Villasenor Edges Santos at “Challengers”


“Smokin” Joe Villasenor raises his arms in triumph over Evangelista Cyborg Friday night in the main event on the second Strikeforce Challengers series on Showtime. Photo by Esther Lin/Strikeforce.

VILLASENOR DECISIONS CYBORG IN MAIN EVENT; GURGEL AND HEUN PROVIDE CROWD-PLEASING FIREWORKS; KENNEDY AND KAUFMAN EACH SCORE VICTORIES
KENT, Wash. – “Smokin” Joe Villasenor showed no signs of rust after a year away from the cage as he recorded a close split decision over Evangelista “Cyborg” in the main event of the sophomore edition of Strikeforce Challengers Friday night on Showtime before an enthusiastic crowd at the ShoWare Center.
In a gritty and tactical battle all the way to the end, Villasenor proved victorious winning on two of the three judges scorecards, 29-28, 28-29, 29-28. “I haven’t fought in over a year and that’s a great fight to come back to,” Villasenor said afterwards. “A three-round war. I was really surprised by (Cyborg’s) countering. It turned into a great fight.”

Asked by expert analyst, “The Fight Professor” Stephen Quadros, who he was looking to fight next in the stacked Strikeforce middleweight division, Albuquerque, N.M., resident Villasenor (27-6) said, “(Current middleweight champion) Cung Le is sitting back and watching everyone getting better but I think he’s shaking in his boots after watching this.”
Like Villasenor, Tim Kennedy has also been away from the game while serving his country as a Special Forces Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was hard to tell he hadn’t fought in more than 18 months and only five times in the last six years, but he proudly proclaimed he was back Friday, as he submitted Nick “The Goat” Thompson by strikes at 2:37 of Round 2.
Fighting in his 50th MMA fight, Minneapolis, Minn., resident Thompson (38-11-1) was visibly upset afterward and thought Kennedy had hit him illegally behind the head. “You’ve seen my fights. I’m the fairest fighter there is,” Kennedy said. “I was hitting from the side of his head and if I hit him in the back of the head I’m truly sorry. I love to bang and knock people out and I get a lot of crap back home for not winning by submission.”
In what was easily the most entertaining and exciting fight of the night, at a catch weight special attraction at 160 pounds, Jorge Gurgel (13-5) of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Conor “Hurricane” Heun (8-3) of Hollywood, Calif., proved to be two stars to watch.  From the second the first bell rang both fighters engaged in a battle full of blood and sweat. In the end, with the crowd on their feet, the final decision was announced in favor of Gurgel on all three scorecards with scores of 29-28, 30-27, 30-27.
Bloodied and battered, both fighters “put on a fight for the ages at 160 pounds,” according to commentator Mauro Ranallo. “I’ve never seen a chin like that on anyone besides myself,” Gurgel said. “This was my first fight for Strikeforce and it was everything I’ve ever wanted.”
Said Heun: “I may go home a couple of bucks shorter and with some scrapes but that was the most fun I’ve ever had. I live for those last 15 minutes.” While it may be a loss on his record, Heun proved he is not one to back down and will be a fighter to watch in the Strikeforce cage.
In an intriguing matchup of two friends, Sarah Kaufman of Victoria, British Columbia, ran her record to a perfect 10-0 with a unanimous decision over Shayna “The Queen of Spades” Baszler of Sioux Falls, S.D., 29-28, 30-27, 30-27.
Kaufman and Baszler took part in five-minute rounds, the first in the history for female MMA for Strikeforce.  “She’s a great opponent and it was a great fight. I just kept gaining confidence and getting more comfortable as the fight went on,” said Kaufman, also a victor by decision in her last fight against Meisha Tate.
Luke Rockhold of Santa Cruz, Calif. improved to 5-1 as he came out firing in dominating the only Washington state resident on the televised card, Cory “The One” Devela (9-3) of Bonney Lake, Wash. Rockhold stepped in with his left foot and let a right hand fly from the opening seconds, stunning Devela who fell to the ground as Rockhold proceeded to pound away. The fight ended several seconds later as Rockhold recorded his third consecutive win by first-round rear-naked choke as Devela tapped out at 0:30, and Rockhold winning by submission.
In a stacked Strikeforce middleweight division, Rockhold said after the fight that, “I’m ready for anyone. I showed tonight what I can do.”
Ranallo called the action from cageside with Quadros and Pat Miletich serving as expert analysts. The executive producer was David Dinkins, Jr., with Richard Gaughan producing and Rick Phillips directing.
The non-televised fights presented some crowd-pleasing results. Dennis “Superman” Hallman (41-12-2, Yelm, Wash.) needed just 27 seconds to beat Justin Davis (11-8, Olympia, Wash.) by submission in the final non-televised fight. Brian Caraway (11-3) needed a unanimous decision to defeat Alex Zuniga (2-2, Everett, Wash.) by the scores of 30-27, 30-27, 30-27. Lyle Beerbohm (10-0, Spokane, Wash.) beat Duane Ludwig (18-9, Denver, Colo.) by submission in the first round at 4:27.

Landon Showalter (8-12-1, Arlington, Wash.) won a unanimous decision over George Stork (4-3, Kennewick, Wash.), 30-27, 30-27, 30-27. Len Bentley (4-2, Olympia, Wash.) won a unanimous decision over Marques Daniels (1-3, Tacoma, Wash.) by scores of 29-28, 30-27, 29-28. Steve Hadsel (2-0, Spanaway, Wash.) needed only 17 seconds to knock out Taylor Roberts (1-2, Seattle, Wash.) to open the card.

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