Mike Aina. Photo by Esther Lin/EliteXC.
NEW YORK — Undefeated lightweight (155 lb. limit) sensation Billy Evangelista (9-0) will fight hard-hitting brawler and BJ Penn protégé “Iron” Mike Aina (11-6-1) in the main event of the inaugural, newly titled SHO MMA: Strikeforce Challengers series from leading MMA promoter Strikeforce and premium television network Showtime, on Friday, May 15 at Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif.
The Showtime telecast will air live beginning at 11 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast) and feature up to five MMA fights including Kim “Sugar Free” Couture (1-1), wife of MMA legend Randy “The Natural” Couture, facing an opponent to be named.
SHO MMA: Strikeforce Challengers provides MMA’s hottest prospects with the opportunity to perform at a high level of competition in a nationally televised event. “This is where the men and women will be separated from the boys, so to speak,” said Strikeforce founder and CEO Scott Coker. “The growth and future of our sport just got a turbo injection. For regional fighters and up-and-coming men and women looking to test themselves against other top prospects and get on the fasttrack to stardome, SHO MMA: Strikeforce Challengers is the place to do it. I can’t wait for this first event.”
“I don’t know anything about my opponent, but it doesn’t matter because I know he’s going to try to take me out like everyone else has, so it’ll be my job to react to whatever he does,” said the 28-year-old Evangelista, who fights out of Fresno. “I’ve got a great team behind me and I’ve been training really hard so I’m not worried.”
A finely tuned Muay Thai technician and wrestling expert, Evangelista notched his last Strikeforce victory by turning the tides on road warrior Luke “Lil’ Hulk” Caudillo in a thrilling slugfest at Broomfield, Colo., on October 3, 2008. After being dropped twice with punches in the first round, a determined Evangelista battled back in the following two rounds to earn a unanimous decision.
Three and a half months prior to his conquest of Caudillo, Evangelista secured a key win over Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert Nam Phan in Strikeforce action at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California.
The 28-year-old Aina has never been stopped over the course of 18 professional starts. Born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, he has been a student of MMA superstar Penn for six years and has since developed a dangerous, hybrid fighting style that favors dirty boxing and kickboxing and is supported by a strong Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu foundation.
“It’s a big opportunity for me,” said Aina of the matchup with Evangelista. “Billy is no slouch. I’m expecting a really tough fight because we have similar styles. We both like to stand up even though we’re both also well rounded. I’m going in with a positive mindset and I’m ready to work hard in there.”
Aina nearly pulled off a stunning upset of superstar Nick Diaz when the two faced off in Hilo on September 15, 2007. Aina stalked Diaz in the early going of their matchup and got the better of Diaz in a few of their exchanges. By the third round, however, fatigue set in and Aina’s pace slowed while Diaz, known for his outstanding stamina, continued to dish out punishment before earning a split decision.
“I kind of wore out as the fight went on,” admitted Aina. “Nick stands up in front of you and doesn’t give you a break. I definitely think I won the first two rounds, hands down, but that’s why you can’t leave things in the hands of the judges. That fight definitely tested my character and helped bring my game to the next level.”
Since the loss to Diaz, Aina has reeled off two straight wins, his last being a first round submission of Ismael Gonzalves on August 9, 2008.
Couture made her debut with Strikeforce on November 21, 2008 against Lina Kvokov. Couture, who recently added K-1 superstar Ray Sefo to her team of world-class trainers, quickly overwhelmed Kvokov with punch flurries and knee strikes in the first round of their matchup at San Jose’s HP Pavilion. After Kvokov turned her back due to her inability to defend herself any longer, the referee ordered a stoppage at the 1:44 mark of the opening round, giving Couture a victory by way of TKO.