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. hard-hitting 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 Brazil’s 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 on Feb. 12,” 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 his 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 and previously unbeaten MMA fighter, Bobby Lashley, on Aug. 21, 2010, in Houston, on SHOWTIME.