MMA Review: #579: StrikeForce Challengers: Woodley vs. Saffiedine

-This one was just a few months prior to the Zuffa buyout of StrikeForce, the buyout that literally came so quickly that basically nobody saw it coming. At this point though Strikeforce was still really pushing to be the top competitor to the UFC, and looking at this Challengers show, a LOT of the fighters on the card ended up going on to serious fame in the UFC. Who, you ask? Carry on reading.

Strike Force Challengers: Woodley vs. Saffiedine

Nashville, Tennessee

-Your hosts are Mauro Renallo, Pat Miletich and Stephen Quadros, and Mauro says that 2011 is set to be the “biggest year in StrikeForce history”. Well, probably not for the reasons Mauro was thinking here I’m guessing.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Rhadi Ferguson vs John Richard

Ferguson – a legitimate doctor as well as an Olympic judoka – was making his StrikeForce debut here. You might’ve heard of his more famous cousin – a dude named Kimbo Slice. Hard to believe Kimbo was actually closely related to an Olympian and a genuine doctor. His opponent Richard was a total unknown also making his StrikeForce debut and Mauro mentions that he took the fight on late notice.

Wild swings start the fight for Richard and he follows with a takedown into half-guard. Looks like Ferguson was surprised by the aggression. Leglock attempt from Ferguson though and Richard is in trouble. He manages to free his leg and spins over to take the back and man, if he keeps up this pace he’s likely to gas quickly. No hooks from Richard but he drops some punches before going for the choke. Ferguson looks okay as his body isn’t completely under control, but then Richard gives it up to get the second hook in and drop some more punches. Richard appears to be breathing heavily already even though he’s still in complete control. Ferguson manages to roll into top position inside Richard’s guard, and from there he lands some punches to the body before Richard loses his mouthpiece. Ref quickly puts it back in and Ferguson continues to work with punches from the top. Richard spits his mouthpiece out again and the ref warns him, and Ferguson really lands a lot of punches that have Richard in trouble. He ends up stuck on all fours with his head right on the ground and takes more punches, and Ferguson could probably get this stopped with a big flurry. Richard literally spits his mouthpiece out again and continues to take punches and this ought to be stopped really. Ref calls time to replace the mouthpiece instead and deducts a point from Richard. Round ends with Ferguson dropping more punches.

2nd round begins and Richard is definitely out of gas. Low kick lands for Ferguson and he pushes forward as Richard doesn’t do much at all. He lands with a low kick of his own and Ferguson has the dreaded DELAYED REACTION and stumbles back, then gets knocked FLYING by a charging Richard and I think that low kick might’ve hit the groin. Richard pounces into Ferguson’s guard and throws a bunch of hammer fists and sure enough Ferguson’s complaining about the groin shot. Richard keeps on punching before Ferguson switches for a leglock, and despite taking some punches he manages to slap on a kneebar and extends the leg for the tapout.

Fight was fun enough as Richard clearly knew he had a limited gas tank due probably to taking the fight on late notice, so he came in all guns blazing and attempted an early finish. Didn’t come off though and the kneebar finish from Ferguson was beautiful. Ferguson never ended up fighting again after this and I have no idea why as he looked pretty skilled for a 2-0 prospect.

Women’s Featherweight Fight: Amanda Nunes vs Julia Budd

This was former Muay Thai champion Budd’s second appearance in StrikeForce while future UFC champ – at 135lbs – Nunes was making her debut following a 5-1 run in the Brazilian regional promotions. Physically Nunes looks pretty similar to how she does these days, except obviously carrying a bit more puppy fat as she was at 145lbs here. And Budd walks out to Daniel Cormier’s Lil’ Wayne entrance track which just doesn’t seem right at all, except of course Cormier didn’t use that song until three years AFTER this. Fuck. Looks like Budd is much bigger than Nunes too.

Fight begins and Nunes lands with a low kick before OPENING UP WITH A FLURRY and Budd goes down HARD! Series of hammer fists stiffen her up on the ground and that’s it. Jesus.

Terrifying knockout from Amanda Nunes as she fought like she had somewhere else to go. Announcers actually talk about the possibility of Nunes/Cyborg post-fight which would probably be a much bigger deal in 2017 than it would’ve been back in 2011, that’s for sure. This was pretty fucking awesome.

Heavyweight Fight: Daniel Cormier vs Devin Cole

And speaking of Daniel Cormier, this was his fourth trip to the StrikeForce cage following a little excursion to Australia that saw him beat PRIDE and UFC veteran Soa Palelei. I think in fact, it was after the Palelei win that I first started hearing a load of hype for him although at that stage I was a firm believer that he’d end up losing to one of the bigger HWs in StrikeForce (which never happened). Anyhow, this was his first televised appearance against longtime veteran Cole who’d fought in the IFL and in the pre-Zuffa WEC.

Round One begins and Cole pushes forward with some punches before avoiding an early clinch. Really good leg kick lands for Cormier and he follows with a right hand into the clinch, muscling Cole into the cage. Cole tries to use his size to escape, but he takes a hard uppercut on the way out. Front kick from Cormier doubles Cole over for a second. Right hand from Cormier sets up the clinch and from there he casually tosses Cole down into side mount. Cole looks to reverse, but Cormier ties his neck up and keeps him controlled from half-guard, then looks to spin to take the back. Cole stands but Cormier stays on him with a rear waistlock. He moves Cole into the fence again and works him over with dirty boxing before missing on a trip takedown. They muscle for position and exchange dirty boxing from inside the clinch, and then Cole breaks with a right hand. Huge overhand right connects for Cormier but Cole takes it well. Combination follows and he lands with a high kick before dodging a wild right from Cole. Combination tags Cole again and he might be in trouble. Trip takedown from Cormier and he lands in the guard, where he ends the round with some more punches. Good round for Cormier.

Round Two and Cormier opens with another sharp leg kick. Pair of left hands land cleanly for Cormier and then he ducks under for a single leg. Cole blocks it, but eats some punches from the clinch and then Cormier throws him to the ground and gets on top in half-guard. From there Cormier grinds on him and lands some punches directly to the face, and then takes full mount. Cole uses the fence to reverse, but Cormier grabs a front facelock to control him and then spins to attempt to take the back. He ends up forcing Cole to his back underneath side mount, and then goes back to half-guard to continue to work him over with ground-and-pound. Into side mount again for Cormier and he lands a really nasty punch directly to the body. Cole tries to spin free, but Cormier’s all over him and he remains on top. Again Cole rolls to avoid the punishment, but Cormier takes his back and slaps both hooks in. Rear naked choke looks sunk in, but Cole manages to roll to survive. He manages to spin over into half-guard but he can’t shake Cormier off him at all here. He does try for a kimura, but Cormier remains calm and just waits out the rest of the round. Totally dominant round for Cormier.

Round Three and it looks like Cole wants to counterpunch, pressing forward without really throwing much, but Cormier catches him coming in with a quick combination. Nice right hook from Cormier. Cole is throwing wildly but not landing. Clinch from Cole and that’s surely a mistake as Cormier lands a few uppercuts and moves him right into the cage. You can hear Cole breathing heavily now. Referee Greg Franklin calls a break from the clinch and Cole comes forward, only to eat the uppercut again. Takedown attempt from the outside goes awry for Cormier, but he manages to force Cole down anyway and from there he takes the back again. Good job from Cole to reverse to his feet though and he lands a couple of punches into the clinch. They exchange from there and Cormier continues to abuse him with dirty boxing, until Franklin calls another break. Just over a minute to go and Cole is gassed. He swings back into the clinch, but this time Cormier throws him to the ground in half-guard. Cole looks to work his way up the fence as Cormier lands some shots to the body, and then he pulls Cole away from the fence and lands more ground-and-pound until the buzzer. Clear-cut win for Cormier.

Judges all have it 30-27 for Cormier, unsurprisingly. Fight got slow at times, particularly in the third round, but it was cool to see Cormier at an early point in his career as you could see his skills evolving but he wasn’t anywhere near as good as he is today, and Cole proved to be a pretty tricky test for him at this stage. Post-fight Cormier also says he wasn’t impressed at all with his performance and it’s that attitude, coupled with his talent of course, that’s allowed him to get to the level he has today.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Ovince St. Preux vs Ron Humphrey

OSP at this stage had made a couple of televised appearances on StrikeForce shows, and his last fight prior to this one had been against UFC vet Benji Radach in a really one-sided affair that had some shit refereeing IIRC and shouldn’t have gone the distance. He was still clearly a really raw prospect though, more a super-athlete than a complete fighter. Humphrey – AKA ‘Abongo’ – meanwhile had last been seen in a losing effort to Mike Kyle at a Challengers show and before that he’d had one televised StrikeForce fight, a loss to Brett Rogers at HW back in 2009.

Fight begins and Abongo walks right into a hard left hand from OSP who follows that with a body kick and an easy takedown. Full guard for Humphrey but OSP passes into half-guard quickly too. Big crowd chants for OSP as he’s obviously a Tennessee guy. Abongo tries to reverse up to his feet but OSP keeps him down and looks for full mount. Good left hand from the top for OSP. He moves into side mount, but a quick hip escape puts him back in half-guard. OSP passes again into side mount and he tries to step to full mount, but Humphrey reverses to his feet and gets a takedown of his own. OSP goes for a triangle from the guard, and it looks pretty good actually but Abongo sits right up and then decides to fall back for a leglock. OSP manages to roll to avoid that but Abongo keeps trying and it looks like he’s got the leg extended for a kneebar. St. Preux manages to slip his leg free though and now he gets full mount. Good shots begin to get through for OSP and then he goes for an arm triangle, but he can’t quite sink it in correctly and Humphrey manages to escape. Round ends with OSP still in full mount.

2nd round begins and Humphrey presses forward, but takes some strikes from OSP that stun him. He manages to get inside and goes for a takedown, but OSP blocks that and puts Abongo down instead, going into half-guard right by the fence. Humphrey works back to full guard but it looks like he’s been busted open on the bridge of his nose. Referee Al Wickers calls a stand-up when things slow down and they go into a WILD EXCHANGE with both guys landing, and Abongo really opens up with some knees before OSP starts swinging wildly back, and finally Abongo gets hurt and has to clinch. Takedown from OSP follows and he plants Humphrey onto his back by the fence. Full guard for Humphrey and OSP works him over with punches to the body. Hammer fists get through for OSP too and Humphrey is offering nothing from his back. OSP moves into half-guard before the ref calls another stand-up, and Humphrey walks right into a pair of vicious knees. Abongo comes back with a big flurry though and wobbles OSP, who has to lunge for a takedown! Abongo sprawls, but then decides to go for a guillotine and he winds up on the bottom again as OSP escapes right away. Abongo tries the guillotine again but OSP’s in side mount and so he’s fine, and that’s the round. Got to be two rounds in the book for OSP.

Third and final round and both men look pretty tired. Humphrey manages to bull his way into the clinch and he gets a takedown, but OSP hits a switch and manages to get into top position. He moves into Abongo’s half-guard and then into the full guard, where he lands punches to the body. Ref is hovering over them ready for another stand-up and sure enough he calls it. He’s too quick with them for my money. Big body kick lands for Humphrey but OSP fires back with a combination into a takedown. Guillotine attempt from Humphrey and he’s got full guard this time, and it looks quite tight to be fair. OSP keeps his cool though and moves into half-guard, and it looks like he’s fine. Action’s really slowed down now though. OSP looks like he’s trying the Von Flue choke before he pops his head free fully, and Abongo gets to full guard where he eats some more shots. Ref calls ANOTHER stand-up with a minute to go and Humphrey lands a hard leg kick. A second one sees him slip to his back though and OSP follows him down into half-guard. OSP grinds on him from there and then opens up with some heavy leather as the fight ends.

Official scores are 30-27 all round for Ovince St. Preux. Fight was pretty fun even if it was sloppy and had the odd slow point. You could tell OSP was really raw here as he showed amazing athleticism, but clearly needed to work on his distance control and striking and at times he let an overmatched opponent back into the fight, and really Abongo threw the fight away himself by going for submissions that weren’t really close to being sunk in. Good win at the time for the then up-and-comer though.

Welterweight Fight: Tyron Woodley vs Tarec Saffiedine

This was some UFC-style booking from StrikeForce here as these two were probably the best prospects the promotion had at 170lbs, and so usual Coker-style booking would’ve kept them apart to build them some more. For the record as it goes I actually prefer keeping prospects apart and that’s one thing the UFC does that irks me, but that’s a tangent really. Woodley’s last win had come over BJJ whiz Andre Galvao, while Saffiedine had last beaten Nate Moore in StrikeForce but had since beaten WEC vet Brock Larson elsewhere. Big question I guess would’ve been how Saffiedine would deal with Woodley’s powerful takedowns. Hell of a fight anyway, even for 2011.

Fight begins and Woodley comes up short on an early combo. He manages to clinch as Saffiedine comes forward though and they exchange some knees inside with Woodley pinning the Belgian into the fence. Powerful takedown from Woodley as he basically just muscles Saffiedine down to the ground, and he lands in the full guard. Saffiedine stays active from his back and he looks to use the fence to stand, but Woodley keeps him pressed against the cage as he does so. They continue to trade knees before Woodley drops for the takedown again, and it must be said that if these guys had the previous ref doing their match they’d have been broken up by now. Greg Franklin lets it go though and Woodley keeps the Belgian pinned firmly into the fence. Single leg is blocked by Saffiedine but Woodley lands a pair of body shots to keep him inside the clinch. Both men continue to land knees and finally Franklin separates them. Woodley claims an eye poke but Franklin says he didn’t see it and forces them to continue. Now Saffiedine presses forward with a knee, but Woodley comes back with a superman punch and a low kick. Head kick glances for Saffiedine so Woodley clinches and goes for the takedown. The Belgian defends it, but Woodley keeps hold of him and lands some more knees before driving him into the fence. Round ends there. Pretty close but you’d have to call it 10-9 Woodley due to the takedown I guess. It was mostly wall and stall, though.

2nd round and Saffiedine pushes forward in the opening seconds and he lands a partially blocked head kick. Left hand from the Belgian but Woodley counters with a quick combination. Leg kick from Saffiedine and now he clinches, forcing Woodley into the fence, where they exchange more knees to the legs. They jockey for position against the fence and it looks like Saffiedine’s doing the better work, but Woodley manages to take him down into guard again, this time in the center of the cage. Woodley looks to pass the guard, but Saffiedine does a good job of keeping him controlled and he constantly squirms too to disrupt Woodley’s base. Triangle attempt from Saffiedine and then he switches to an oma plata, but Woodley pulls free and grabs a front headlock in the scramble. Back to full guard for Saffiedine and it looks like he might be turning for a kimura, but Woodley avoids it and keeps him down. He isn’t doing much ground-and-pound though. Just over a minute to go and Woodley manages to pass the guard and take the back, but Saffiedine avoids the hooks going in. Woodley lands some knees to the side and then looks to slap a choke on with just one hook in, but he can’t get it and that’s the round. I’d go 10-10 there as despite being taken down, Saffiedine was more active from his back and he also did better in the earlier stand-up.

Third and final round and really this could go either way. Saffiedine comes forward early on and they trade pretty openly, and go into the clinch with a wild exchange of punches and knees. Woodley muscles the Belgian into the fence but Saffiedine switches it around and it looks like he might be going for the takedown, but Woodley separates with an uppercut. Takedown attempt from Woodley but Saffiedine sprawls out to avoid. Beautiful scramble from Saffiedine puts him on top in side mount and they spin around but Woodley reverses to his feet in the clinch. Saffiedine muscles him back into the fence, and they exchange knees before Woodley hits a BIG takedown, dumping the Belgian onto his back. Saffiedine goes right into a kimura attempt, but Woodley seems fine and he grips onto Saffiedine’s right leg to block it. They end up in a bit of a stalemate before Woodley finally frees his arm, and he grabs a rear waistlock as Saffiedine pops up to his feet. Greg Franklin calls a clean break from there and we’ve got one minute to go. They exchange some punches and Woodley lands with a hard right hand, then he shoots in again, but Saffiedine stuffs it and we’re back to the clinch. Saffiedine breaks a couple of times but Woodley gets right back to the clinch and the exchange of knees continues. Seconds to go and they break again and Saffiedine comes in with some strikes as Woodley fires back, and that’s the fight. Another 10-10 for me so I’d call it 30-29 Woodley, but you could also go 29-28 Saffiedine giving him the 2nd and 3rd, or 29-28 Woodley giving him the 1st and 2nd.

Judges have it 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 all for Tyron Woodley. It was a super-close fight but I guess the judges went with Woodley’s general control rather than Saffiedine managing to defend the takedown and work well from his back when he was down. This wasn’t massively exciting due to all the clinching, but it was still a big win for Woodley at the time. It’s clear that he’s improved massively since this, particularly in his striking, while Saffiedine might not have developed all that much judging on his recent fight with Rick Story. Still a borderline top ten fighter at 170lbs though. It’s odd that the main event is the slowest fight on the card but unfortunately that was definitely the case here.

-Announcers talk about the upcoming StrikeForce HW Grand Prix, a tournament that didn’t exactly pan out as well as they’d hoped it would at this point. We did get the real breakthrough of Daniel Cormier I guess though which made it sort-of worth it. And Fedor/Bigfoot which was tremendous, can’t forget that! Quick highlight reel follows and that’s that.

Final Thoughts….

If you’re a big fan of the five future UFC stars showcased here (Nunes, Cormier, OSP, Saffiedine and Woodley) then this show’s definitely worth checking out on Fight Pass to see them in their formative years, but realistically outside of the Nunes knockout none of the fights are overly exciting, so if you’re not into those fighters then it’s not worth your time. Interesting show but I can’t totally recommend it.

Best Fight: OSP vs. Humphrey
Worst Fight: Woodley vs. Saffiedine

Overall Rating: **

Until next time…