Daniel Cormier was an afterthought when Strikeforce officials selected participants for its heavyweight Grand Prix tournament.
No one will overlook Cormier again after his impressive performance Saturday night en route to a unanimous decision over veteran Josh Barnett at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.
The fight was scored 49-46, 50-45 and 50-45. ESPN.com also had it for Cormier, 50-45. Cormier was only added to the tournament when former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem left the promotion to join UFC.
Cormier dominated Barnett with hard overhand rights and uppercuts. But it was the damage Cormier did on the ground that took the steam out of Barnett.
A solid wrestler, Cormier landed hard elbows that busted up Barnett, opening several cuts under each of the former UFC heavyweight champion's eyes.
"It means everything for me to beat someone like Josh Barnett," said Cormier, who improves to 10-0. "I've lost a lot of people in my life. This is for all of them."
Barnett revealed he suffered a broken hand early in the bout, but made no excuses for his loss.
"I broke my left hand on Daniel's head in the first round. I wasn't going to stop fighting," Barnett said. "I was going to make him earn it."
With this being the last Strkeforce-promoted heavyweight bout, the next fight for Cormier is expected to take place in UFC.
Barnett falls to 31-6, ending an eight-match winning streak.
Melendez holds off Thomson to retain title
Being Strikeforce lightweight champion isn't Gilbert Melendez's highest priority anymore. Winning in dominating fashion is what keeps him motivated.
Melendez wants to be regarded as the world's best 155-pound fighter. He would love to compete in UFC to prove it, but that option isn't yet available.
So Melendez took his skills and title into the cage against Josh Thomson determined to put on an impressive show.
And both fighters delivered in the action department, with Melendez earning a split decision.
Two judges gave Melendez the edge 48-47, while the third had Thomson winning 48-47. ESPN.com had Melendez as the victor, 48-47.
The win improved Melendez's professional record to 21-2.
Melendez didn't dominate Thomson, which is likely to soften the argument favoring him as the best lightweight in mixed martial arts.
"We know each other real well," Melendez said of Thomson. "It's a battle of the bang. I thought I won most of the rounds. I got the win.
"It's just not as motivating (to fight Thomson for a third time). I had so much to lose. He had much to gain."
Thomson, who falls to 19-5 with one no contest, made no excuses for dropping his second straight fight to Melendez.
"I'm not going to speculate on my performance," said Thomson, who beat Melendez in their initial meeting by unanimous decision in June 2008. "He fought a great fight. Tonight wasn't my night and the judges gave it to him."
Cavalcante forces Kyle to tap in 33 seconds
Since Dan Henderson took his talents to UFC in September, Strikeforce has been without a light heavyweight champion.
Mike Kyle was hoping his bout with Rafael Cavalcante would serve as an eliminator for the vacant belt. But promotion president Scott Coker refused to designate the fight an eliminator, which didn't sit well with Kyle.
The disappointment of knowing that beating Cavalcante would not guarantee a shot at the 205-pound crown took a lot of sting out of Kyle as he prepared for his upcoming rematch.
But motivation wasn't an issue for Cavalcante. Getting some payback was motivation enough.
Cavalcante landed a right knee to the chin of Kyle seconds into the opening round.
The strike stunned Kyle and Cavalcante jumped on him with strikes before applying a guillotine choke. Kyle couldn't escape and tapped at the 33-second mark.
Cavalcante not only exacted revenge for the first-round knockout loss he suffered to Kyle in June 2009, he also likely put himself in position to land a title shot.
"If Strikeforce gives me a chance, I want the belt," said Cavalcante, a former Strikeforce light heavyweight titleholder who improved to12-3.
Kyle falls to 19-9-1 with one no contest.