Villasenor tops Santos at Strikeforce

The main event of Friday night’s Strikeforce Challengers Series from Kent, Wash., took a little different tact than most expected, but was none-the-less exciting for it.

Joey Villasenor and Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos were expected to have a slugfest in their bout. There surely was no lack of striking, but it proved to be a lot more technical than most believed it would be.

Cyborg surprised with a more tactical boxing style than he is known for, hanging back, countering Villasenor’s attacks. That edge lasted all of the opening round, however, as Villasenor and his cornerman, Mike Winklejohn, picked up on it between rounds and adjusted.

“I was really surprised at his countering. He did a really good job countering me when he needed to,” Villasenor later commented.

For most of the second on third rounds, the two went toe-to-toe. But as time wore on, Villasenor established more ring generalship, adjusting to Cyborg’s tactics, becoming the busier fighter. By the end of the third round, Villasenor was taking advantage of a depleted Cyborg, but couldn’t quite find the detrimental blow, as he was losing steam as well.

It was enough to earn him a split decision on the judges’ scorecards.

Caught in the contractual quagmire that was EliteXC, Villasenor was appreciative of his return bout. “I haven’t fought in over a year, that was a great fight to come back to.”

And, of course, any successful middleweight in Strikeforce right now has to face the obligatory questions about facing current middleweight champion Cung Le, who has been MIA ever since taking the belt from Frank Shamrock in March of 2008.

“I think Cung Le is sitting back watching all these fighters get better and shaking in his boots,” hypothesized Villasenor. “I would really like the opportunity to fight Cung Le and see where I stand.”

It took him until midway through the second round, but U.S. Army Ranger Tim Kennedy shook off nearly two years of inactivity since his last fight by finishing off a tough Nick Thompson. In fact, Kennedy never skipped a beat.

He and Thompson put on a grappling clinic in the opening round, Thompson attempting several submissions, while Kennedy dominated position and accumulated points with his ground and pound game.

Midway through the second round, Kennedy, working from side control, landed some hard shots that caused Thompson to turn to his stomach. At that point, Kennedy unleashed three or four more hard right hands and Thompson tapped out.

Although Thompson was complaining after the fight that he was taking shots to the back of the head, the replay showed that any shots across the back of his skull appeared to be more from him turning his head away in defense than anything intentional on Kennedy’s behalf.

“If one of them hit the back of his head, I’m real sorry, totally unintentional, but that’s a clean fight all the way through,” concurred Kennedy after the fight.

No word on what’s next for Kennedy, but one thing is for sure, he’s ready to go.

“I’m back! I want to fight every month. Let’s go!”

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    Updated Saturday, Jun 20, 2009