Scott Smith. Photo by Esther Lin/EliteXC.
NEW YORK – Can Scott “Hands Of Steel’’ Smith, aka “The Comeback Kid,’’ do it again?
On Saturday, June 26, at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., on Showtime, Smith will attempt to make it two consecutive victories over Cung Le in a middleweight (185 pounds) rematch of one of the most incredible Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) comeback victories of all-time.
The eagerly anticipated return bout between Smith (17-6), of Elk Grove, Calif., and Le (6-1), of San Jose, will take place on an already-stacked Strikeforce and M-1 Global fight card that features the world’s No. 1 heavyweight and pound-for-pound MMA fighter, Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko (31-1),against two-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion and top-ranked superstar Fabricio “Vai Cavalo” Werdum (13-4) in the main event.
The universally recognized No. 1 female fighter in MMA, Cris Cyborg will defend her Strikeforce 145-pound belt against Jan Finney, marking the first time in history that both the No. 1 male and female fighters will compete on the same card.
In another featured fight, former Strikeforce lightweight (155 pounds) champion Josh Thomson (16-3), of San Jose, will try and regain his winning ways against Pat “Bam Bam’’ Healy (23-15) of Portland, Ore. Thomson lost a five-round decision in his last start to Gilbert Melendez in one of the most wildly exciting, give-and-take slugfests of the year on Dec. 19, 2009, at HP Pavilion. Healy is coming off a well-deserved, unanimous three-round decision over Bryan Travers during a Strikeforce Challengers event on May 21.
The Showtime telecast will begin at 10 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast).
The hard-hitting, never-say-die Smith is no stranger to dramatic, stirring, come-from-behind victories. He rallied to knock out Benji Radach on April 1, 2009, at HP Pavilion and registered a highlight-reel second-round KO over the UFC’s Pete Sell on Nov. 11, 2006.
Smith, however, may have outdone himself with his courageous performance against Le, coming back from the brink of absolute defeat to triumph by third-round knockout last Dec. 19 at HP Pavilion.
Smith had taken a frightful beating for two-and-a-half-rounds as southpaw Le, making his first start in 21 months, totally dominated. The one-sided proceedings seemed over at least a couple of times as everything was going Le’s way. His trademark spinning back kicks were connecting with startling frequency and were knocking Smith around the cage.
At one point, while Smith was on the ground after getting dropped, Le seemed to throw more than 50 consecutive punches. He slammed Smith once.
But Smith, a proven finisher who has never turned down a challenge, summoned the energy and heart – again – to twice drop Le. After he connected twice on a downed Le, the referee stepped in and halted the exciting battle at 3:25.
“This was one helluva fight,’’ said Smith afterward. “He had me the first two-and-a-half rounds, but I’ve got a hard head. On the knockdowns, I faked the right and threw the left. Everyone always looks for my right, but the left hook is my best punch.
“It took me until the third round to close the gap on him, but once I did and he began to drop his hands, I could sense things were starting to go my way. That’s when I feinted with the right and landed the left. It never matters who I fight. I just want these types of tough fights.’’
Le, a former Strikeforce middleweight champion who relinquished the belt to concentrate on an acting career, offered no excuses but has been clamoring for a rematch since.
“He got the best of me last time with a good punch,’’ Le said. “We both fought our hearts out that night, but I’ve wanted a chance to turn the tables on him since that fight ended and now my opportunity is here. I am very excited to fight a warrior like Scott again.
“The fans in San Jose and those watching on Showtime are in for a great fight again between Smith and me and a great night of fights.’’
Thomson, who shut out Melendez across five rounds to capture the Strikeforce world 155-pound belt on June 27, 2008, dropped a rematch by the scores of 49-46 twice and 49-47.
Like Le, the popular Thomson was coming off a lengthy layoff. It was his first start before a paying audience in 15 months due to injuries (he broke his left leg twice during training).
But Thomson showed against Melendez that he’s healthy again and he is excited about a possible rubber match. First, however, he must get past Healy.
“I’m up for a third fight with Gilbert if that’s what Strikeforce wants,’’ said Thomson, who had an eight-fight winning streak end last time out. “I know this is a fight the fans want to see again. But my sole focus now is on winning my next fight. I can’t concern myself with future fights.
“For me, the future is June 26 and beating Healy.’’
Healy has defeated quality opponents since turning pro in August 2001. He was impressive outpointing Travers (13-1 going in) by the scores of 30-27 and 29-28 twice. It was a rare points’ victory for the durable, well-conditioned wrestling specialist who has won more than half his fights via submission.
A winner of three in a row and five out of six outings, Healy is getting an opportunity against one of the fighters he most wanted to fight.
“I’ll fight anyone but there are two guys in the 155-pound as far as I’m concerned and that’s Josh and Melendez,’’ Healy said. “A win over Thomson, then Melendez could be next for me’’