In reality, there are usually two types of fighters on Challengers: the prospects, and the guys the prospects are supposed to beat up.
Friday night's main event showdown between up-and-comers Tyron Woodley and Tarec Saffiedine was a welcome departure from that. It was a showdown between two tough guys who had come up through the ranks in Strikeforce and were looking to make the jump to the next level.
On paper, that's exactly how Challengers is supposed to work. The fight didn't necessarily produce the fireworks we were hoping for, but at least it's a step in the right direction as far as matchmaking. It shows that you can build two good fighters by pitting them against each other, rather than simply finding someone for them to pummel. Let's just hope we see more instances of prospect showdowns, and fewer displays of can-crushing by heavy favorites going forward.
But enough preamble, on to the biggest winners, losers, and everything in between from Friday night's Strikeforce: Challengers in Nashville.
Biggest Winner: Daniel Cormier
Last summer the former Olympic wrestling team captain seemed to fight every other week, but against a revolving cast of nobodies. Now his pace has slowed, but he's gradually moving up in competition. Devin Cole's not on anybody's list of all-time greats, but he is a big, experienced MMA fighter with a collegiate wrestling background. That made him an interesting test for Cormier, and one the former Olympian passed with...well, not exactly flying colors, but at least hovering colors. Cormier nailed a few sweet takedowns, landed a couple bombs on the feet, and generally dominated the fight. He may have been disappointed with himself for allowing Cole to hang around like he did, but that only makes me think that Cormier is the rare developing fighter who has his head on straight and his expectations on track. Now let's see him fight somebody who's actually a threat.
Biggest Loser: Tarec Saffiedine
It's not that he looked especially bad, it's just that he spent entirely too much time fighting Woodley's fight, and the result was a major missed opportunity. A win in this fight would have rocketed Safiiedine to the next level, and it's not as if Woodley was especially dominating. Saffiedine just spent too much time playing the clinch game rather than bringing the fight into open space where it would have favored his skills. He'll be back, but with a little of the luster rubbed off after this defeat via slow grind.
Least Impressive in Victory: Tyron Woodley
When Woodley acknowledged that nobody wanted to see him lay on Saffiedine, I didn't realize that meant his plan was to lean on him instead. I've got to admit, it's smart. He didn't want to stand and bang with Safiiedine, yet didn't want to waste all his energy trying to get him to the mat either. The solution? Get all Randy Couture on it and try to control the clinch and keep the fight in close against the fence. It's effective, but also about as exciting as a silent movie. If his goal in this fight was to not just win, but demonstrate his readiness for a title shot, consider Friday night's results inconclusive at best.
Most Impressive in Defeat: Abongo Humphrey
He was up against a bigger fighter and a better athlete, but Humphrey brought it from bell to bell. Even after getting stung early and overpowered throughout, Humphrey had the brains and the requisite lack of concern for his own health to turn this fight into a brawl whenever possible, which was, let's be honest, his best chance at victory. It didn't pan out, but at least it provided some entertainment. If you're a fighter like Humphrey, whose value lies more in his gameness than his athletic ability, that's how you stick around and keep collecting paychecks.
Most Wanderlei Silva-Esque: Amanda Nunes
She came right at Julia Budd with one bomb after another, fighting like she was determined that someone end the night unconscious and she wasn't all that particular about who. It was Budd who wilted under the pressure and went to sleep beneath a veil of hammerfists just 14 seconds in, giving Nunes a great clip to add to her highlight reel. Inevitably, an aggressive female, Brazilian fighter draws comparisons to "Cyborg" Santos and questions about a possible future match-up, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. It's one thing to do that to Budd, who came into this fight with a 1-0 record. It's quite another to do it to experienced fighters, which is what Santos has been doing for a few years now.
Most Grateful to Fight a Late Replacement: Rhadi Ferguson
In the opening moments of this fight Ferguson seemed as if maybe he'd bitten off more than he could chew against John Richard. He got taken down and roughed up a bit, and had few answers for Richard's offense other than to wait it out. Fortunately for Ferguson, patience was all it took. Richard quickly lost steam after those explosive opening moments, and then he started looking more and more like a 1-1 pro fighter who had taken a fight on short notice. Suddenly, Ferguson was back in it. Richard essentially gave Ferguson that kneebar at the end, but it's still a good win for the judoka. It doesn't necessarily prove anything, though, let's be honest, Ferguson is there primarily as an interesting side story – not because Strikeforce thinks he's a real prospect who will be champ some day.
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