Joey Villasenor beat Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos by split decision Friday night in the main event of the Strikeforce Challenger Series event in Kent, Washington, providing an exciting, fast-paced conclusion to a good MMA show.
"I haven't fought in over a year and that's a great fight to come back to," Villasenor said afterward. "A three-round war."
The Villasenor-Cyborg fight was one of five aired on Showtime Friday night. Luke Rockhold got the show started with a hard right hook to Cory Devela's left ear, a punch that knocked Devela down and had him in big trouble. Rockhold landed several more punches on the ground before turning Devela over and sinking in a rear-naked choke to get the tapout just 30 seconds into the first round.
Sarah Kaufman showed off very impressive striking to beat Shayna Baszler by unanimous decision. The win improved Kaufman's record to 10-0, and although she's smaller than Strikeforce's top two female stars, the next step in Kaufman's career might be to move up in weight and take on the winner of the August 15 Gina Carano-Cris Cyborg fight. Kaufman is good enough to be a threat to either of them.
The night's most action-packed fight was the battle between Jorge Gurgel and Conor Heun, a pair of submission specialists who decided to keep the fight almost entirely on their feet, trading punches and kicks for 15 minutes. Gurgel won the fight 29-28 on one judge's scorecard and 30-27 on the other two.
Army Ranger Tim Kennedy beat attorney Nick Thompson in a contest between two fighters with two of the most interesting backstories in the sport. Thompson said before the fight that he was angry Strikeforce made him move up in weight class to fight Kennedy, and it was clear during the fight that Kennedy was the bigger and stronger man. It was also clear at the end of the fight that Kennedy landed a couple of illegal punches to the back of Thompson's head, but the referee didn't call the fouls.
The Strikeforce Challenger Series is a concept that still hasn't been well defined -- Strikeforce says it's for young, up-and-coming fighters, but many of the fighters on the card Friday night were old pros. Nonetheless, MMA fans got five good fights Friday night.