EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The opening night of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix features plenty of star power at the top, as former PRIDE champion Fedor Emelianenko, former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski, and former Elite XC kingpin Antonio Silva all seek to advance in quarterfinal action.
But a pair of alternates could potentially steal the show at the Izod Center on Saturday night. Two of Strikeforce's top heavyweight prospects, Shane Del Rosario and Lavar Johnson, make their Showtime main card debuts in a bout that promises plenty of fireworks.
"It could get explosive out there, baby," said Johnson (15-3). "Sometimes when you go to the fights, the guys who aren't in the main event are the ones who come out and really fire up the crowd. I'm going to do my part to make it happen."
All 25 of the fighters' combined wins have come by way of stoppage. Del Rosario, a Laguna Niguel, Calif., native and Muay Thai specialist, has only been pushed past the first round once in his career and has eight of his 10 wins via KO or TKO. Johnson, who relies on the power of his big right hand, has six first-round stoppages in his current seven-fight win streak.
Something has to give. But it probably won't take long.
"We'll come out standing and banging, no doubt," said Del Rosario. "Where it goes from there, we'll see."
While both fighters are focused on Saturday night, they both admit they've caught themselves daydreaming about making it to the main bracket. The winner of the fight will be named first alternate, and thus would become the first substitute in the main bracket if a fighter has to withdraw from the tournament.
"Look, I'm not wishing injury on anyone," said Johnson, a native of Ladera, Calif. "But the fact is, these are big guys, some of the heaviest hitters on the planet, and the chances someone might have to drop out are pretty good. So yeah, if I beat Shane, I almost expect the opportunity to get into the main bracket will come up."
"All those guys you look up to, like Fedor and (Alistair) Overeem, those are the guys you aspire to be," said Del Rosario. "You get into this sport to have the opportunity to prove you belong and fight the best. If I get the call, I'll be ready."
Grand Prix quarterfinal: Fedor Emelianenko (230) vs. Antonio Silva (264)
Grand Prix quarterfinal: Andrei Arlovski (230) vs. Sergei Kharitonov (250)
Grand Prix first alternate: Shane Del Rosario (248) vs. Lavar Johnson (243)
Grand Prix second alternate: Chad Griggs (229) vs. Gian Villante (227)
Grand Prix third alternate: Valentijn Overeem (239) vs. Ray Sefo (249)
John Cholish (155.75) vs. Marc Stevens (156.5)
Igor Gracie (170.75) vs. John Salgado (170)
Don Carlo-Clauss (170.4) vs. Sam Oropeza (169.75)
Josh LaBerge (145.75) vs. Anthony Leone (146.2)
Jason McLean (145.5) vs. Kevin Roddy (145.75)
Promoters have said all week they expect the Izod Center, scaled to 14,500 seats, to be full Saturday night. But if that's the case, the crowd will likely be heavily papered: A check of Ticketmaster on Friday showed groups of eight seats together available at every price level from cageside to the nosebleeds.