Cormier rolls in Strikeforce tourney final

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Former Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier wasn’t even in the bracket when the original field of eight was announced for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix in early 2011.

The 33-year-old took advantage of his opportunity as an injury replacement before the semifinals, and Cormier put on a dazzling display to defeat former UFC champion Josh Barnett and emerge with the tournament title Saturday night.

"It means everything for me to beat someone like Josh Barnett. This means the world to me," Cormier said after his unanimous decision victory. "I just beat Josh Barnett, and that’s something that a year ago I never thought I could do."

In the co-main event, Gilbert Melendez survived a scare from Josh Thomson to retain the lightweight title with a split-decision victory that was very unpopular with the crowd at HP Pavilion.

Cormier had no such issues with his hometown crowd. He showed off the skills he has been honing at San Jose’s American Kickboxing Academy to control all five rounds.

While Cormier’s striking showed his evolution, he proved his wrestling is still at an elite level. Cormier was able to take down Barnett several times and even picked him up and slammed him to the ground in the third round.

"Today, Daniel was better," Barnett said. "He’s a great athlete."

Cormier will now get one more opponent on a Strikeforce card this year and then the promotion’s heavyweight division will become extinct. Cormier, who only has been training mixed martial arts for about three years, will find a place among the contenders in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Melendez improved to 2-1 against Thomson, the former champion, but hardly settled anything between the friendly rivals. The crowd loudly booed the decision and only got louder as Melendez tried to go through his interview in the cage.

Melendez did enough with his technical striking to win the first three rounds on two scorecards.

Thomson took over late, nearly taking the belt in the fourth round when he took Melendez’s back and appeared to have a choke locked up. Melendez was able to escape and held off several more attempts in the final minute.

Thomson then tripped Melendez to his back with about 40 seconds remaining in the fifth round, holding the champion there for the rest of the fight.

"He’s a tough guy. I think I could have performed a lot better," Melendez said. "I just wasn’t letting go like I should’ve out there. I don’t have any interest in fighting Josh again. This was the end of the trilogy and it was supposed to settle it. Maybe if they offer me double or triple the purse I would consider it but otherwise it’s on to the next one."

Former light heavyweight champion Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante took only 33 seconds to choke out Mike Kyle and avenge a 2009 loss.

Cavalcante dropped Kyle with a right knee to the head. He followed with several shots on the ground and locked in a guillotine as Kyle struggled to get back to his feet.

The win likely puts Cavalcante in line to fight for the vacant light heavyweight title this year.

Also, Las Vegas resident Chris Spang rebounded from his first loss with a first-round knockout of Nah-Shon Burrell.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.

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