The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Strikeforce Nashville Predictions: A Danger To Themselves And Others

Slightly shorter break than I expected, so we’re back with predictions posts for Strikeforce on CBS today, and the weekend’s notable boxing tomorrow. I still have nothing to say about UFC 112- I didn’t see enough of Edgar/Penn to comment on the scoring, and the rest of that card was the kind of deal that makes you not want to even think about the sport for a week. The deal with Doug Crosby trolling the internet after the show just puts the depressing aspect of it into high relief, because the reality is that guys like Crosby and Cecil Peoples, no matter how incompetent and unprofessional they are, will keep getting major assignments without being called to account for their actions. It really is amazing that the people on whose integrity the sport rests are those called upon to do less than anyone else to safeguard their reputations and actually demonstrate competence (let alone excellence) at their jobs. Anyway….

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Nashville! I love it down there.

Telling you off the top, I’m not even going to try to make picks for the untelevised stuff- I am comprehensively out of my depth for an undercard which has exactly two out of fourteen fighters even having wikipedia entries, and while I do these picks in large part to educate myself about the sport there’s not much I can learn about guys who are difficult to even research

* Middleweight Championship bout: Jake Shields (c) vs. Dan Henderson

This fight. “SMH”, as the kids say. From a promotional perspective it’s a good one to put on for Strikeforce if Fedor is unavailable given that Hendo really is their (second?)-biggest star, but in the cage it could be brutal- and it’s got just a whiff of a hit job to it. Champion B-Side here is heavily rumored to be on his way to UFC after this one (he’s made plenty of comments about “wanting to be a free agent”) and the inference many have drawn is that this fight is effectively being put on so that he can do the job on his way out of the territory: Hendo is naturally larger than Shields and a better wrestler and standup fighter, which means unless Shields has an unexpected amount of luck in getting this one down or pulls out another standing guillotine as he did against Robbie Lawler or Hendo just shows up old, the odds are pretty darn good that Shields is going to get knocked very far out. I can’t really say I disagree with that analysis, so the pick here is indeed Hendo by apocalyptic 2nd round right hand KO.

The worry is that Shields knows that. I can’t say I’m a fan of his precisely given how boring he can be, but I respect the hell out of him and I’ve learned not to bet against him lightly. He’s got a proven willingness to fight a God-awful tedious fight if he feels it’s a winning fight, and it’s easy to see him deciding that that’s the ticket in this one. Shields has five rounds to work with here, and he’s facing a 39 year old man who is not immune to gassing out. Henderson has not always been the best at using his wrestling, and to a degree Shields probably would even welcome the takedown (if not the clinch fighting along the cage). Hendo is the better striker, but he’s not dynamic; he’s often content to slowly stalk his prey, which means that a fighter willing to give up rounds and stink the joint out can probably extend the fight by moving away and locking their left hand to their face as a guard. I can easily see Shields thinking: the best chance here is to make this a longer fight and wait for the larger and older man to tire and get sloppy, counter a right hand lunge with a shot in the 4th or 5th round and try to work for the submission from the top position; the goal for the first three rounds is to stay alive and make him move. If Shields is thinking along those lines than this may be a more competitive fight than is expected, and it may also be one of the very worst main events all year- and that’s saying something given what happened last weekend. Let’s hope that as a free agent-to-be he’s thinking that win or lose it’s best to hit the market off of a fun fight than off of a bad one.

* Light Heavyweight Championship bout: Gegard Mousasi (c) vs. Muhammed Lawal

I hate this fight.

Here’s the deal: there’s currently four 205 pounders with any kind of current name value outside the UFC: Gegard Mousasi, Sokoudjou, Babalu, and King Mo. 3 of those 4 have all fought each other, and each of those fights have ended definitively: Mousasi KO’d Babalu and Sokoudjou, Babalu submitted Sokoudjou and was KO’d by Mousasi, and Sokoudjou has been rather conclusively proven to occupy a lower tier than those two gentlemen at the moment. There’s nothing more to be proved among those three, which in theory would seem to indicate that it’s time to stick King Mo into the rotation to enliven things. So far so obvious.

The trouble is, no one outside the extreme hardcores has any idea who the heck King Mo is. He’s fought exactly once in Strikeforce, an unmemorable fight against Mike Whitehead in which he was given no interview time worth the name, his entrance was not shown, and he drew the most media attention over the commission subsequently fining him for spraying energy drinks around on his way in and staining the mat. Way to build a superstar. Given his strong wrestling pedigree, relatively young age (28) and limited experience (6 pro fights), every factor at hand would seem to argue in favor of using cards like this to establish Lawal as a star by showcasing his acknowledged charisma in preparation for a future major fight with Mousasi, hopefully on PPV; instead, the promotion seems determined to blow the only potential remaining major marketable fight in the division for them with no build on a secondary show on free TV which has a real risk of tanking anyway. This is bad business, especially for a promotion with fewer and fewer possible fights with any appeal available to them. The fact that they’ve even booked it now proves that way too many people in their office are paying way to much attention to The Internet.

Ironically enough, even for hardcores the timing of this is questionable; Lawal is an awesome prospect, but given his limited time as a pro and constrained experience (though he has faced solid opponents for his level so far) it’s reasonable to assume that he’s not nearly as good now as he will be in a year or two once his skills have developed further, and that therefore if the fight was put off and built up to at that time it not only would do more business, but would probably also be a better and more competitive sporting contest. You can argue that they can do the rematch at that time, but once you’ve lost the buzz of two great star fighters meeting for the first time, it’s hard to get it back again; there’s a reason that, say, GSP vs. Josh Koscheck isn’t being clamored for more. Frankly, I half-wonder if Strikeforce is rushing this one because they don’t expect to be able to hold onto Mousasi for long.

As for who wins, Mousasi is the obvious pick. He’s versatile and effective from almost every position, and represents a level of competition several cuts above anything Lawal has ever seen. Mo is unlikely to win a striking contest though his power will make him dangerous; and while he has a size advantage and maybe coulda kinda sortamaybe could pin Mousasi down for a while, Mousasi has won fights off his back by everything from triangle to upkick and will remain a threat for all 25 even if Lawal decides to go that way. Mousasi hasn’t lost since 2006 to a fighter not anything like Mo (Akahiro Gono), and indeed the only two losses of his carer have been by submission- not an offensive dimension that Mo has demonstrated much of so far. Mousasi by late-ish submission is the pick, let’s say armbar in the 3rd.

* Lightweight Championship bout: Gilbert Melendez (c) vs. Shinya Aoki

An aside: I’m increasingly becoming a believer in the idea that there’s really three lightweight divisions at this point. There’s the Japanese division with Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Joachim Hansen, Eddie Alvarez et al., the Strikeforce division with Gilbert Melendez, Josh Thomson and a few others, and the UFC division of Frankie Edgar (!!!), BJ Penn, Kenny Florian and so on. Every so often you get a small amount of crossover, principally between Strikeforce and Japan, but for the most part the divisions are probably more even and more segregated from each other than any other weight class in which the UFC maintains a division. As a result it’s just plain hard to figure out how good some of these guys actually are especially when you factor in all the acknowledged issues of translating fighters and performances to and from Japan, the Japanese promotional resistance to weight cutting and the resulting size differences, Strikeforce’s elbows rule, etc. which impact performances and influence winners. Even when we do get crossover as with this fight, we don’t always learn much; does anyone think this fight would be the same if it were taking place in Japan under DREAM rules with Japanese judges? None of this is meant as an attack on any one way of doing things, but I do believe it has to be recognized that even after all these years there’s still not one universally accepted way to do MMA, and the divisions are probably most obvious here in the lower weight ranges where the Japanese promotions have a far stronger presence.

All of which is to say, no pick. I just haven’t seen enough of Aoki in Japan to feel comfortable in judging him, and I’ve never seen him in America under Strikeforce rules- and neither have you, since this is his first ever fight outside of his home country. The reality is that a lot of the judgment on Aoki right now is guesswork on top of guesswork, and there’s simply no way to tell what’s going to happen until it does. The outlines of the fight are obvious with Melendez wanting to keep it standing and Aoki looking to work his BJJ game, but how effective each will be is all but unknowable; they don’t even have any common opponents to judge by. My inclination is to lean to Melendez, but that’s a function as much of my bias towards wrestlers as anything.

Overall, an odd card. Getting Hendo into the main event is smart since he’s the only person on the roster other than Fedor and the semi-retired Gina Carano who has a hope of drawing a respectable rating on CBS, but the actual fight between him and Shields may not send fans home too happy. The two featured undercard fights are at least interesting and potentially excellent from an action and sporting stature standpoint, yet promotionally they’re extremely no buys. For a promotion like Strikeforce which does not yet have a proven track record of viability as a mainstream draw this lineup is effectively a huge gamble, especially since there were, for better or worse, other options available to them (Bobby Lashley, Herschel Walker, etc.). I’m hoping this does good numbers, but if Hendo is still an MMA-world star and not a mainstream star then this could be a complete ratings fiasco.

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April 15, 2010 - Posted by | MMA

1 Comment »

  1. “Frankly, I half-wonder if Strikeforce is rushing this one because they don’t expect to be able to hold onto Mousasi for long.”

    I think that that’s it. They either hope to appease Mousasi by giving him a fight he wants when he wants it, and they are on the side keeping their fingers crossed that King Mo wins. Mousasi has been mentioning the UFC a lot and he’s buds with GSP…so his time with Strikeforce likely aint that long.

    Also…MOUSASI IS THE FUCKING MAN!!!!!!!!

    Comment by Tony M | April 15, 2010 | Reply


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