Saturday, July 23, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
Other results from Strikeforce Challengers 17
The decision to permanently relocate the Strikeforce Challengers series to the Pearl at the Palms earlier this year turned the venue into mixed martial arts’ ultimate proving ground.
The Challengers cards are unique in that they make up the only major mixed martial arts series solely dedicated to developing up-and-coming talent. It’s a place where some fighters work their way up to a shot at the big time, while others find out they’re not ready to rise beyond the minor leagues.
Examples of both situations reared themselves in featured bouts of Friday’s inaugural Strikeforce event in Las Vegas. Light heavyweight prospect Ovince St.Preux, a former University of Tennessee linebacker, proved he was ready to take the next step in his progression by dismantling his ninth straight opponent in Joe Cason.
In the main event, 29-year old Roger Bowling did the opposite. The highly touted welterweight from Cincinnati lost via second round TKO to Bobby Voelker for the second time in nine months.
“I got off my game plan and he capitalized on that a little bit,” Bowling said. “I just want to move forward with whatever Scott (Coker) and Strikeforce want me to do next. If they want me to stay in the Challengers series, I’ll stay here and prove myself.”
The Challengers series is undoubtedly where Bowling (9-2 MMA, 2-2 SF) belongs at this point of his career. Strikeforce gave him a golden opportunity to avenge an Oct. 2010 loss to Voelker Friday night that he couldn’t seize.
In their first fight in May 2010, Bowling beat Voelker through a controversial technical decision after an accidental eye poke stopped the action. The unfortunate circumstances made an immediate rematch necessary.
But after Voelker won with a knockout victory in the second fight, the only purpose of Friday's trilogy bout appeared to be a way for Bowling to right the only blip on his record. It was a stop on the 29-year old Bowling's path to more prominent placement.
There wasn’t much to gain in a third meeting for Voelker, a fact that wasn’t lost on the minds of his trainers. But Bowling couldn’t capitalize anyway.
He stormed out to a lead on the scorecards in the first round by out-boxing Voelker, mixing combinations with counter strikes en route to an impressive five-minute display. Bowling got away from his strengths in the second round, though.
He clinched up with Voelker, which led to a forceful knee to the face. The shot left Bowling woozy and stumbling backwards and it only took a few seconds of ground-and-pound strikes from Voelker before the referee moved in to stop the fight.
“I don’t know what I was doing. I don’t know if I got a little bored,” Bowling said. “I think I got a little comfortable and next thing you know, I guess I took a knee and wasn’t responding to his strikes.”
Complacency didn’t affect St. Preux (11-4 MMA, 5-0 SF) in the few brief moments his fight lasted. St. Preux blasted Cason (8-1 MMA, 0-1 SF) with a kick to the face and followed it with ground-and-pound strikes that forced him to tap out at 1:12 of the first round.
“I knew I was going to finish the fight in the first round if I just stuck to the game plan,” St. Preux said. “All I needed to do was just wait. I had an opening and I connected pretty good.”
From the way he fought to the confidence exuded in his voice, everything shouts toward St. Preux graduating from the Challengers program. He called out top Strikeforce 205-pounders Gegard Mousasi and Renato “Babalu” Sobral in the cage after his win, and it’s hard to imagine his next opponent not being at least near their rank.
Less than two years ago, St. Preux was 3-4 and nothing more than a struggling ex-football player unsuccessfully trying to transition to MMA.
“I had a little epiphany or something,” St. Preux said. “I was like, ‘OK I need to change something.’ I started changing.”
The Challengers series served as the stage St. Preux used to show off those changes. That is its function, after all, as anyone who attends the cards at the Pearl is soon to find out.
“We’re glad to be here,” Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said. “We’re going to put on some great fights over the years with the Challengers series here in Las Vegas.”