“Strikeforce Challenger Series I” airs live on Showtime Friday May 15

On May 15th, the “Strikeforce Challenger Series I” under-card fights will begin at 6:00 PM PT from the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California. The main card fights begin and will air live on Showtime at 11:00 PM ET/PT.

Headlining the debut of “Strikeforce: Challengers” will be undefeated Billy Evangelista (9-0) taking on Mike Aina (11-6-1) at lightweight. Also on the main card will be Sarah Kaufman (8-0) fighting Miesha Tate (6-1) at 135-pounds in the lone female fight on the card. Ten fights are scheduled in all with five airing live on Showtime.

Strikeforce Challengers I

Main Card (Beginning at 8:00 PM – PT)
Billy Evangelista (9-0) vs. Mike Aina (11-6-1) – 3X5 – 155Lbs
Sarah Kaufman (8-0) vs. Meisha Tate (6-1) – 3X3 – 135 Lbs
Lavar “Big” Johnson (11-3) vs. Carl Seumanutafa (4-2) – 3X5 – HW
Anthony “El Toro” Ruiz (21-12) vs. Aaron Rosa (11-2) – 3X5 – 205 Lbs
Bao Quach (15-9-1) vs. Tito Jones (7-2) – 3X5 – 145 Lbs
Under-Card (Beginning at approximately 6:00 PM – PT)
Ben Holscher (1-0) vs. Cody Cantebury (1-3-1) – 3X3 – 160lbs
Zoila Frausto (1-0) vs. Avery Vilche (1-0-1) – 3X3 – 125Lbs
Ousmane Thomas Diagne (debut) vs. Kaleo Kwan (7-9) – 3X5 – 155lbs
Fabricio Camoes (9-4) vs. Torrance Taylor (7-5-1) – 3X5 – 155Lbs
Chad Sutton (2-1) vs. Spencer Herns (debut) – 3X3 – 185Lbs

Full “Strikeforce Challenger Series I” breakdown after the jump…

Undefeated lightweight (155-pound. limit) sensation Billy Evangelista (9-0) will fight hard-hitting brawler and BJ Penn protégé “Iron” Mike Aina (11-6-1) in the main event of the inaugural, newly titled Strikeforce Challengers series from leading MMA promoter Strikeforce and premium television network SHOWTIME, on Friday, May 15 at Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif.

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. Friday’s SHOWTIME telecast will air live beginning at 11 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the west coast).

In other SHOWTIME fights: Sarah Kaufman (8-0) of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, faces Meisha 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.

“This is where the men—and women—will be separated from the boys, so to speak,” said Strikeforce founder and CEO Scott Coker. “The growth and future of our sport just got a turbo injection. For regional fighters and up-and-coming men and women looking to test themselves against other top prospects and get on the fast track to stardom, Strikeforce Challengers is the place to do it. I can’t wait for this first event.”

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 p.m. (see below for matchups).

“I don’t know anything about my opponent, but it doesn’t matter because I know he’s going to try to take me out like everyone else has, so it’ll be my job to react to whatever he does,” said the 28-year-old Evangelista, who fights out of Fresno. “I’ve got a great team behind me and I’ve been training really hard so I’m not worried.”

A finely tuned Muay Thai technician and wrestling expert, Evangelista notched his last Strikeforce victory by turning the tides on road warrior Luke “Lil’ Hulk” Caudillo in a thrilling slugfest at Broomfield, Colo., on Oct. 3, 2008. After being dropped twice with punches in the first round, a determined Evangelista battled back in the following two rounds to earn a unanimous decision.

Three and a half months prior to his conquest of Caudillo, Evangelista secured a key win over Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert Nam Phan in Strikeforce action at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.

The 28-year-old Aina has never been stopped as a pro. Born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, he has been a student of MMA superstar Penn for six years and has since developed a dangerous, hybrid fighting style that favors dirty boxing and kickboxing and is supported by a strong Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu foundation.

“It’s a big opportunity for me,” said Aina of the matchup with Evangelista. “Billy is no slouch. I’m expecting a really tough fight because we have similar styles. We both like to stand up even though we’re both also well rounded. I’m going in with a positive mindset and I’m ready to work hard in there.”

Aina nearly pulled off a stunning upset over superstar Nick Diaz when the two faced off in Hilo on Sept. 15, 2007, on SHOWTIME. Aina stalked Diaz early in their matchup and got the better of Diaz in a few of their exchanges. By the third round, however, fatigue set in and Aina’s pace slowed while Diaz, known for his outstanding stamina, continued to dish out punishment before earning a split decision.

“I kind of wore out as the fight went on,” admitted Aina. “Nick stands up in front of you and doesn’t give you a break. I definitely think I won the first two rounds, hands down, but that’s why you can’t leave things in the hands of the judges. That fight definitely tested my character and helped bring my game to the next level.”

Since the loss to Diaz, Aina has reeled off two consecutive victories, his last being a first-round submission of Ismael Gonzalves on Aug. 9, 2008.

For Kaufman, punching and kicking opponents is a far cry from her former passion. She’s been dancing since the ripe age of two. At eight years old, the five-foot, five-inch Kaufman joined a dance company and soon after began performing in musicals, dancing to everything from ballet to jazz to hip-hop.

It was a few years ago that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Adam Zugec opened an MMA school directly underneath the dance studio where Kaufman practiced daily. After trying a single aerobic kickboxing class, she quickly gravitated towards martial arts.

Since her professional MMA debut three years ago, Kaufman has added a breath of athleticism as well as credibility to the women’s field of competitors in the sport with the speed and force of her hands.

Tate was introduced to wrestling during her teen years when a girlfriend convinced her to join their all-boys high school wrestling team. Tate’s passion for the sport developed as she learned. Eventually, wrestling led Tate to join the MMA club at Central Washington University.

Last year, Tate enlisted with Victory Athletics, the elite fight squad headed by MMA star Dennis “Superman” Hallman.

“He’s got so much to offer technically,” she said about her mentor. “He comes from a wrestling background so his fighting style is very similar to the one I want to develop.”

Johnson, a standout football player as an outside linebacker ay Madera (Calif.) High, began his MMA training in the garage of his friend’s mother after getting the urge to fight following two victories in Tough Man Competitions in 2002.

A large, powerful and athletic fighter, Johnson rebounded after losing his MMA debut to register seven straight triumphs by stoppage. He lost two straight after the winning streak but has looked completely refocused in his last four, taking all by either knockout or TKO.

Seumanutafa, who possesses strong Jiu-Jitsu skills for a fighter his size, will try to regain his winning ways after going 4-0 at the outset of his career. He suffered his first defeat to Shane Del Rosario on Sept. 26, 2008, on SHOWTIME. In his last outing, Seumanutafa came up on the wrong end of a split decision to Edson Franca on Feb. 21, 2009.

Rosa was victorious in his first 10 starts as a professional. Following two losses in a row, he stopped Ron “Killing” Fields in the second round in Chicago, Ill., on June 14, 2008.

Ruiz, a former Strikeforce light heavyweight championship challenger, last saw action at Strikeforce’s second event at the world-famous Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif., where he lost a unanimous decision to former South African national wrestling champion Trevor Prangley.

Quach is a determined fighter and submission specialist who has turned his career upside down, winning nine of his last 10 starts due in large part to improved striking honed through amateur Muay Thai fights. He will have a huge experience advantage in this one.

Jones, who is taking a step up in class, is a rising star who loves to entertain the crowd. His only losses have come in fights outside his natural 145-pound weight class.

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.

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