A solid card; but will it draw solid ratings? The fights here will all be entertaining for what they are but if this thing dies on CBS- which it may- that will have far more long term impact for the sport than any individual results. Essentially this card consists of a bunch of foreigners who speak iffy English and have very little mainstream exposure, plus Jake Shields, Mayhem Miller and Brett Rogers- of whom only Miller may mean something as a draw off of his MTV exposure. I’d like to say the origin and language skills of the fighters won’t matter, but they almost certainly will. Showtime has had a Countdown-ish show and CBS did run some ads during football and perhaps that along with the ever popular Russian Superman gimmick will help draw in some UFC only or more casual fans, but if it doesn’t there’s no reason to think this show will do much better than the Elite XC on CBS show without Kimbo or Carano did. That’s simply not a sustainable rating for a network television show- there’s just not enough hardcores yet.
It’s a real crossroads for Strikeforce: with a serious network deal- and a thousand other things falling into place from here- they still have the potential to be a strong and important #2 promotion in America and Canada; without it, it’s hard to see them ever generating the interest and revenues required to be a top-level player purely off of Showtime exposure. My hunch is that the rating will come in in the gray zone, probably good enough to justify a second show but not good enough to make the future secure. That in itself would be a form of defeat for Strikeforce, as with such a limited roster there’s only so many loaded shows (which is what this is for them) they can put on and even hope to draw reasonably well with. The Gegard Mousasi situation demonstrates this most clearly- he’s already squashed Babalu, so if he beats Sokoudjou, who’s left? Mohammad Lawal isn’t anywhere near ready as a star, Dan Henderson’s signing hasn’t been confirmed, Robbie Lawler, Nick Diaz and Jake Shields are too small to be taken seriously, and no one wants to see Matt Lindland in that position. Strikeforce needs to knock this one out of the park because if not, they could end up locked into a financially dangerous Fedor deal without much hope of expanding their revenue streams to pay for it. The name “Strikeforce” needs to get over here.
Anyway, the fights:
Fedor vs. Rogers
I just finished reading a book of ancient Mediterranean history, which took note of the Graeco-Roman habit of sacrificing an animal- or in rare cases humans- to appease a wrathful deity. Not sure why that’s coming to mind, but there you go.
Seriously: Rogers CAN win, but it would probably be the greatest MMA upset of all time. Rogers has size, and he hits hard, and he’s younger; that’s the end of his advantages. Fedor is more skilled, more athletic, more talented, more experienced, might even hit harder, etc. etc. There’s just not much more to say about it; Fedor’s in a completely different talent bracket, and unless Rogers gets a very quick fluke KO he’s almost certainly screwed. Fedor by 1st round submission.
Shields vs. Miller
Ah, Jake Shields, a fighter with standup so iffy that it’s gone past rudimentary all the way to vestigial, as though he’s evolving backwards into the Royce Gracie of 1994. He’s a fine fighter, he’s clearly the more talented of these two, he’s defeated the far higher level of competition, he’s undefeated since 2004, he’s…so goddamn unconvincing. It’s entirely possible that I underrate him because I’m tired of reading message boards full of “ZOMG SHeidls wull ta p GSp” posts, but every time he fights I’m strongly tempted to pick the other guy. Miller winning would be a huge upset; yet I can’t shake the sense that all he has to do to win is keep it standing for 60% of the fight. Of course, the same thing was true of Paul Daley and Robbie Lawler, except more so. I’m going to take Shields, by boring decision, but I won’t be shocked if he loses.
Sokoudjou vs. Mousasi
I like the fight simply because Sokoudjou is a recognizable and quasi-legitimate guy to challenge for the title- certainly as legit as you could get for this show- off of his two signature wins, and if Mousasi annihilates him the way he did Babalu it’ll be the best thing possible for getting Mousasi over as a star, which Strikeforce simply must do. I can’t think of anything Sokoudjou has shown in his two recent wins against Bob Sapp and Jan Nortje which suggest that he’s a different fighter than the one who lost to Babalu, Machida, Luiz Cane, etc. which is to say he’s still decent but no where near good enough to beat Mousasi barring a total fluke. Much like the main event it’s two different talent classes. Sokoudjou hits really fucking hard; but he gasses quickly and seems to mentally break and get discouraged, turning passive, and his striking tends towards the rudimentary and telegraphed. His ground defense is not so hot. Mousasi doesn’t for the moment appear to have many clear holes in his game per se, and I suspect he’ll be patient, gas out the bigger man and then take him to the mat for the 2nd round RNC.
Bigfoot Silva vs. Werdum
One sign of good matchmaking for a promotion like Strikeforce whose big shows usually feature the same talent is that there’s a fight on the undercard which is designed to throw up a challenger to the winner of the main event. I’m not sure either of these guys against Fedor is a big draw, but hey- they’re doing it the right way at least. So far as the fight goes I don’t buy Giant Silva and I never have, and I probably buy him even less after he got busted for horse steroids and had to hide out in Japan for a year. His career best win is a split decision over the husk of Ricco Rodriguez, he moves with the grace and quickness of a disoriented whale, he’s really got not much but size working for him. Werdum is just much better, quicker and more skilled on the ground if it goes there, and as long as he stays defensively responsible he should be able to pick Silva apart standing and possibly shoot in to take him down as a counter. Silva’s chance is to time Werdum and throw a big counter himself (something like a right hand over a leg kick), but despite his size I’m not even sure he hits all that hard; it might have to be a perfect shot. Werdum by decision is a pretty easy pick here.
All in all it’s not the most competitive card in the world but it should be fun, with several legitimately world-class talents on display. You could do a lot worse for a free show.
Bonus sidenote: Glen Johnson is rematching Chad Dawson on HBO this weekend as well in the return match from their close and kinda-sorta-maybe controversial first fight which Dawson won. I’d pick Dawson as the easy choice in the rematch as the younger man who won the first fight and is now fighting in his home territory in Connecticut, but I’ll add- Dawson will have to knock Johnson out twice to get any respect here. Glen Johnson is a wonderful fighter, but he’s also one of the biggest complainers and whiners in the sport, and virtually no matter what happens I guarantee he’ll be back on Monday claiming he was rob-jobbed. It’s a pretty crucial fight for Dawson- despite some signature wins over Johnson, Tarver, Adamek etc. he’s not really broken through to star status and has been a negligible draw in many places, and Johnson is one of the very few legitimate opponents left for him at 175 who are realistically available. he needs to do something to capture the public’s attention, or he risks becoming the Kelly Pavlik of 175. He seems like a really nice guy, so I’m hoping he can avoid that fate.
The opener to the HBO telecast is Harry Joe Yorgey vs. Alfredo Angulo, and if you don’t know those guys all I can say is watch out- it won’t go the distance, and it’ll be a great fight.