 1. This was a tremendous effort for Luke Stewart, especially for his first fight. Hes going to do big things in this sport if he keeps up the hard work.
In other action, Rex Richards KOd Ray Seraille 0:34 into round 1, Chris Cariaso edged out a close decision over Anthony Figueroa, Dr. Seth Kleinbeck TKOd Sam Spengler at 2:55 round 2, and in the nights final fight David Smith KOd Sean Bassett with an overhand right at 1:23 of round 2. All in all Strikeforce impressed the hell out of me with great fights, high production values, and a tremendous amount of material for the press. I really hope that future events are as well run and produced as Baroni vs. Shamrock, as the UFC might actually have a worthy competitor on its hands. Plus, Strikeforce has way hotter ring girls and dancers in between rounds.