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The After Party – “Strikeforce Challengers Series 14″

Strikeforce continued to deliver exciting fights this past Friday night with their most recent Challengers Series event. It was a night filled with submissions and all-around outstanding grappling highlighted by a veteran slowing the momentum of an up and comer, the son of a legend looking just as good as his father, the return to form of a dangerous lightweight, and much more. The only lowlight was the Strikeforce production crew, who felt the need to show the upcoming round card rather than focusing on Kelli Hutcherson and her beautiful face.

Pat Healy defeated Lyle Beerbohm by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

Pat Healy was trying to get himself back on the main card and in big fights while Lyle Beerbohm was trying to take the next step towards stardom. Beerbohm may still be a star in this sport but it was Healy who took a step forward.

If you like back and fourth grappling then this was the fight for you. The first round was a little slow with Beerbohm working hard for a takedown that never really came and when it did, Healy was able to get right back up. Beerbohm’s clinch control against the cage was enough to give him the nod in the opening frame though, even if he didn’t do a ton of damage. The second round was more of the same for the first four minutes or so and that’s when things started to pick up. The fight went to the ground and Healy locked on an inverted triangle, where he attacked the free arm of Beerbohm and tried finishing with a kimura. Beerbohm was able to survive the final minute but the momentum had swung in Healy’s favor and his near finish was enough to give him the round. The third round can only be described as a “five minute scramblefest.” The two went back and fourth trading dominant positions but neither fighter got the upper hand for more than 30 seconds or so. Beerbohm had more dominant positions and longer control though and it looked like he was going to take the decision with just under a minute remaining when they squared up on the feet. That’s when Healy started tagging a tired Beerbohm with some good punches, forcing Beerbohm to shoot for a desperation takedown, which Healy stuffed and ended the fight on top. Those final seconds may have cost Beerbohm the fight and his undefeated record. As the horn sounded, Healy raised his hands in victory while Beerbohm rested on the cage. The judges all agreed that Healy had done enough to take the decision.

This loss might be the best thing for Beerbohm. He’s always talked a big game and now this could bring him back to reality. I thought he fought a smart fight but he got very tired due to all the grappling and that cost him in the end. He wasn’t able to defend against Healy’s strikes as the fight went on and he went for a late desperation takedown that may have cost him the fight as Healy was able to sprawl. This will be the fight that fans look back on in a couple of years and use to talk about how Beerbohm’s career turned out. If Beerbohm falters the rest of his career and never makes it past the mid-level, they’ll look back at the Healy loss and say, “This loss proved that he was never anything special” but if Beerbohm makes it to the next level and starts competing against top guys, they’ll look at this loss and say, “He learned from his loss and came back stronger.” Given his ability to bounce back from something much larger than a loss in a MMA fight, I’m inclined to believe that he’ll be able to bounce back from this. I’d like to see him fight Carlo Prater next as Prater is a guy, sort of in the same position as Healy was prior to this fight, who has been on the big stage and needs another impressive victory to get back there.

This was a very good win for Healy. He gave Josh Thomson all he could handle less than a year ago and now is the first man to blemish Beerbohm’s record. He’s a very strong guy for lightweight, he’s a solid striker, and his cardio helped him to this victory. I was a little surprised at how much Beerbohm was able to control him in the clinch but to Healy’s credit, he was never really damaged or dominated in that position. Healy is a good measuring stick for the Strikeforce lightweight division. He’s going to beat guys who aren’t ready for the top guys, and may never be ready, and he’ll give top guys a run for their money on most nights. He wants to fight the winner of Billy Evangelista vs. Jorge Masvidal in his next fight so he should be given that fight. He’s already started the promotion for it and it gives the announcers something to talk about during Evangelista vs. Masvidal so Strikeforce would be stupid to not make it happen. Now last year I would say it wouldn’t happen but Strikeforce has been making some good decisions as of late so I’d actually be shocked if it doesn’t happen.

Predicted Next Fights: Beerbohm vs. Prater – Healy vs. Evangelista/Masvidal winner

Carlo Prater defeated Bryan Travers by Submission (D’Arce Choke) at 0:38 in Round One

Carlo Prater showed that he could still be a threat in MMA, making quick work of a very tough Bryan Travers.

There wasn’t much to this fight. They almost immediately clinched, Prater hit a nice trip takedown, and as Travers tried to scramble to his feet Prater locked in a beautiful d’arce choke that forced Travers to tap out almost James Toney style where he couldn’t fully tap so he just kind of motioned with his hand. A very emotional Prater was ecstatic to pick up his second victory in his last six fights.

This had to be a crushing defeat for Travers. Just two years ago there was talk of him being UFC ready. Less than a year ago he took Pat Healy to a decision and narrowly lost. Now he lost to an inconsistent Prater in just over 30 seconds. It’s not like Prater is a bad fighter but given his recent performances, it just didn’t seem like his head has been on straight while Travers had to be hungry to get into big fights. Travers needs a big bounce back performance in his next fight, which will probably be on the regional scene.

I really hope this fight is the fight that reinstalls some confidence back in Prater because when he’s on his game, he can be a threat in the lightweight division. I’m not ready to proclaim that Prater is back to his old self because any win under two minutes doesn’t prove a whole lot in the grand scheme of things but it does prove just how dangerous Prater can be when he’s on his game. On top of his quick submission, Prater cut an awesome promo after the fight. He corrected Mauro Rannallo, a sure fire way to make me like you, and he put over Texas and the crowd in a huge way. Every time Prater fights from here until he retires should be in Texas. As I mentioned above, I’d like to see Prater fight Lyle Beerbohm next because it’ll show if Prater is back to his old way and if Beerbohm was just a product of hype all these years or if Beerbohm is the real deal and this was just a good night for Prater.

Predicted Next Fights: Travers vs. Regional Fighter – Prater vs. Beerbohm

Ryan Couture defeated Lee Higgins by Submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 4:41 in Round Three

Upset about his last name, Lee Higgins put up a valiant effort but Ryan Couture proved to be too much for him in all aspects of the sport.

Known for his jiu-jitsu, Couture was very willing to show off his striking against Higgins. He looked very comfortable on his feet, constantly switching stances, throwing good leg kicks, and getting in and out. Higgins was just a step behind Couture in all the exchanges. Couture dropped Higgins in the second round with a right hand but couldn’t put him away. On the ground this fight was all Couture. He got the back of Higgins a couple times, tried to finish with a d’arce choke late in round one, almost finished with an arm triangle in round two, squeezed the life out of Higgins with a body triangle every time he was on the back, and finally finished him with a rear naked choke in the final 30 seconds of the fight. After a quick first professional fight, Couture showcased that he’s lightning in a skillet and not just a flash in the pan with this victory.

If Higgins can take anything away from this fight, it’s that he’s a survivor. Couture had him in bad positions for the majority of the fight and it wasn’t until the final horn was about to sound that Higgins was finally forced to tap out. This was only Higgins’ third professional fight against a guy with one of the best pedigrees in MMA so he shouldn’t hang his head too low despite losing. Simply put, Couture was just better than him. One thing I didn’t like about Higgins was his pre-fight promo where he seemed upset that his last name wasn’t Couture. He should be mad at his dad, not Ryan, for not having the last name Couture and he should be thankful that his opponents last name was Couture, otherwise he never would have been given the chance to showcase his skills on Showtime. It just seemed like Higgins had too big of a chip on his shoulder when it really wasn’t needed.

For a guy in just his second professional fight, Couture looked outstanding. He was smooth on his feet, strong in the clinch, and absolutely dominating on the ground. The thing I liked most about Couture’s game was that he never stopped trying to finish the fight. Even in the third round, when he could have easily cruised to a decision victory, he was constantly looking to finish Higgins with a submission on the ground. He obviously has that killer instinct that is key to any fighters success. I really hope Strikeforce continues to bring him up slowly rather than rush him into big fights before he’s ready. I’d like them to handle him the same way they handled Shane Del Rosario, who I think they’ve handled almost perfectly thus far. Next fight for Couture should be a guy with some experience but not someone who is particularly threatening.

Predicted Next Fight: Higgins vs. Regional Fighter – Couture vs. Mike Aina

Ryan Larson defeated Erik Apple by Submission (Triangle Choke) at 3:14 in Round Two

Ryan Larson made Erik Apple look ‘Bad’ in more areas than just his nickname with a dominating performance.

This fight was all Larson, all the time. He put Apple on his back, much easier than I think a lot of people anticipated and then on the ground he controlled him and roughed him up. Larson was able to gain the crucifix position early in the fight but unfortunately Strikeforce doesn’t allow elbows on the ground and Larson had trouble working with just punches. Larson almost finished a couple of times with a kimura from the north south position but Apple was able to survive. Larson was in brief trouble late in the first round as Apple went for a heel hook that looked close but Larson was able to survive. The second round was more of the same as Larson got a quick takedown, worked his way to mount, locked on a mount triangle, and then rolled over to cinch up the hold. Apple was forced to tap out and Larson picked up the biggest win of his career.

Back to the drawing board for Apple and I really have no clue where he goes from here. He showed almost nothing in this fight. He did decently on the feet but the fight wasn’t standing long enough to really gauge how good his striking is. It really shocked me at how easily Larson put Apple on his back and just controlled him on the ground. Apple just seemed lost in the grappling department. Apple’s biggest problem might just be his fight consistency. This was his first fight since 2009 and just his fourth fight since 2007. It might not be so shocking to know that he’s 1-3 in those fights. If Apple can get in the cage on a consistent basis, maybe he can perform up to the level that he was performing at in 2005 and 2006. To do that though, Apple is going to need to take a break from Strikeforce and head back to the regional scene for the time being.

Larson was very impressive in this fight. Apple is no joke and Larson made it look easy this past Friday night. I’m still not sold on his stand up but he didn’t really need it in this fight as he got it to the ground with relative ease and then took over from there. This performance should get Larson off the regional scene for the time being and another shot on a Challengers card. Larson should fight another guy who is around the Challengers level because this win over Apple may have been the best win of the entire night. I’d like to see him fight someone like Waachiim Spiritwolf next but it looks like Spiritwolf has a couple of fights coming up so I’m thinking Bobby Voelker would be a good next fight to see who is ready to take that next step towards the big show.

Predicted Next Fights: Apple vs. Regional Fighter – Larson vs. Voelker

David Douglas defeated Nick Gonzalez by Submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 1:05 in Round One

David Douglas was the king of the jungle on Friday night as he picked the world up and dropped it on Nick Gonzalez head so quick it made my head spin, dawg.

This fight was slow for about 30 seconds and then Douglas dropped Gonzalez with a combination, pounced on him, got his back, and choked him to sleep. It was the quick storm that many expected from Douglas and unfortunately for Gonzalez, he wasn’t able to survive.

Gonzalez just seems destined to be a mid-level fighter. He’s going to beat inexperienced and mediocre talents but he’s going to lose, and lose rather easily, against top guys or guys ready to take the next step in competition. Granted this was a quick fight and anyone can get caught in the first two minutes but Gonzalez’ track record pretty much speaks for itself. It’s likely back to the regional scene for him.

Douglas may have a pretty good future in this sport. He’s still a little wild but his two MMA losses were against Justin Wilcox and Jeff Curran, both very good fighters. He’s a big lightweight, he hits hard, and he trains at a camp known for developing guys early in their career into well-rounded fighters. I’d like for Strikeforce to actually bring back some of the big show preliminary guys and if they’re going to do that, based on his performance at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva, John Cholish should definitely be brought back to face Douglas.

Predicted Next Fights: Gonzalez vs. Regional Fighter – Douglas vs. Cholish

Strikeforce is on a roll right now with three straight very entertaining cards to kick off 2011. I’m usually the first guy to knock the company, and while they still have their problems, the match-making and fighter performance is not one of them. Check out the replay of this event, it’s well worth it.

The next major event is UFC 127: Penn vs. Fitch so everyone get ready for The Walk Out.

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