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.
Signs with Strikeforce. He’s 47. “Multi-fight contract.”
Don’t even know what to say on this one.
Right then: explain to me the idea behind having titles if they’re never defended, champions drop them because they have better things to do, and beltholders commonly fight in other organizations for years at a time? I don’t mean to bash Strikeforce here; but the reality is that they’re essentially a pro wrestling promotion at this point, built around creating clashes between strong personalities independent of sporting considerations like specific weight classes, titles, contender slots, etc. Why not just embrace it and save yourselves the iffy publicity of titles which mostly serve to draw attention to questions like why Alistair Overeem is so huge, and why he fights almost exclusively in Japan, or why your two star women fighters can barely make weight, or why your (ex) middleweight champ doesn’t want to fight for you, or why your interim lightweight title has been defended more than your actual lightweight title, or why you have such excruciatingly poor divisional depth that you can’t even create a welterweight title, etc. etc.
The idea behind titles in combat sports has always been a simple one- to draw money by creating a symbol which demarcates those fights which are in theory of the highest possible caliber, such that a premium can be charged to watch them. Strikeforce already has a basic credibility issue here because the only division in which they have even a remotely serious claim to the best fighter in the world is heavyweight (with respect to Gegard Mousasi, he’s got a VERY limited track record at 205…for now) and that guy isn’t even the champion or scheduled for a title shot, so their titles have a junior varsity or regional feel to them already. Throw in the cavalier treatment they get from fighters and the promotion and there’s simply no way that most of them are going to draw money right now. Casual fans don’t know who the champions are and they’ll have trouble buying them even if they’re informed; hardcore fans know who they are and know that they’re not serious contenders for best-in-the-world status. Anyone who watches a couple of Strikeforce shows in a row is powerfully reminded of the roster size issues. It’s a conundrum.
Two possible solutions, short of just shitcanning belts as a concept: since you need to try something outside of the framework established by UFC (you certainly can’t compete directly), cut all titles down to 1: the Strikeforce Openweight World Championship. It makes the roster size issues much less glaring, it’s an open license to do the kind of freakshow fights which, frankly, Strikeforce SHOULD be doing right now, and there’s no reason you can’t still do interesting smaller weight fights like Jason Miller vs. Jake Shields which will have the same amount of interest whether or not it’s for a 185 pound lump of metal and leather. Alternately, if this is too radical, you can half-ass it: cut it down to 2 titles, one for above 190 pounds and one for less. Many of the same advantages, and it gives a specific focal point for smaller guys. I have difficulty seeing how either of these approaches aren’t superior to the current mix of chaos and disinterest, unless the adherence to the traditional belt and weight class structure is mandated by the TV partners at CBS and Showtime.
A damn good fight for the 4:59 it went, and from a promotional perspective it had just about the best possible finish- the stoppage with a second to go was legitimate, but controversial enough that you can bring this back in 4 months and draw a rating with no problem. Alternately, have them each face a nobody for the moment and have the rematch as the semi-main to a first PPV. From a fighting perspective, Cyborg looked in a different class to be honest- I’m glad I got my pick for Mousasi vs. Babalu correct because otherwise I’d be damned embarrassed of my misjudgment of this one. Cyborg looked like a fighter; Gina looked like someone in the relatively early stages of training as her response to most strikes was simply to turtle with a high guard and wait for the pounding to end, and that’s ultimately what did her in. She may be able to work some of that out in time but she faces the odd conundrum of being a competitor with an instinct to engage and yet little natural instincts as a striker, a fighter by nature without a fighter’s skills. If she had more head movement and footwork she might have gotten this into later rounds; as it was, you could tell from a fairly early point in the fight that she was simply overmatched in the exchanges. Still, a good main event and a good show overall.
– From the annals of intensely stupid MMA message board comments comes this abomination, which is crazy-go-nuts on many, many levels.
– Give me Carano over Cyborg tonight. Just a hunch, but I think Cyborg’s power is a bit overrated and the most important factor is going to be the increase from 9 minutes to 25 minutes for the fight. Cyborg is most effective when most aggressive, and that burns a lot of energy; I think Gina adjusts better to the distance and takes Cyborg into deep water and drowns her, probably by 3rd or 4th round GNP. Oddly, I’ll be rooting for Cyborg though.
There’s reports floating about that Tamdan McCreepy and Tallest Ladies have both had their releases rescinded and will be remaining with UFC. Hopefully it’s true, and if it is both of those guys ought to send Scott Coker a nice fruit basket or something since it’s starting to get really obvious that UFC is signing anyone who’s ever walked past a gym in an effort to starve Strikeforce of talent. Here’s an idea: why not have them fight each other next time out, loser-leaves-town style? McCrory clearly needs to be a middleweight and Leites clearly needs someone who’s actually going to fight him, preferably on the ground. It would probably be a skilled grappling battle with bits of sloppy-but-fun standup mixed in, and there’s certainly less interesting things happening on a lot of undercards.
Apparently Fedor’s first opponent in Strikeforce may be RICCO RODRIGUEZ according to multiple sources (MMA Junkie, Steve Cofield). RICCO. ROD. RIGUEZ.
Absolutely 100% farm-fresh government certified industrial-strength NO BUYS. In fact it’s so tremendously NO BUYS that it tells you exactly who has the whip-hand in the Strikeforce/M1 “partnership”, if the first opponent selected to build to a Fedor-headlined PPV is someone with name recognition only to hardcores, who are precisely the fan population who knows what sort of competition Rodriguez actually represents at this stage of his career. But in the meantime M1 and Fedor will get a healthy check for fighting guys a half-step above tomato-can status who represent no risk, and if the PPV does bloodbath numbers they aren’t on the hook for any of the losses because their “co-promotional” deals are structured to shield them.
The amazing thing is just how tone-deaf a move this would be by M1. At a time when more fans than ever are convinced by the Fedor-fears-competition-he’s-not-really-that-good narrative they’re throwing him in there with an opponent who last had a really meaningful fight in 2003 when he went 0-3 in consecutive fights against Tim Sylvia, Big Nog and Pedro Rizzo to wash out of both UFC and Pride, never to return. Since then he’s lost every meaningful fight he’s had against the likes of Travis Wiuff, Jeff Monson, Bigfoot Silva, Ben Rothwell, etc. and lost his last nationally televised fight against Silva by showing up pudgy and indolent. 17 of his 27 post-UFC opponents don’t even have wikipedia entries, and wiki has articles on the likes of Jimmy Ambriz and Rob Broughton. It doesn’t matter if Fedor crushes Rodriguez in the first 15 seconds, which he might; there’s no way to escape from or hide the fact that the matchup itself is a joke which proves nothing, which means Strikeforce/M1 would be essentially promoting on their own television the exact line of argument which Zuffa are using to discredit them.
There are real and serious if not quite top-class heavyweights for Fedor to face in Strikeforce: Fabricio Werdum, Brett Rogers, Paul Buentello, Bigfoot Silva himself if you could get him licensed, even some of the light heavyweights like Gegard Mousasi would be better- if not great- choices. That the people in charge might be thinking of unearthing Rodriguez says it all really. Hopefully this one turns out to either be pure rumor, or a working idea that gets shot down by fan revolt.
Really? They’re going to send people ahead to take up all the parking spaces around Strikeforce events at this rate.
So Nick Diaz is officially the 47th fighter to be pulled from Strikeforce on the 15th, this time due to refusing to take a pot test, and is replaced by Jesse Taylor of all people. What a snakebit show this is; God help them if either of the main eventers miss weight again.
I have to say, I have zero sympathy for Nick Diaz on this one. The discussion isn’t really about whether weed is bad, or whether it should be legalized, or even if legalized whether it should be accepted in the system of a fighter applying for a license; the discussion is really about the ability of a fighter to meet the basic obligations required to ply their trade in a given jurisdiction. California tests for weed; they have a standing rule that for a fighter applying for a license with a prior drug positive, such a fighter must pass a test for the drug for which they had previously failed; and all of this either was or should have been well known to Diaz and his camp. Despite that, Diaz no-showed several different dates agreed on to take a drug test despite having plane tickets provided to him by his promoter, despite time extensions from the commission, despite multiple opportunities to appear. The reason why is fairly obvious. Diaz has some excuses about having a previous secret deal with Armando Garcia when he was head of the commission to only be drug tested day-of-fight as a result of being a legal medical marijuana user, but that excuse won’t hold water for many reasons the most obvious of which is that when you have a secret deal with one person to bend or break a rule, that deal is only valid so long as that person has power. Garcia got the heave a while ago; time to wise up.
Ultimately, Diaz just demonstrated that he didn’t care enough about this fight, the title it was supposed to be for, or his promoter to keep clean enough to pass a test during his own training camp. I think that morally the case for marijuana legalization is overwhelming despite not ever being a user myself, and I’m not wholly convinced that pot should even be tested for as a relevant substance for licensing purposes, but until the day comes when that policy changes it’s the responsibility of people who want to be licensed by the state and make money under their aegis to comply with their rules. Diaz’s priorities lie elsewhere, and the sad fact is that Strikeforce are so desperate for stars and draws of any stature that this is likely to have zero short-term effect on Diaz’s bookings. When you talk about things which are bad for MMA, Diaz putting Strikeforce into the position of looking like a drug haven for B-level fighters right at the point where they’re trying to break out of life as a regional promotion into serious-competitor status has to be on the list somewhere. That “Strikefarce” nickname is starting to get some traction with the hardcores, and right now those hardcores are pretty much the extent of Strikeforce’s audience outside of California. And if you’re a promotion looking to run PPV in a year, can you really trust a guy who’s missed a fight and tested positive after another one on different occasions to be a serious part of that show? Strikeforce will have to because there’s not much else to work with. Best of luck to them.
Meanwhile, M1 moved a show out of California a month in advance after they lost a financial backer, one of their headliners pulled out, and it was revealed that they had never even applied for a promoter’s license in the state. So that partnership is already paying dividends. What a fustercluck.