By: William Holmes
Strikeforce finally held the final of their Heavyweight Grand Prix, as Josh Barnett, a former UFC Heavyweight Champion, took on former U.S. Olympian Daniel Cormier. In addition, Gilbert Melendez defended his lightweight title against Josh Thomson, in what will be the third meeting between the two.
The first bout of the night was between Chris Spang (4-1) and Nah-shon Burrell (8-1) in the welterweight division.
Both Spang and Burrell were young welterweight prospects with a lot to prove. Spang landed an early left hook to the chin of Burrell, and a high leg kick by Spang sent Burrell backwards into the fence. Spang then dropped Burrell with a right hook, and immediately locked in a muay thai clinch and landed several hard knees and short uppercuts. Burrell finally flopped to the ground and the referee stopped the fight at 1:35 of the first round.
The next bout of the night was between Mike Kyle (19-8-1) and Rafael Feijao (11-3) in the light heavyweight division. Feijao landed an early right hook and right knee to the chin of Kyle. Feijao then jumped on top of Mike Kyle and locked in a tight standing guillotine choke. Kyle attempted to slam Feijao in order to escape the choke, but it turned out to be unsuccessful and Kyle was forced to tap. Rafael Feijao wins by submission at 0:33 of the first round.
The title fight between Gilbert Melendez (20-2) and Josh Thomson (19-4) was for the Strikeforce lightweight title.
This was the third fight in their trilogy, and was just as close the previous two fights. Melendez out-landed Josh Thomson with strikes and secured more takedowns than Thomson in the first three rounds, but they were very close rounds. Thomson was able to threaten Melendez in the fourth round with a takedown and a transition to back position with double legs in. Melendez however fought valiantly and was able to fight off the rear naked choke attempts of Thomson.
The fifth and final round was a war as they both landed hard combinations, but Thomson was able to land a late takedown and finish the last and final round in top position. Melendez’s face was bruised and his right eye was swollen, and Thomson’s face was not as bruised as Melendez’s face. The judges’ scorecards reflected the close nature of the fight, as Melendez won by split decision with scores of 48-47 for Melendez, 48-47 for Thomson, and 48-47 for Melendez.
The crowd heavily booed the decision and Melendez when he gave his post-fight interview, and cheered Thomson when he was interviewed.
The main event of the night was between Josh Barnett (31-5) and Daniel Cormier (9-0) for the Heavyweight World Grand Prix Championship.
Cormier immediately showed Barnett that his striking ability has been honed by the American Kickboxing Academy, as he freely traded shots with Barnett and landed the harder combos with more accuracy. Cormier also used a wrestling snap down to get Barnett off balance and then land several strikes to the head and body of Barnett.
Cormier used his wrestling ability in the second rounds to control Barnett, and bloodied his face with hard ground and pound. Cormier took Barnett down again in the third round and effortlessly moved to side control before Barnett got back to his feet. Cormier continued his assault on the bloody Barnett in the fourth round, taking him down again and avoiding a leg lock attempt by Barnett. By the fifth round, it was clear Barnett needed to stop Cormier to secure a victory, but he was unable to do so.
Cormier looked very impressive against a rugged veteran tonight, and left the face of Barnett bloody and bruised. The official scores were 49-46, 50-45, and 50-45 for Daniel Cormier.