It was a long time coming, but Strikeforce returned to San Jose, Calif., on Saturday night with the conclusion of the Heavyweight Grand Prix as Josh Barnett took on Daniel Cormier.  Not to be overlooked, a trilogy fight for the lightweight championship between champion Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson was also on the card as the co-main event.  The night’s main card took place on Showtime, while four of the five undercard fights were aired on Showtime Extreme.

Cormier dominates Barnett

Despite the fact that he was not a part of the original eight participants of the promotion’s Heavyweight Grand Prix, Daniel Cormier took home the tournament championship with a dominant performance which led to a unanimous decision victory.  The American Kickboxing Academy fighter looked absolutely outstanding in all aspects of the fight, and rolled over Josh Barnett as a result.

The fight opened with five minutes of striking, as neither fighter geniunely made a true takedown attempt, but opted to keep things standing and turn it into a striking match.  As the two traded punches, Cormier appeared to get the better of the exchanges, however Barnett didn’t appear to be staggered from the strikes.  The round ended with a strong knee by Barnett which caused the Olympian to wince, proving that the knee did some damage.

After continued striking in the second round, “DC” landed a single-leg takedown and took top position on “The Warmaster.”  Cormier didn’t make a big attempt to pass, and after enduring some ground-and-pound, Barnett moved to a high guard position and worked for a submission which failed.  From there, the AKA fighter remained back on top and continued the ground-and-pound assault for the rest of the round.

It was a lot of the same in the third as far as the striking was concerned, but the most explosive move of the fight happened towards the middle of the round when the Olympic wrestler picked up the former Pride fighter and slammed him to the ground.  After the slam, Cormier jumped into Barnett’s half guard, but he was unable to do much with it as Barnett escaped back to standing.  With about one minute remaining in the round, “DC” landed a big head kick and followed it up with strong punches and knees as Barnett was able to survive until the bell.

Despite the abuse that “The Baby-Faced Assassin” had taken throughout the first three rounds, he came into the fourth round with bad intentions.  After several minutes of exchanging blows, Cormier was able to get a takedown.  With a submission on his mind, Barnett was able to roll the takedown into a heel hook attempt and even temporarily locked in the submission.  “DC” was able to scramble out of it and gain top position once again.  The two returned to their feet and battled until the end of the round.

It was clear that Barnett needed a stoppage to win the fight when the two shook hands before the start of the fifth and final round.  However, “The Warmachine” lacked that sense of urgency, as Cormier was able to stay out of danger early on with his lateral movement.  The Olympian was able to control the standing clinch for the second half of the round, as the two fighters were pinned against the cage for the rest of the bout.

The judges’ scorecards gave the victory to Cormier after the dominant performance, and along with it, he took home the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix championship.  After the fight, Barnett was favoring his left arm, and it was revealed that he broke his left hand in the first round after landing a strong punch.  The UFC and Pride veteran did not use it as an excuse for losing in the fight, as he revealed that it would have taken a lot more than a broken hand to have the fight be stopped.

Melendez retains his title with split decision victory

For the third time in their careers, Josh Thomson and Gilbert Melendez went to a decision against one another.  The two fighters had each previously defeated the other, each by unanimous decision.  The trilogy is now officially complete, as “El Nino” retained his lightweight title and defeated “The Punk” by split decision.

The first round was pretty tame, while both fighters appeared to be pacing themselves for a long fight as the two had previously encountered.  While the round was rather slow, “El Nino” was able to get a takedown during the process.

The fighters came out swinging in the second round, and a shot by Melendez was stuffed by Thomson, keeping the fight on the feet.  From there, the two continued to box with one another with the occasional leg kick or knee being thrown by each fighter.  An accidental eye poke by Melendez paused the action temporarily, but soon after the action resumed, Melendez landed a big takedown.  Although he was unable to do much with it, the two came out of it slugging with the Cesar Gracie product landing elbows at the bell.

It was a lot of the same in the third round, as the two stood toe-to-toe and slugged it out.  Again, the champion was getting the better of the striking, but there were specific spots where the challenger landed strong, effective flurries.  About halfway through the round, Thomson landed a nice trip on Melendez, however he slipped in the process and was unable to capitalize off of it.

As the fight entered the championship rounds, the two came out swinging again.  Melendez secured an early takedown, but Thomson was able to get back to his feet.  Towards the end of the fourth round, “The Punk” landed another trip takedown and quickly jumped on Melendez.  Quickly, he was able to get the champion’s back and secure a body triangle.  Despite being in a bad spot, Melendez was able to survive the attack with Thomson on his back, as he defended several rear-naked choke attempts.

Melendez came out motivated after clearly losing the fourth round and landed a takedown in the beginning of the fifth frame.  Thomson bounced back to his feet quickly, as he had done several times already in the fight.  The two continued to battle to the very end of the fight, both landing strong strikes throughout the round.  With less than a minute remaining, “The Punk” landed another trip takedown and followed it up by taking top position.  From there, Thomson worked the ground-and-pound until the final bell.

When the final scores were read off, it was revealed that the fight was a split decision victory for Melendez, who retained his title.  The fans were unhappy with the announcement, as boos cried out from the crowd as they felt as though Thomson did enough to win the fight.

Cavalcante avenges loss to Kyle

In 2009, Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante lost to Mike Kyle by second-round knockout.  In the rematch, Cavalcante exacted revenge on Kyle as it took just 33 seconds for Kyle to tap out.

Right off of the touch of the gloves, “Feijao” landed a strong knee and followed it up with accurate punches.  He was able to jump on Kyle and secure a standing guilotine choke which he hung onto for several seconds.  In a desperate attempt to get out of the submission, “MAK” slammed Cavalcante to the mat.  The Brazilian was able to hang onto the choke, and forced the submission soon after to secure the victory.

Spang makes short work of Burrell

After the five previous fights ended by decision, fight fans were getting impatient and wanted to see a finish.  Swedish fighter Chris Spang gave the fans what they wanted after he ended Nah-Shon Burrell’s night in under two minutes.  From the start of the fight, Spang got the better of the striking, but a left hook followed by another left hook for the Swede was the beginning of the end as he knocked down Burrell and followed it up with continuous knees and punches to the head of the 22-year-old.  The accumulation of strikes ended the fight, as Spang had knocked out Burrell.

Undercard Summary

Isaac Vallie-Flagg and Gesias Cavalcante rounded out the undercard with an action-packed first round.  The round featured great grappling and striking, but “JZ” got the better of it while secured a takedown with a nice front headlock and finished the round with a strong head kick and superior striking.  The second round was a more balanced round, but it appeared as though Vallie-Flagg got the better of the striking as he landed a really nice flying knee right on the chin of the Brazilian.  As the fight progressed, the American looked stronger and stronger, while the Brazilian appeared to fade as Vallie-Flagg landed great push kicks and jumping knees.  In the end, Vallie-Flagg did enough to win over two of the judges and earned the split decision victory.

Virgil Zwicker survived the first round against Carlos Augusto Filho, who is better known by his nickname “Guto Inocente.”  The Brazilian out-struck his opponent throughout the round, leaving Zwicker’s face busted up and bloody. Early in the second round, Zwicker found himself on top of Inocente after he caught a high kick and collapsed his opponent down.  Eventually, Inocente swept Zwicker and returned the fight to the feet, where the striking clinic continued.  However, as the fight moved into the third frame, the Brazilian started to tire and “RezDog” started to capitalize off of it.  Despite showing a solid chin and great heart, Zwicker fell short in the end and lost by unanimous decision.

An early uppercut by Gian Villante dropped Derrick Mehmen, and as a result, it looked like we would see a quick technical knockout for the New Yorker.  Mehmen was able to survive it and get out of the first round, but not after he took another huge right hand from Villante.  From there, it was clear to see that Villante was the superior striker, getting off on the punch first and landing stronger strikes.  In the end, it was a unanimous decision victory for Villante.

Opening up the televised action, welterweights Yuri Villefort and Quinn Mulhern needed the judges to decide the victor.  There was plenty of action in each round as the two fighters featured great grappling along with submission attempts and escapes.  In the end, all three judges couldn’t agree as they all scored the fight very differently, giving a split decision victory to Quinn Mulhern with a score of 30-27, 28-29, 29-28.

In a dark match prior to the action airing on Showtime Extreme, Bobby Green took a split decision victory over James Terry in lightweight action.

FULL RESULTS

Daniel Cormier def. Josh Barnett by unanimous decision (49-46, 50-45, 50-45) to win the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix
Gilbert Melendez def. Josh Thomson by split decision (47-48, 48-47, 48-47) to retain the Strikeforce lightweight championship
Rafael Cavalcante def. Mike Kyle by submission (guilotine choke), Round 1, 0:33
Chris Spang def. Nah-Shon Burrell by knockout (knees and punches), Round 1, 1:35
Isaac Vallie-Flagg def. Gesias Cavalcante by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Guto Inocente def. Virgil Zwicker by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Gian Villante def. Derrick Mehmen by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Quinn Melhern def. Yuri Villefort by split decision (30-27, 28-29, 29-28)
Bobby Green def. James Terry by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)

Photo: Daniel Cormier (L) battles Josh Barnett (Laron Zaugg/MMA Weekly)

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.