FRESNO, Calif. (May 14, 2009)—The 20 fighters who will compete in the eagerly awaited mixed martial arts fight card tomorrow/Friday at the Save Mart Center here all made weight Thursday at the World Sports Café.
In the main event of what will be a sensational event, undefeated lightweight sensation Billy Evangelista (9-0) will fight hard-hitting brawler and BJ Penn protégé “Iron” Mike Aina (11-6-1) in the inaugural, newly titled Strikeforce Challengers series from leading MMA promoter Strikeforce and premium television network SHOWTIME. The five-fight telecasts airs at 11 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the west coast).
Strikeforce Challengers is a proving ground for up-and-coming MMA fighters. The series is designed to provide today’s top prospects with the opportunity to step-up their level of competition and demonstrate their ability in a nationally televised event.
In other SHOWTIME fights: Sarah Kaufman (8-0) of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, faces Miesha Tate (6-1) of Olympia, Wash., in a terrific women’s match at 135 pounds; Lavar Johnson (11-3) of Fresno throws down with Carl Seumanutafa (4-2), a Samoan based in San Francisco, in a heavyweight fight; Anthony “A Train” Ruiz (21-12) of Coarsegold, Calif., takes on San Antonio’s Aaron Rosa (11-2) in a light heavyweight bout and Bao Quach (15-9-1) of Huntington Beach, Calif., takes on Tito Jones (6-2) of Sacramento, Calif., in a featherweight scrap.
Tickets for the Strikeforce Challengers event are on sale at the Save Mart Center box office and select Save Mart Supermarkets as well as at all Ticketmaster locations (800-745-3000), Ticketmaster online (www.ticketmaster.com) and Strikeforce’s official website (www.strikeforce.com). Doors open at 5:15 p.m. PT. The first live, non-televised, preliminary bout is 6:15 p.m.
What the fighters said Thursday:
“This is the first time I’ve had to deal with this type of attention, but I always feel I have to do more to stay unbeaten. The pressure is always there, but maybe there is a little more because this is in my hometown. I’m just going in to do my best and let it happen and see how it plays out.
“I learned during my three years in the army all about discipline, keeping my composure and learning to deal with people. I think those things help me prepare for a fight and for the fight itself. I know you just can’t go crazy and need to maintain your poise in the cage. I don’t get upset a lot like I did when I was younger, but still there is pressure.
“I’ve never seen Aina fight. I never watch tapes of my opponents. I like to focus on my fight and what I am doing. This sport is still evolving and fighters change their styles from fight to fight. So I don’t expect fighters to fight me like they did their opponent before.
“My friends, who are just trying to be helpful, tell me stuff, like ‘you know, Aina almost beat Nick Diaz’ and stuff like that, but it just doesn’t matter. I mean, I hear he is tall, so I guess I might have to fight on the inside more. Everybody says his Jiu-Jitsu is really good but we’ll need to see how fight goes.”
“I think maybe my hands are faster than his but we’ll see. I know my Muay Thay is better so I will want to keep it standing and stay on the inside and deliver short kicks and uppercuts.’’
“This is obviously a big fight and the opportunity is great. This is why you train all those years — to be able to fight in the main event on SHOWTIME. It doesn’t get bigger than that.
“I really hope they don’t think I am a stepping stone because they are in for a big surprise if they do.”
“Evangelista has a great record, but there are holes in every fighter’s game. I’ve watched tape on him and he is definitely vulnerable to some things.”
“I plan to spoil his homecoming and win one for all my fans in my hometown in Hawaii, who have always been there and supported me. They are with me each and every time I step into the cage.”
“This is a long trip for me and I did not come here to lose.’’
“My coach describes my style as ‘controlled crazy.’ I’ve never gone the distance but for me, punching is like a submission. But if I get into position, I would definitely try for a submission.”
“I love MMA and I love to do this. It is fun and makes me happy.”
“I won’t be surprised if she tries to take me down because I know she is good at wrestling. But I plan to stay on top, hit her lots and push the pace.”
“This is a huge fight, but I am going to just do what I do.”
“Being unbeaten always means a little more pressure but I’ve been in this from the beginning just to see what I can do and how far I can go.’’
“I have hobbies like camping, snow skiing and cooking Italian food, but I really can’t see myself doing anything but MMA.”
“This is a win-win situation for me. She’s established and has a name so this is a great opportunity for me to put the first blemish on her record. I know I’m the underdog, but no one thought I could beat Elaina Maxwell and I did. So I am going into this fight just like I did that one.”
“I’ve been working on my stand-up since she’s known for it. I would be surprised if she tried to take me down, but I’ll be ready if she does.”
“I’ve wrestled a long time and had probably over 100 matches. I guess my favorite subs are chokes of any kind. Arm bars are always fun. They come natural to me. So I have to guess getting her on her back is where she wouldn’t want to be.”
“But in this fight, I know my mental toughness is a major key, along with pushing the pace and putting pressure back on her. She’s obviously very heavy-handed and the fact she never stops pushing forward are her strengths.”
“But I’m going to engage. I’ve never really tested my standup so this is as good a time as any. She comes in squared and gets you backing up. My goal is to see how she reacts when I punch back. I am hoping that will work.’’
“I was off three years with a torn ACL but I feel great know. The main things in each and every fight of mine are always trying to relax and keeping my poise.”
“Carl is a big strong guy who is going to try and take me down and ground and pound me, which is why I’ve been working a lot on my wrestling. I need to stay moving, stop his shot/takedown and gas him out.”
“Being he’s a big guy, I’m going to try and make him tired. Hopefully, I knock him out while standing.’’
“I know I need to be more active, that I’ve waited too much in my last two fights, although I thought I should have got a draw in one of them.”
“Johnson is a pretty good guy who’s aggressive but I feel like I’m stronger than him so I need to take him down and control him.’’
“I’m ready to fight but I’ve only had a week to train so I’d prefer to KO him and get it over. I train by myself in San Francisco but go to Texas to train when I know I have a fight.”
“When I lost my first fight, I quit my job as a high school security guard to focus more on MMA. I’ll never forget that first loss because I learned such a big lesson. It made me want to train harder.’’
“I’ve been wrestling since the third grade but I’m always working to improve my ground game, which I think is good. My standup still isn’t there, but I seem to do OK, and I do seem to land sometimes.”
“It’s important for me to stay within myself and not get wrapped up into the moment. It’s an aggression thing. If I get a little tired, I get sloppy. But I’ve still been effective. In this fight, I want to pull the trigger first, be aggressive while being relentless.”
“My cardio has always been good so I want to push pace to the point where he is like, ‘will this guy every stop?’ I need to be the pitcher and try to deliver. I don’t want to be the catcher.”
“It seems he has fought more seasoned opponents, but I’m not so sure Rosa has fought guys at my level. He’s 11-2, but he’s fought inferior guys.”
“I’ve been through the ringer and fought some wars against a better caliber. The perfect scenario for me in this fight would be to standup, bang, get to where I am chasing him around the cage, take him down, lie on top and pummel him.”
“I know I have lot of losses from submissions but it has been a long, long time since the last time I was submitted. I’ve never been knocked out.”
“This is a very big fight for me and I’m very excited. I work as a fireman at the Madera-Mariposa-Merced fire department. All my captains and about 50 fire fighters will be on hand to watch.’’
“I feel I’m a lot better fighter than from the last time you saw me. My speed and the position of my hands and the way I hold them have definitely improved.”
“I know he throws big punches but I’m not so sure his technique is that great. But I know I always have to beware and roll with the punches and counter. The guy has bursts of explosion, so I know I have to get off first.”
“I’m really excited and totally ready. The fact Strikeforce is giving me this chance is tremendous and I am going to go for it. I won’t be reckless, but I am going to let in all hang out in there. Win or lose this is going to be a great fight and I am going to put on a show.’’
“I am really looking forward to Friday. The biggest thing for me in this fight and in all my fights is poise. I can’t just freak out or panic. I am fighting my third lefty in a row, so I’m used to them. I feel I am punching harder and better.”
“I respect everybody outside the cage, but inside I hate them. I know he is a good boxer but I’ll stand with him if it comes to that.”
“I don’t think he’s proved himself. I’ll be looking to take him down and use my lateral movement.’’
“I only had three week’s notice but I’m in shape and ready to get it on.”
“I’m a former Golden Gloves boxing champion who has trained with Roy Jones Sr. in Pensacola, Fla. I’ve learned so much from him: life lessons that I carry out today as well as fighting. I lost my Dad when I was 18 so Roy has been like a father figure. He’s taught me mental toughness.”
“This is a great opportunity for me to fight a guy who will elevate me to where I want to be. I want to make it to the next level and I will after Friday. Quach was ranked 10th until that last loss so a win over him would be huge.”
“Being half Filipino, I am looking for another vicious KO, like the one Manny Pacquiao. The people in the Philippines are always looking to look up to somebody, so if I can do a fraction of what Manny has, that would be great.”
“Quach is a veteran with three times as many fights, so I know I can’t be overzealous and that I have to fight smart and not get crazy. I’m confident in my kickboxing. I feel like if I touch him, he’ll go back to his wrestling background. I don’t think he’s ever seen speed like me and I plan to capitalize on that.”
“I tend to counter sometimes, but I know I need to take the initiative more and not let him dictate the pace. I’m a little nervous now but come game-time I’ll be fine. I am looking at this as my coming out party and looking to steal the show.’’
Mauro Ranallo will call the action from cageside with Stephen Quadros and Pat Miletich serving as expert analysts. The executive producer is David Dinkins, Jr., with Richard Gaughan producing and Rick Phillips directing.
For information on SHOWTIME Sports, including exclusive behind-the-scenes video and photo galleries, complete telecast info and more, visit the SHOWTIME Sports website at http://www.sho.com/sports.
Friday’s non-televised fights: Ben Holscher (1-0) of Fresno vs. Cody Cantebury (1-3-1) of Sacramento at 160 pounds; Zoila Frausto (1-0) of Fresno vs. Avery Vilche (1-0-1) of Redbluff, Calif., at 125 pounds; Ousmane Thomas Diagne (debut) of San Jose, Calif., vs. Kaleo Kwan (7-9) of Kailua, Hawaii, in a lightweight fight; Fabricio “Morango” Camoes (9-4) of Brazil vs. Torrance Taylor (7-5-1) of Cleveland, Ohio and Chad Sutton (2-1) of Fresno vs. Spencer Herns (debut) of San Jose at 185 pounds.