Strikeforce/Elite XC Preview Column
Written by Matt Boone
On June 22, 2007, a good old-fashioned “grudge match” will be settled in San Jose, California. It will be a legend of the sport taking on his first true test since making his official comeback to the sport a little over a year ago. Since returning, he's been locked in a cage with two Gracie's – one win, one disqualification loss and a North American MMA attendance record later, he's back.
This time, he's fighting a man who was not too long ago ranked in the top ten for fighters in the 185 pound weight-class. If the division weren't so stacked, he might still be in there. “The New York Bad Ass” Phil Baroni will get in the cage for his highest profile match-up maybe ever, and this is a guy who's been in several UFC's and even PRIDE Grand Prix tournaments. Baroni can put himself back on the map and if the rumors are any indication – back in the UFC with a win over Frank.
This isn't a one-fight card, though. In addition to this fight, we've got two solid top 185 pound contenders battling in what should be an explosive fight as the late-cleared Murilo “Ninja” Rua takes his Chute Boxe style to the United States as he takes on the man who took out David Loiseau in his last outing, Greg Jackson-standout Joey Villasenor.
Also on the card, former UFC Heavyweight contender Paul “The Headhunter” Buentello steps back into the cage to battle tough K-1 striker Carter Williams. Cung Le gets his first real-solid MMA test as he battles Miletich-fighter Tony “The Freak” Fryklund. Also expected for the main card is Edson Berto – filling in for a jailed Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett, as he takes on Victor “Joe Boxer” Valenzuela. The undercard features exciting fights like Duane “Bang” Ludwig vs. Paul Daley, Josh “The Punk” Thomson vs. Nick Gonzalez, Jason Von Flue from Ultimate Fighter fame against Luke Stewart and more.
Let's take a closer look at some of the top fights that will be part of what should be an exciting Friday night of mixed-martial arts action…
Josh Thomson vs. Nick Gonzalez
Breakdown: I keep hearing changes to what will be on the PPV card and what won't, and I'm not sure what's planned for the ProElite.com prelim-stream, so I'll just talk about the fights I'm excited to see. When Josh Thomson is on the bill, I'm always excited. I've yet to watch a boring Thomson fight. I don't know a whole lot about Nick Gonzalez, but I'm sure the matchmakers have done their job and expect a good fight here. Due to my limited knowledge of Gonzalez, I'm going to have to lean towards Thomson. Ignorant thinking sure, but that's my call. I won't be listing specific predictions, to me it's nearly impossible. Just a name selection.
Prediction: Josh Thomson
Duane “Bang” Ludwig vs. Paul Daley
Breakdown: This one is a striking-fans dream. Bang Ludwig is one of the premiere strikers in MMA, especially in his weight class. Daley is much of the same, a standout striker from England. Making a name for himself in the Cage Rage promotion, Daley has a pro MMA record of 14-6-2 with nearly half of the fights ending by knockout or technical knockout. His last fight was a body shot knockout of Paul Jenkins. Bang is coming off two victories, most notably a TKO stoppage of Tony Fryklund (who I'll talk about later) at a Strikeforce show. He had two tough losses last year, but to two top guys in Tyson Griffin (a semi-controversial loss) and Josh Thomson (who I'll also talk about later). These two should provide great action on the feet and I'm looking quite forward to it. Have to lean with my buddy Bang Ludwig in this one though.
Prediction: Duane “Bang” Ludwig
Paul Buentello vs. Carter Williams
Breakdown: Another slugfest that I'm looking forward to on this card. Both guys are known for striking as most know with Carter Williams coming in with K-1 fame and Buentello being dubbed “The Headhunter” by fight fans. Williams has four fights under his belt as a professional in MMA, most notably his TKO stoppage over Tom Howard at a Rumble on the Rock show in Hawaii. He has one loss in those four fights though, and didn't become what many expected of him in the K-1 ranks. Buentello has a similar story, rising through the ranks to reach the UFC, only to lose to champion of the time Andrei Arlovski in mere seconds via knockout. Buentello has bounced back though, and has two wins in Strikeforce – stopping the legendary Tank Abbott and famous late-minute substitute fighter Ruben “Warpath” Villareal. Both are big dudes with heavy hands that like to stand and trade. That should make for a great fight and a quick fight with a vicious conclusion. My prediction? Paul Buentello. Not sure if he'll out-strike Williams standing, as MMA changes things up a lot, but he has more ways to win and the intelligence to do what's necessary to win, especially on a big stage like this one.
Prediction: Paul Buentello
Cung Le vs. Tony Fryklund
Breakdown: Hate to sound reptitive, but I'm looking forward to this one quite a bit as well. Cung Le is getting his first real tough test in MMA, taking on solid long-time MMA veteran out of the Miletich camp – Tony Fryklund. Fryklund has lost a lot of his last real big fights, and most expect him to do the same here, but he's a veteran with experience and a complete arsenal of MMA skills. Cung Le has had to rely on his striking a lot to get to where he's at in MMA right now, which is still a highly hyped but relatively unproven (amongst top competition) fighter. He has the potential to be something great in his weight class in the sport, and this is a great test to see if he's got the goods to hang with the type of guys he'll need to, to rise through the ranks. I think he'll be able to do so on this night and hope he gets an even tougher test in his next fight.
Prediction: Cung Le
Murilo “Ninja” Rua vs. Joey Villasenor
Breakdown: Outside of the main event, this is the fight I'm dieing to see. I was devastated to hear Ninja was off the card a week ago, or whenever it was, and am extatic that it's back on. I must say though, Falaniko Vitale was a great replacement on such short notice and I would have enjoyed that fight as well. This is the one I wanted though, and I'm glad the promotions did what it took to keep it on the card. It's a great style match-up that should be non-stop action from bell to bell (unless they use a horn like UFC, then it's from horn to horn) but I ultimately expect it to go the distance. Both are durable guys and I don't see either stopping the other, although many would say that's nutty. I think this will be one of those all-over-the-place fights, the type I've grown to expect from Ninja, with it being a tough call in the end. However, when it's all said and done I see Ninja successfully representing the Chute Boxe academy on Showtime PPV.
Prediction: Murilo “Ninja” Rua
Frank Shamrock vs. Phil Baroni
Breakdown: Here we go people! I kind of touched on the back-story and credentials in the intro, so I'll just talk about the style breakdown here. Baroni is the more explosive striker, while Shamrock is the more technical. Cardio never seems to be an issue for Shamrock, whereas with Baroni it's always been a question mark. If Baroni has his druthers, cardio won't matter because he usually comes out of the gate exploding, looking to end the fight as quickly and violently as possible. If he gets going, he's almost impossible to stop – until his gas tank empties. Shamrock is still a question mark in many ways. The Ceasar Gracie didn't show much, as Shamrock knocked him out before it became a fight. With Renzo, it was a lot of clinching and wrestling and holding until the fight ended with a weird disqualification with Shamrock kneeing a grounded Renzo (who was on top). So we don't really know if Shamrock is the same guy we knew back in the day, and if he'll be able to be as impressive with today's evolved competition. Baroni is a good test to see where Shamrock rates as a fighter, compared to the one we remember, and the two should make for an exciting fight.
It's a hard one to pick, and I'm surprised by the odds. I thought I'd be one of few leaning towards Baroni in this fight, but our MMANews.com poll had him a slight favorite. Out of 2,204 votes in 3 days, 1049 voted for Baroni and 1155 voted for Shamrock. Tight there. The betting odds opened as a pick'em fight, but now Baroni is a very slight favorite, but with more and more money seeming to come in on him to win. I'm on the side of majority it seems, as I predict Baroni will be too much for Shamrock. I think Shamrock will try and stand with him until he's tired enough to be taken down without a struggle, and I think that might be all it takes for Baroni to connect with something and throw Shamrock off his game. He's a pro and it would seem unlikely, but Baroni has that kind of power that just shatters you. Evan Tanner was a gritty veteran when he first fought Baroni – a few punches later and he was in survival mode. I'm not saying Shamrock will necessarily resort to survival mode after getting hit, but I see Baroni stopping Shamrock and shouting “I'm the best eva!” louder than “eva” before.
Prediction: Phil Baroni
Frank Shamrock and Phil Baroni have done an excellent job building up the fight in the media. I thought this show was going to get lost in the mix with all the enormous shows scheduled in the month of June this year, and it seemed to for a bit there. However, the company has done a great job in their final media blitz for this show and I think the word is out there now and at least on my radar, they've had enough promotion and reminders to have me jacked for this fight and this entire card.
The action begins at approximately 7:30PM ET / 4:30PM PT with the ProElite.com undercard. The live PPV starts at 10:00PM ET / 7:00PM PT. Don't forget to stop by MMANews.com this Friday evening for the best live results coverage of both the undercard and live PPV, as well as any other action from the show. We'll be bringing the most detailed coverage of the event anywhere on the world-wide web!
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