On June 9, 2006, Strikeforce put on its second-ever mixed martial arts event. Its debut show in March had been headlined by a fight between Frank Shamrock and Cesar Gracie that was equal parts grudge match and squash match. (The California State Athletic Commission had only begun regulating MMA on Jan. 1 of that year, and one suspects that a fight between a 33-year-old former UFC champion and a 40-year-old with zero fights on his record would not be licensed today.)
For Strikeforce “Revenge”, however, the upstart promotion offered up what would become its trademark: a card heavily stacked with homegrown talents, spiced up with some big-name free agents. The homegrown talents at the HP Pavilion in San Jose that evening included future Strikeforce mainstays such as Gilbert Melendez, Cung Le and Josh Thomson, while the main event featured two of the best light heavyweights in the world: former UFC light heavyweight champ Vitor Belfort and former Pride Fighting Championships mainstay Alistair Overeem, in his stateside debut. Overeem stepped in on four weeks’ notice for Kevin Randleman, who was forced to withdraw due to complications from shoulder surgery. Overeem and Belfort had met the year before in the quarterfinals of the Pride 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix, with Overeem guillotining the Brazilian in the waning moments of the first round, so the event’s tag line was changed from “Showdown” to “Revenge.”
Strikeforce’s sophomore effort ended up being a memorable one, and in particular it offered up one notably great fight, one notably awful fight and one that was notably bizarre. The lightweight title fight between Clay Guida—who had won the inaugural strap by defeating Thomson in March—and Melendez was a barn-burner. While Guida preferred to hunt for the takedown and “El Nino” wanted to kickbox, both men were more than willing to oblige each other. Melendez prevailed in a split decision after five fast-paced rounds, but it was the kind of fight to which the cliché “there was no loser” applied. While Melendez got the belt, Guida bolstered the crowd-pleasing reputation that would shortly carry him to the UFC, where he would go on to become one of its longest-tenured and most prolific fighters.
Notably awful was the main event between Overeem and Belfort. There was no revenge on tap, so the promotion might as well have left the event’s name as it was, except that it wasn’t much of a showdown either. The snoozer was due to a combination of factors. Overeem, always a gigantic light heavyweight, was having increasing difficulty making the limit—in fact, the best he could do on short notice was 210 pounds—and tended to respond by conserving his gas tank to the point of inertia. (Within a year, Overeem would leave the division entirely, and by 2010 was in full “Ubereem” mode as a 255-pound heavyweight.) Belfort, for his part, was inexplicably gun-shy, and large stretches of the fight were spent with Overeem in top position, not because he had scored takedowns but because Belfort had flopped or pulled guard. The second and third rounds in particular were dreadful, with a half dozen referee standups followed in short order by Belfort going to his back again. In an ironic reversal of the Melendez-Guida fight, Overeem picked up the unanimous decision, but everyone in the building lost.
Finally, Strikeforce “Revenge” saw a bizarre—and frankly alarming—finish in the light heavyweight contender matchup between Bobby Southworth and James Irvin. Fifteen seconds into the fight, Southworth ran Irvin into the fence, only to have the cage door fly open, spilling Irvin onto the entry ramp. In rewatching the fight, there are layers of strangeness to unpack. At the very moment the two men collided with the door, a staffer was doing something with it; it appears as though the fight had been started without the securing pin in place and he was hastily trying to lock it before that very thing happened. (Let us note, once again, that this was the infancy of CSAC regulation of California MMA.) He was so close to the door that he more or less broke Irvin's fall.
Whatever the reasons for the malfunction, Irvin sat up in apparent pain, holding his knee and grimacing. That was when—and this is still difficult to fathom, 14 years later—the commentary booth began calling his manhood into question. Color commentator and soon-to-be active Strikeforce fighter Phil Baroni flat-out speculated that Irvin was faking his injury, while the comparatively dignified Shamrock simply said that he would have continued to fight unless the fall had been fatal. In the end, Irvin, bleeding from a small cut on his leg, was helped out of the arena, while Southworth stood alone in the cage to hear announcer Jimmy Lennon, Jr. call the bout a no-contest. With all due respect to the infamous Nashville brawl, it may be the craziest, dumbest thing ever to happen in a Strikeforce cage.