The replacement of middleweight Chute Boxe brawler “Cyborg” Evangelista Santos (16-13) with freshly-inked prospect Zak Cummings (10-0) at the top of the Strikeforce Challengers card in Tulsa 25 September makes the main event true to the Challengers’ series theme.
Cummings will face United States Army sniper Tim Kennedy (11-2) in a matchup of developing talent, which is the goal of Strikeforce Challengers.
“Cyborg” is a gnarled, tough journeyman worthy of the main event, but has passed the period of being considered a developing talent. He pulled from the card with an undisclosed knee injury suffered in training.
Cummings signed with Strikeforce in early August as an undefeated prospect coming off a TKO of Dominic Brown (15-13) at FM Productions in Springfield 9 May, but won his biggest challenge in a three-round split decision over UFC, WEC, and Affliction vet Terry Martin (18-7) at XCF 1 in Daytona Beach last February.
“Some guys get very emotional and some guys want to go out there and hurt people,” explains Cummings. “I’m one of those guys that looks at MMA as a sport and a chess match, just like I look at wrestling. In all my wrestling experiences, I stayed calm throughout any situation that happened. I didn’t get frustrated and I think that’s carried over into my experience in this sport. I keep my cool really well and it’s paid off.”
The Pit-trained former IFLer Kennedy punched former top ten welterweight and UFC vet “The Goat” Nick Thompson (38-11-1) into submission at Strikeforce in Seattle 19 June. He lost his biggest challenge in a three-round UD to “Mayhem” Jason Miller (22-5) at HDNet Fights in Dallas in December 2007.
Kennedy’s approach is the opposite of Cummings’s. He says, “I don’t think anybody can really plan to see what I’m coming in to do this time. I’m working with the best boxing coaches and training with Mark DeLaGrotte, one of the best MMA striking coaches in the world, so I think that people are going to see a new Tim that they’ve never seen before.”
Cummings related, “Tim Kennedy sounds like a pretty tough guy and that’s the way I like to fight so it should be a great fight.”
Santos would’ve no-doubt fought tooth-and-nail to send Kennedy back to zero, but his role was to test, then lose to the prospect Kennedy, or to beat him and deflate the hype. Replacing Santos with Cummings pits two middleweights with different styles but equal upsides and potentially stratospheric futures, neither of whom are matched in this main event to lose. Neither Kennedy nor Cummings is a stepping-stone for the other, and they both know what’s at stake for each other win or lose.