Cuts under both eyes and across the bridge of Josh Barnett’s nose told a tale of domination in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix final.
Daniel Cormier smashed the former UFC champion with punches to the head and body, mixed in kicks and takedowns and shut down Barnett’s submission game en route to a one-sided unanimous decision in the Strikeforce “Barnett vs. Cormier” headliner on Saturday at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. All three judges ruled in favor of the undefeated Cormier (10-0, 7-0 Strikeforce): 49-46, 50-45 and 50-45.
“To beat somebody like Josh Barnett ... this means the world to me,” Cormier said. “I’ve lost a lot of people in my life. This is for my daughter, my dad and my family.”
Cormier darted in and out of range and landed the fight’s most telling blows, including a wicked head kick in the third round. That frame also saw the two-time Olympian deliver a head-over-heels slam on the 6-foot-3, 248-pound Barnett. The Pride Fighting Championships veteran found no refuge on the ground, where Cormier met him with short, sharp elbows. However, it was the American Kickboxing Academy standout’s improved standup game that carried him, as he ripped into Barnett with hooks, uppercuts, kicks and knees.
“I owe [my striking] to my teammates,” Cormier said. “They’re all right here. Those guys kick my ass every day. That means I can go with anybody else in the world.”
His face a bloody mess, Barnett saw his best chance at victory come and go in the fourth round, where he threatened his unbeaten opponent with a kneebar. After a brief struggle, Cormier freed himself, settled back in Barnett’s guard and resumed his onslaught.
“I broke the ever-loving crap out of my left hand in the first round on Daniel’s head,” Barnett said. “It was a good left hook. I could see it hurt him, but it hurt me a lot more. It is killing me right now.”
The defeat was Barnett’s first in more than five years, halting a streak of eight consecutive wins.
“The doctor came [into the corner] between every round and asked, ‘How’s the eye?’ I said, ‘Fine.’ There was no way I was going to stop fighting,” Barnett said. “I was going to make him earn this. I knew at any second I could win this fight, but, today, Daniel was better. He’s a great athlete, and I always knew he was going to be a hell of an opponent. If I’m going to get in there and throw down and draw blood with anybody and call him my brother, I’m glad that it’s Daniel.”
Melendez Edges Thomson, Keeps Lightweight Crown
In an epic conclusion to their trilogy, Gilbert Melendez kept his stranglehold on the Strikeforce lightweight championship with a split decision over longtime rival Josh Thomson in the co-main event. All three judges scored it 48-47: Bruce Rasmussen and Ralph McKnight for Melendez, Susan Thomas-Gitlin for Thomson.
Melendez (21-2, 11-1 Strikeforce) rolled out to an early lead behind his takedowns, aggression and heavy, accurate punches. Though he never had Thomson in real danger, he kept the challenger in retreat mode, racked up the points and built what proved to be an insurmountable advantage. According to Melendez, fighting Thomson for a third time presented unique challenges.
“It’s just not as motivating,” he said. “I have everything to lose, and he has everything to gain. I worked hard in the workout room, but it’s easier to get up and run when I’m going to fight someone who is going to raise my stock. I was in a lose-lose situation against Josh. Look, even though I won, I still lost.”
Rumored to be injured entering the match, the 33-year-old Thomson refused to go away. He pulled himself together in rounds four and five, leaving Melendez with considerable damage to both eyes. Thomson nearly finished it in the fourth round, when he tripped the champion to the ground, fired off hammerfists and later moved to the champion’s back during a scramble. In a blink, Thomson sank his hooks, wrapped Melendez in a body lock and threatened him with a rear-naked choke for more than a minute. Melendez, however, defended perfectly and pushed the fight to a fifth round.
Round five provided a fitting conclusion to the rivalry, as Thomson and Melendez threw themselves into battle. Thomson scored with another trip takedown and worked his ground-and-pound, but it was not enough to take the title from “El Nino.”
“I thought I won most of the rounds,” Melendez said. “I know he took my back in the fourth round. That last round, he took me down, but I was winning off the bottom by punching. He was just holding me down. I thought I had control, and I don’t know what happened. I just started ‘cupcaking’ it out there. It wasn’t my best performance, but Josh is amazing. It’s all good. I got a win.”
Thomson (19-5, 9-4 Strikeforce) paid his respects to the champion.
“If I’m going to lose somebody, I’m glad it’s him,” he said. “I’m not going to speculate on why I thought I won. The judges gave it to him; he fought a great fight. My hat is off to him.”
‘Feijao’ Avenges Kyle Loss, Scores Submission
Former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante avenged his 2009 defeat to Mike Kyle in stirring fashion, as he submitted the American Kickboxing Academy export with a first-round guillotine choke. Kyle (19-9-1, 3-4-1 Strikeforce) tapped out 33 seconds into round one.
Cavalcante (12-3, 5-2 Strikeforce) cracked Kyle with a ringing knee and sent him careening into the cage. The Brazilian swarmed with violent intent, locked in the choke and leaped into guard, with Kyle having returned to an upright position. Kyle tried to free himself but only sank deeper into the guillotine. In one last gasp of desperation, he attempted to slam his way out of the hold. That, too, was unsuccessful, and he was left no choice but to submit.
“This is not about me, you know?” Cavalcante said. “This is about all the support I have from my friends. A lot of friends of mine came from Brazil to see me fight. My team always keeps me on track. If Strikeforce gives me a chance, I want the belt.”
Spang Stops Burrell in First
Chris Spang slowed the rise of Nah-Shon Burrell, as he stopped the 22-year-old prospect on first-round strikes in a welterweight showcase. Spang (5-1, 2-1 Strikeforce) brought it to a close 1:55 into round one.
A clean left hook sent Burrell (8-2, 3-1 Strikeforce) into a downward spiral. Spang pounced on his wounded foe and unleashed a string of knees and punches until he collapsed. Having seen enough, referee Josh Rosenthal stepped in to prevent Burrell from absorbing further punishment.
More Strikeforce “Barnett vs. Cormier” »
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