MMA Review: #573: StrikeForce Challengers: Woodley vs. Bears

-Time for a trip in the wayback machine then, to 2009 and arguably the peak of StrikeForce as this was the period where they’d just signed Fedor, Gegard Mousasi, King Mo, Dan Henderson, etc and people were starting to talk them up as a possible challenger to the UFC as Affliction and EliteXC had both recently gone under. This though wasn’t one of their big shows and was more of a continuation of what EliteXC had called ‘ShoXC’, basically a showcase for prospects and up-and-comers on Showtime at a smaller venue. It’s actually what a lot of people keep saying the UFC should do with their Fight Pass shows in fact, but the problem with that is that they tend to use Fight Pass shows to break into new markets and thus have to keep the illusion of giving each market a semi-big show, hence much bigger main events for those cards. If WME are serious about scrapping the international expansion though (big mistake in my opinion but that’s another story) then to see cards like this return wouldn’t at all surprise me.

Strike Force Challengers: Woodley vs. Bears

Kansas City, Kansas

-Your hosts are Mauro Renallo, Pat Miletich and Stephen Quadros. Don’t miss Mauro at all these days it must be said but I definitely had a twinge of nostalgia hearing Quadros and thinking about his old PRIDE days with Bas Rutten.

Middleweight Fight: Kevin Casey vs Chad Vance

This was Casey’s first appearance in StrikeForce and the announcers push that he’s a former Rickson Gracie disciple, but they seem to be knocking him in saying that he’s a “self-promoted” black belt in BJJ. Didn’t know you could even do that! According to the announcers Vance wrestled at Division II level, but I’ve never heard of him and his record suggests journeyman.

First round begins and Casey clinches pretty quickly and forces Vance into the fence. Vance moves away from the fence and lands a knee before stuffing a takedown, but Casey stays on him and he hits a trip and takes the back as Vance screws up on a whizzer. Hooks are in for Casey and he lands a couple of punches, and Vance looks completely stuck in the position. He’s barely even defending the choke in fact as Casey’s slipping his arm under the neck slowly. Finally he slaps the choke on properly and Vance taps out there.

One-sided squash for Kevin Casey, but you could see he was largely one-dimensional even here, and it was that along with a questionable gas tank that largely made his UFC run a bit of a flop. Well, that and a positive steroid test. Still, he picked up one UFC win I guess which is more than most.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Rafael Feijao vs Aaron Rosa

Feijao had come into StrikeForce with a lot of hype after his successful EliteXC run, but he’d lost to Mike Kyle in his promotional debut and this was his second time in the StrikeForce cage against Rosa, who’d fought a bunch of times on the ShoXC series and also on an earlier Challengers show. For those who might’ve heard his name before but can’t remember where from, he had a very short run in the UFC as a bloated HW in 2011-12 when they were bringing loads of random guys in during the early Fox era before the StrikeForce buyout injected a ton of talent.

Round One begins and Rosa tries to rush Feijao with a flurry, but he eats a knee and finds himself forced into the fence inside the clinch. Feijao is looking hench here which usually bodes well for him but also suggests he was probably roided up at this point too. They exchange a few knees to the body and Feijao gets a takedown, but Rosa bounces back up. Couple of right hands from Feijao make him pay for that but he seems fine. Action slows down a lot as they continue to exchange strikes from the clinch, and the crowd are booing pretty openly now. Mauro and Quadros are practically begging referee Chuck Wolfe (hell of a name) to call a clean break. Finally he does and the crowd give an appreciative cheer. Big overhand right from Feijao sets up the clinch again though and we’re back to square one. This is a legitimately horrible round. Marco Ruas foot stomps land for Rosa and the round peters out there. 10-10 I guess? Total shit at any rate.

Round Two and Rosa comes out swinging but he’s out of range and doesn’t land. Decent left hook connects for Rosa. Left to the body from Feijao and he clinches again. Rosa tries to move away from the fence this time but fails and boy do the crowd hate this. Rosa finally manages to shove his way free, and both men glance on punches before Rosa walks into a right hand counter. Big overhand right into a flying knee from Feijao and he gets a takedown off the back of that into butterfly guard. Big punches land from the top for Feijao and suddenly it seems like he’s decided to push the action. Rosa manages to tie him up from the bottom but Feijao breaks free to land a great elbow….except the ref has to call time to warn him as they’re illegal. Do not miss THAT rule in StrikeForce that’s for sure. Ridiculous. They restart standing and right away Feijao decks Rosa with a right hand and finishes him off with a series of nasty punches on the ground.

Ending was pretty awesome with some great killer instinct from Feijao but the fight largely sucked before that. Feijao to me is one of the all-time disappointments in MMA as when he was on, he was REALLY on (witness his fight with King Mo in 2010) but based on his fluctuating physique and fluctuating performances to go with those physique changes I don’t think it’s unfair to suspect that the success he had was steroid-fuelled. I did love that King Mo fight, though!

Welterweight Fight: Bobby Voelker vs Erik Apple

I remember Apple getting some hype around him in like 2005-6 when he was an up-and-comer alongside his buddy Justin Levens (RIP) but after a failed shot in the Zuffa-owned WEC he’d become more known for his TV career at this stage. Voelker at this point was basically an unknown with a solid journeyman’s record (20-7) and this was his StrikeForce debut.

First round begins and Apple comes out SWINGING and decks Voelker with a right hand before PLASTERING him with another as he tries to get up! Whoa. More punches land for Apple and Voelker’s in trouble, but he manages to get to his feet only for Apple to tackle him to the ground. Voelker pops back up and the action slows down a little from the clinch, as Apple works him with knees inside and shit, we’ve had more action in the first minute than in the whole first round of the previous fight. Big right hand breaks for Apple and he lands a body kick before clinching again, forcing Voelker back into the cage. Apple drops for a takedown, but he can’t get it and after landing some knees, they break off. Apple looks tired now and he’s swinging wildly and Voelker is happy to oblige as they throw some wild haymakers that only land glancingly. Nice takedown from Apple stops that exchange and he lands in the half-guard. Voelker does a good job of using the fence to stand, and he avoids a single leg but ends up being tagged by more punches from Apple. Voelker fires right back and defends a takedown, and they end up clinched again. Surprising takedown this time from Voelker and he lands in full guard. Apple looks completely exhausted. Big punches get through for Voelker and Apple is hurt. Crowd are going crazy as Voelker controls him with a headlock and keeps him grounded, then works him over with more ground-and-pound as the round ends. 10-9 Apple but the momentum is firmly with Voelker. Hell of a round.

Second round and both men come out swinging wildly and Voelker tags Apple with a pair of left hooks that have him stunned. He lunges for a takedown but Voelker blocks it and they exchange some more with Apple getting rocked by a right hook. Clinch from Apple but Voelker takes him down, and Apple might be in trouble again as he’s so out of steam. Big punches land for Voelker but Apple uses the fence to get to his feet. He breaks off but he’s still exhausted, but he’s still swinging. Voelker obliges and DROPS HIM HARD with a BIG RIGHT HAND, and from there he pounces and puts Apple away with some punches on the ground.

Well, that was a GREAT FIGHT. Pretty sloppy at times as Voelker is a real brawler while Apple ran completely out of steam after trying and failing to finish Voelker, but you can’t fault the heart and spirit of either man. Really this should’ve gotten more publicity back in 2009! Voelker of course went on to a series of pretty legendary brawls in StrikeForce with Roger Bowling before a brief UFC run, and in fact he’s now on a five-fight win streak so to see him return to the UFC wouldn’t surprise me. Apple instead went on to more acting – gaining a semi-starring role in acclaimed MMA movie Warrior, and I’d say that’ll be better for his health for sure.

Women’s Bantamweight Fight: Kerry Vera vs Kim Couture

This was smart matchmaking by StrikeForce because just six days before this show, Kerry’s husband Brandon had fought Kim’s ex-husband Randy in the main event of UFC 105, making it almost what you’d call a family affair! Couture had come away with a very contentious decision in that fight – I was there live and scored it a firm 29-28 for Vera – but this match seemed to favour Kerry, as despite only being 1-0 in her MMA career at this point, she’d got an extensive background in kickboxing, while Couture had largely only gotten a StrikeForce deal due to her last name and didn’t have anywhere near the levels of fighting experience. Announcers do mention that Kim’s marriage to Randy is now over, too.

Fight begins and Couture pushes forward and they trade pretty openly with Couture being caught with some punches due to holding her chin high. She clinches and forces Vera into the fence, but eats a knee and they soon break off. Big jab connects for Couture but she takes a couple of leg kicks. One-two from Couture sets up a clinch again, but Vera breaks with a HARD standing elbow and then follows with a clean left hook. See, if standing elbows were allowed in StrikeForce I don’t get why they outlawed them on the ground. Anyhow. Nice leg kick lands for Vera and Couture comes in swinging but gets tagged again. They clinch up and Couture breaks with a right hand, then catches her coming in with a jab. Combo lands for Vera as Quadros mentions the height of Couture’s chin, and sure enough a big right hand has her wobbled. She keeps swinging but she looks tired now too. Vera circles out and tags her again, but Couture clinches and lands a couple of knees. Takedown attempt from Couture but Vera defends it and lands some punches, then breaks and delivers a HUGE COMBO that knocks Couture silly, only the fence keeping her up. Ref steps in as she collapses to the ground.

Finish was super-nasty, reminiscent of Phil Baroni’s knockout of Dave Menne. One of the worst knockouts I’ve seen in WMMA in fact I think as Kim took so much punishment before she went down. Well, Couture tried but her striking looked wide open to be picked apart and although she showed heart and a decent chin it was only a matter of time before Vera caught her cleanly. Kerry never went on to have another MMA fight despite being booked against future UFC contender Julianna Pena (!) on a later Challengers card, while poor Kim went on to lose a further six fights including one to Raquel Pennington. Fight was fun I guess but the end was a little hard to watch.

Welterweight Fight: Tyron Woodley vs Rudy Bears

Future UFC champion Woodley was at this point seen as one of the hottest prospects in MMA, and in fact StrikeForce getting him was a big coup for them as he’d actually applied for TUF 9 and got turned down as Zuffa/Spike didn’t want a big wrestler running through Team UK on that season (on a side note Benson Henderson was turned down for the same reason and ended up in the WEC). He was 4-0 coming into this one with his last win being in his second StrikeForce fight over UFC vet Zach Light. This looked like a slight step up for him as Bears – while never making the UFC – had much more experience and unlike Light he was coming off six straight wins, but obviously he was still a hand-picked opponent for the lauded prospect Woodley.

Round One begins and they circle before Woodley glances on an overhand right. Bears comes in swinging but Woodley clinches and muscles him into the fence with a couple of knees before getting a beautiful double leg into side mount. Mount attempt from Woodley is blocked and Bears gets half-guard, but Woodley’s working to pass right away and he traps Bears’ arm to deliver some punches. Full mount for Woodley and Bears is in trouble. He tries to escape out the back door, and Woodley looks for a possible inverted triangle but can’t get it and Bears gets to his feet. Nice sequence there. Body kick lands for Bears but Woodley tags him with a pair of knees from the plum clinch and follows with a right hand. Head kick from Bears is blocked and Woodley hits a double leg and goes right into an arm triangle attempt. Bears blocks by using his half-guard, but Woodley manages to slide over into side mount and from there Bears has to tap out.

Post-fight Pat Miletich calls Woodley the “best athlete in the sport” and hey, he might not have been far wrong in hindsight! This was a decent little fight as Woodley was tested just about the right amount by the veteran in Bears, and it was also interesting to see Woodley’s submission game which we rarely get a look at these days. And hey, it’s always fun to go back to see one of the early fights from one of today’s champions – one of the hot prospects who really did live up to all the hype.

-Announcers wrap up the night’s action and the show ends from there.

Final Thoughts….

Show was a lot of fun in the end – Feijao/Rosa stunk but it did have a great ending, and the rest of the card was definitely good to watch, in particular the wild fight between Voelker and Apple – one of 2009’s most overlooked fights in my opinion. I assume these Challengers shows are on Fight Pass and if they are it’s definitely worth checking this one out.

Best Fight: Voelker vs. Apple
Worst Fight: Feijao vs. Rosa

Overall Rating: ***3/4

Until next time…