NEW YORK – Six additional hard-hitting heavyweight fighters have been called to action for the STRIKEFORCE and M-1 Global co-promotion and historic kick-off of the STRIKEFORCE World Grand Prix – Heavyweight Tournament on Saturday, Feb. 12, live on SHOWTIME® (10 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the West Coast) from IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J.
The three fights are: Undefeated top prospect Shane Del Rosario (10-0) of Irvine, Calif., vs. power-punching Lavar “Big’’ Johnson (15-3) of Madera, Calif., Chad “The Grave Digger’’ Griggs (9-1) of Tucson, Ariz., vs. Gian (pronounced “John”) Villante (7-1) of Bellmore, N.Y., and Valentijn Overeem (28-25) of Amsterdam, Holland, vs. Ray “Sugarfoot’’ Sefo (2-0) of Las Vegas.
“This event will showcase the depth of talent in the STRIKEFORCE heavyweight roster,” said STRIKEFORCE CEO Scott Coker. “Shane and Lavar are two products of the STRIKEFORCE Challengers series that has been instrumental in developing new talent. We are proud to welcome them to our championship series for the first time on Feb. 12 and excited to show the world that STRIKEFORCE is home to the best heavyweights on the planet.”
The all-heavyweight main card will be highlighted by two sensational quarterfinal bouts in the single-elimination STRIKEFORCE World Grand Prix – Heavyweight Tournament.
Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko (31-2, 1 NC), of Stary Oskol, Russia, returns against Antonio “Big Foot” Silva (15-2) of Campina Grande, Paraiba, Brazil, in the main event. The co-feature will match former world champion Andrei Arlovski (15-8), of Chicago by way of Minsk, Belarus, against Sergei Kharitonov (16-4) of Moscow, Russia. Kharitonov is the last fighter to defeat STRIKEFORCE Heavyweight World Champion Alistair Overeem.
The promising 6-foot-4, 27-year-old Rosario has won nine of his 10 fights in the opening round, including a 3:38 first-round TKO (knees and punches) over Lolohea Mahe during a STRIKEFORCE Challengers event in his last outing on July 23, 2010, at Everett, Wash. Prior to that, Rosario registered a rare omoplata submission victory over Brandon Cash at 2:27 of the first on Nov. 6, 2009, on STRIKEFORCE Challengers at Fresno, Calif.
“I’m looking forward to fighting again and fighting Lavar,” said Rosario, a Muay Thai specialist whose longest fight lasted a total of 4:07. “We’ve both fought on Challengers and now we get to show what we can do on a big show. I’m excited about that. This will be a great fight between two hungry fighters.”
The heavy-handed Johnson has been triumphant in seven consecutive fights, winning all by (T)KO, including three straight on Challengers. This will be his third fight since returning to the cage after he was gunned down while attending a family barbeque during the July 4 holiday in 2009. Johnson survived three gunshot wounds from a walk-by shooting that led to the death of a cousin. A father of two boys, Johnson spent 30 days in a hospital fighting for his life and several more months rehabilitating.
“I want to be known as a fighter, not as a guy who got shot, and this is my greatest opportunity to do that,” said the 6-foot-3, 33-year-old who stopped Virgil Zwicker at 2:17 of the first round on Oct. 22, 2010. “I feel like I’m ready to move up to the big stage. Fighting a talented fighter like Rosario is a huge step and, with our records, there is no way this cannot be one of the most exciting fights of the night.”
Thirteen of Johnson’s 15 victories have come via either knockout or TKO.
Griggs, a winner in four consecutive fights, is coming off a bloody, upset second-round TKO (retirement) over former pro wrestling superstar Bobby Lashley on Aug. 21, 2010, in Houston, on SHOWTIME.
A fulltime Tucson firefighter and paramedic, the 6-foot-1, 32-year-old Griggs opened up a gushing cut over Lashley’s left eye in the first round after getting taken to the ground and ultimately outlasted the previously unbeaten MMA fighter in the second as a still-bleeding Lashley seemed to gas.
The courageous, come-from-behind triumph may have been the most noteworthy for a well-rounded, strong finisher known for quick endings and tricky submissions. Six of Griggs’ victories came in the first round, and he has scored knockouts in eight of his nine victories.
“It was a dream come true to fight for STRIKEFORCE and getting a super win in a big fight like that was huge for me,’’ Griggs said. “I appreciate the opportunity to show what I can do again against another tough opponent.”
Villante is a 6-foot-2, 25-year-old grappling stud who was born and raised on Long Island. Before he wrestled and played football at Hofstra University, he was an All-State football player and All-American wrestler at MacArthur High in Levittown, N.Y.
After trying out with the NFL’s New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles, Villante turned to MMA in late 2008. “I got hooked the first time I went to an MMA fight card and saw one of my high school wrestling coaches KO some guy in a few seconds,” he said. “I was still a senior in high school but I got that feeling that I could maybe do this, and it was always in the back of my mind.
“I knew when my dream to play in the NFL ended that this was what I wanted to do. Now, fighting MMA has become more of a dream than football. I’m extremely excited about fighting for STRIKEFORCE on SHOWTIME. This is a tremendous opportunity and it is like a home game for me.”
Without the benefit of an amateur career, Villante turned pro on Feb. 20, 2009, and won his initial six fights. His lone defeat came when he dislocated an elbow in a bout halted in the opening round on April 16, 2010. Villante is coming off a 1:03, first-round TKO over Joseph Reyes on Dec. 3, 2010. It was his sixth success in the first round.
The older brother of Alistair Overeem, Valentijn Overeem is a fierce, dangerous striker who has won his last two fights in a combined time of 47 seconds. The 6-foot-3, 34-year-old Dutch Destroyer scored a 40-second KO (knee) over Catalin Zmarandescu on May 21, 2010. In his outing before last, the previous April 17, a head kick finished off Tengiz Tedoradze seven seconds after the opening bell.
Overeem, who injured an elbow during training and withdrew from a match last Dec. 4 against “Big Foot’’ Silva, has several notable victories, including a 0:56, first-round submission over all-time great Randy “The Natural” Couture and a 2:19, first-round submission over former STRIKEFORCE Middleweight Champion Renato “Babalu” Sobral. Overeem has only gone the distance twice in a 53-fight career.
A member of Team Golden Glory like his brother, Alistair, Valentijn is a four-time winner in PRIDE Fighting Championship competition. He’ll be making his debut for STRIKEFORCE after signing with the San Jose, Calif.-based promotion last June.
Sefo is one of the most devastating knockout artists in the history of kickboxing and many are excited to see him return to STRIKEFORCE. This will be the native of Auckland, New Zealand’s first MMA start since he defeated (knee injury) Kevin Jordan in his STRIKEFORCE debut during a Challengers event on Sept. 25, 2009.
After turning prol and earning more than a dozen kickboxing championships, Sefo turned his focus to the mecca of kickboxing, K-1, in Japan. While competing under the K-1 banner, Sefo quickly earned a reputation as a power puncher with a penchant for knocking his opponents out. During his time with in K-1, Sefo notched wins over the likes of MMA notables Mark Hunt, Melvin Manhoef, 7-foot-2 Hong Man Choi, Gary Goodridge, Marvin Eastman and Gilbert Yvel along with scores of champion kickboxers.
The 6-foot, 39-year-old Sefo’s level of kickboxing is rarely seen in MMA, yet with just two pro MMA fights in five years he remains a question mark in a heavyweight division regarded as the best in MMA. Sefo, who went undefeated his entire career as an amateur kickboxer, won his MMA debut with a second-round KO (head kick) over Min Soo Kim on July, 6, 2005, in Japan.
A special ticket pre-sale for “STRIKEFORCE Insiders,” begins tomorrow/Wednesday, Jan. 12, at 10 a.m. ET and ends Thursday at 10 p.m. Fans can sign up to become an “Insider” at STRIKEFORCE.com
Tickets for the mega-event go on sale to the public on Friday, Jan. 14, at 10 a.m. ET at the IZOD Center box office, online at Ticketmaster.com and STRIKEFORCE.com or by phone at (800) 745-3000.