Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting – or at least Elton John thought so when he wrote the hit song. Well, as it turns out, this Saturday night will be a great night for fights as the Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva live event in East Rutherford, New Jersey kicks off the Heavyweight Grand Prix with two of its quarter-final bouts, with “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko (31-2) facing “Bigfoot” Antonio Silva (13-2) and “The Pitbull” Andrei Arlovski (14-8) clashing with Sergei Kharitonov (16-4) in the main and co-main event, respectively. While those fights involve the Strikeforce “elite eight” heavyweights, Saturday night’s card also hosts a pair of reserve bouts for the promotion’s tourney, including Shane del Rosario (8-0) squaring off with “Big” Lavar Johnson (13-3), “The Python” Valentijn Overeem (26-21) taking on fellow striker and former K-1 kickboxer “Sugarfoot” Ray Sefo (2-1), and “The Grave Digger” Chad Griggs (8-1) teeing off against Strikeforce newcomer Gian Villante (7-1). Villante is a veteran of Ring of Combat, having competed there in all of his professional fights and currently representing them as their World Heavyweight Champion. Gian was an All-American football player at Hofstra University and was one of the last men cut from the New York Jets’ roster. After being dismissed by the NFL, he turned to MMA. For Griggs, he made a name for himself on the big stage by beating Bobby Lashley (5-1) via TKO in the third round of their August clash. Both Griggs and Villante prefer to keep the fight standing, and each has earned the majority of his wins via TKO or KO. How will this battle between two strikers play out? Lets take a look.
At First Glance: It’s safe to say that among the general public and casual MMA fans, not a whole lot is known about either fighter in this main card match-up. Villante has fought solely on the East Coast while Griggs has bounced around, fighting a few name fighters on his way to a successful debut in Strikeforce over Bobby Lashley. Villante prefers to test his opponent on the feet, as made evident by five of his total seven wins coming via TKO/KO as well as the fact that has seen the second frame of a mixed martial arts bout just one time in his career. He comes in and gets to business in a hurry. Griggs adopts a similar philosophy of get in and get out quickly and with the win – he has earned six of his eight wins by technical knockout or knockout. Much like Villante, “The Grave Digger” also can pull off the occasional submission should the fight hit the mat. Many spectators felt that a referee error led to Bobby Lashley losing his fight to Griggs, as Lashley was stood up out of the mount and took some nasty shots after the ill-timed stand-up. However, Griggs had more gas in his tank and would likely have finished a gasping Lashley in the third frame. This is an important fight as either man could enter the grand prix with a victory coupled with an injury to one of the main tournament fighters.
In Depth: “The Grave Digger” Chad Griggs is getting this fight on the heels of his upset win over Bobby Lashley despite being smothered and controlled for two rounds before a questionable (to say the least) forced stand-up from the referee changed the direction of the fight. Villante is a whirlwind at 205lbs. and stepping up to heavyweight will be a challenge for the talented New Yorker. Griggs might have an advantage on the ground, so he should look to take the fight to the mat, but he’d better be quick about it, as Gian Villante doesn’t waste any time going for the win standing. He has excellent punching speed and power and could be a real threat at 205 pounds in Strikeforce if he chooses to go back down after this fight. The main factor in this match-up could come down to hand speed, and Gian Villante holds a clear advantage there. He’s on the verge of becoming a star and a win in a high visibility fight could provide the springboard needed.
Wild Card: Home field advantage is the wild card here as Gian will be fighting in essentially his own backyard on the upper East Coast. Both fighters will likely be nervous going into this big clash at the prospect of winning a spot as a reserve for the biggest heavyweight event in Strikeforce history. The comfort of sleeping in his own bed, not having to travel, and having his hometown crowd cheering him on could prove valuable for Gian Villante. For Griggs the wild card could be his experience edge. Though he and his opponent have virtually the same number of fights under their belts, Griggs has fought on bigger stages and his fight with Bobby Lashley was a high visibility fight, and that should make him less jittery for Saturday night’s encounter. If viewing this match-up as being home field advantage versus big stage experience, the edge should likely go to home field advantage. There is just something to be said with not having to travel, stay in a hotel, and eat in unfamiliar restaurants.
The Verdict: This fight will probably go one of two ways. Either Gian Villante will come in, go on the offensive with a flurry of vicious strikes and hurt and finish Chad Griggs early on, or “The Grave Digger” Griggs will take the fight down and try and grind out a tough win. The more likely of the two scenarios? Villante will be looking to take off Griggs’ head before the sound of the opening bell finishes echoing through the arena. Villante via TKO, Round 1.