Strikeforce: Nashville

Strikeforce: Nashville
Saturday, April 17, 2010

This is the big one…

True, Strikeforce has been on CBS before, but THIS card is something significantly more important and relevant to the inner workings of the sport than the previous offerings were. Once again it’s MMA on free TV, primetime slot, Saturday night, but the differences this time out are big: three title fights, an international flavor, working WITH other promoters, veteran champions, youthful/even cocky challengers; there’s not much this event doesn’t have. The hard work and strategizing Strikeforce has done since jumping into the MMA fray in 2006 has built to this dramatic moment. Now it’s just up to the athletes to deliver.

Gegard Mousasi (champion) vs. “King Mo” Lawal (challenger)
Strikeforce Light-Heavyweight Championship

To me this fight is the most intriguing match in the game, bar none. Two hungry, talented, charismatic young men, from entirely different athletic, sociological and ethnic backgrounds, with completely opposite personas…and styles; I’m telling you; Mousasi/Lawal is THE fight of the moment.

“King Mo’ Lawal (6-0, 5 TKOs) is about wrestling, a free wheeling lifestyle and more specifically – confidence, to the point where it almost aggravates his foes. Whether by design or otherwise, Mo’s boisterous, fun loving nature seems to have gotten under the skin of champion Gegard Mousasi (27-2-1, 17 TKOs, 9 submissions) just a teensy bit, especially when he referred to the Dutch Armenian as “Kermit The Frog” on their recent telephone conference call.

Mousasi’s mentality is usually almost Fedorian in that he shows no emotion whatsoever before his bouts, other than that private little smile of his. To him, his mind is a secret weapon that he exposes itself to his opponent only when it is too late for that foe to mount an effective counter strategy. But the chemical reaction he had towards King Mo at the recent Los Angeles open media workouts suggests a glimpse of an actual penetration to his coolness…and of possible dislike. This is a first. Mousasi even admitted, “It bothered me before, but now I can laugh at it”. It will definitely add a new element to his performance and we shall see, whether laughing or not, if it’s a positive or negative on fight night.

With 83.33% of his wins being by TKO (thank YOU Sherdog Fight Finder), King Mo has thus far been able to blast through a relatively lukewarm list of gentlemen who were once something (Mark Kerr), who were touted as once being on their way to being something, before falling short (Mike Whitehead) and the obligatory “tests”/training wheel fights (Ryo Kawamura, Travis Wiuff, Yukiya Naito, Fabio Silva). Regardless of the rhetoric coming from King Mo’s camp that he is “the most phenomenal athlete in the sport”, Gegard Mousasi is a gigantic step up the ladder in terms of quality of opposition. And deep down, he knows that.

Mousasi is a shrewd gladiator who wears the disguise of relaxation in the cage…until his scope gets you in its bead, then goodbye. He hasn’t gone the distance in almost two years. But “who” did he beat, you might ask? Try world jiu-jitsu champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (TKO), Strikeforce champion Renato “Babalu” Sobral (TKO), Bellator champion Hector Lombard (decision), K-1 World Grand Prix champion Mark Hunt (armbar), Cage Rage champion Melvin Manhoef (triangle choke), etc… So judging by his varied methods of operation, as tempting as it is to label this MMA man merely as a ‘striker’, we know he can do a little jiu-jits as well.

Because Mo has a deficit in the experience department, it is up to him to push the action and establish his stylistic strength to snatch the title. As crafty as he looked punching out a plodding Whitehead, Lawal will want to throw bombs only to set up his wrestling against Mousasi. THAT is where he will have the best chance of getting his hand raised when all is said and done – by using takedowns, guard passing and ground and pound.

For Gegard Mousasi to stave off the threat of, and to be upstaged by ‘the king of the ring entrances’, he needs to get Mo to trade with him, find that moving target known as a chin, while always having his hips chambered for the inevitable shot/takedown attempt. Once on his back, and that will happen, his up-strikes have to be especially active in setting submission traps or a push off/standup.

I see this fight going the distance and falling into a pattern not unlike the first 2-3 rounds of FRANK Shamrock versus Tito Ortiz – the striker, Mousasi, landing several bombs, the wrestler, Lawal, taking him to the deck and slapping him around as best he can.

When this fight was first announced, I felt Mousasi should be favored because of his previous success. But after seeing King Mo fight live, I am sold on his chances to rise to the task and be extremely competitive.

Gilbert Melendez (champion) vs. Shinya Aoki (challenger)
Strikeforce Lightweight Championship

This is the miracle match on the card. How Mr. Scott Coker persuaded the Dream organization, the biggest MMA show currently in Japan, to not only have a free talent exchange agreement with his company, but to send their BEST fighter, is nothing short of astounding.

Although he has an entirely different personality, to me Shinya “Tobikan Judan“ Aoki (12-4) is the heir apparent to the great Kazushi Sakuraba. Like that hero before him, Aoki is a man who gets things done with whacky grappling sophistication. And he’s displaying pure gonadal fortitude by making his first trek outside of Japan to challenge “El Nino”, Gilbert Melendez (16-3) in his homeland. Somehow I hear the “World Police” theme songs for both Japan AND America, in the back of my mind…

On that note, Aoki has very much made this a Japan versus America match. Good! A little “pride” (sorry, I couldn’t resist) will translate into the always-welcome ‘heat’ in an effort to make his “dream” come true. Thank you…

Japan has been a worldwide hotbed for lightweight talent for the past half decade and Aoki has risen to the top. This brash young super grappler has some serious wins under his belt, including decisions over Dream tournament winner Gesias Cavalcante and Vitor Ribeiro, as well as submissions of Joachim Hansen (twice) and Bellator titlist Eddie Alvarez.

Gilbert is no stranger to the Japanese scene himself, having fought there six times in Pride, Shooto and the massive New Years Eve 2007 “Yarennoka” show. He has wanted this match against Aoki for a while. And with victories over Tatsuya Kawajiri and Clay Guida, and revenge match wins over Josh Thomson and Mitsuhiro Ishida; “El Nino” has momentum going into this fight.

Even though Aoki demonstrated his willingness to stand and bang when he out pointed “Shaolin” Ribeiro, his strength is in his ever-progressing jiu-jitsu game. That point is accented by the fact that he holds one of the first ever submission wins in high-level competition via gogoplata (Hansen in 2006).

But one of Gilbert’s training partners, the ‘affable’ Nick Diaz also holds the distinction of going gogo when he strangled then number one lightweight Takanori Gomi with the same move in Las Vegas one year later. So there probably isn’t much that Diaz and the rest of the Cesar Gracie mafia haven’t thrown at Melendez in preparation for this titanic struggle. And Gilbert can punch, an aspect he demonstrated in the two title swapping battles with the ultimate speed demon, Thomson. That combined with the stat that 3 out of 4 of Aoki’s losses have come by TKO, surely point to steering clear of boxing Melendez.

Melendez should duplicate the plan he employed in his second fight with Mitsuhiro Ishida; get in Aoki’s face all night long with punches, eventually swooping in for a late round technical knockout. Aoki should just go out there and kick, and kick, and kick. What’s the worst thing that would happen – right hand counter? Maybe. A takedown – mos def, and that is precisely where the Japanese warrior wants things, on the floor.

Jake Shields (champion) vs. Dan Henderson (challenger)
Strikeforce Middleweight Championship

Had enough? Well there’s more…like, you know…THE MAIN EVENT!

“Dangerous” Dan Henderson (25-7) is the most decorated MMA champion in history. But rather than me cutting and pasting those stock statistics here for you to doze off to, I’ll let you do some journalistic/investigative research on your own – remember ‘Google’ is your friend (I already plugged Sherdog once). And this champion level fighter “who got away” (from the UFC), Dan, will pose the most serious threat/danger to Jake Shields (24-4-1) in his career…ever.

The perception is that Henderson, a former Olympian, is the superior wrestler, with gobs more uber level experience. Oh, and did I mention punching? Hendo has rung the cuckoo clock for Michael Bisping, Wanderlei Silva and Murilo Bustamante, among others.

But on the other side of the aisle, Shields hypnotized former Strikeforce middleweight champion Robbie Lawler into a guillotine choke when the world favored the “Ruthless” one to crush Jake. As a matter of fact Shields has made 6 of his last 8 opponents tap the mat. And Dan has been submitted before – by the Nogueira brothers (one armbar each) and by Anderson Silva (rear naked choke). So the playing field is suddenly evened out a bit.

Jake has not lost a fight in over 5 years, and that was by decision to Akira Kuchi, a crafty veteran who Shields had beaten once previously. So we know that he always finds a way to win.

And then there is the “entertainment” side of the equation. When Jake Shields decisioned Jason “Mayhem” Miller in November 2009 to win the title, some critics fired arrows his way and deemed the slower paced grapple fest as a safe, less than heart quaking win. But if my memory serves me correctly, Shields had finished all 8 of his previous opponents, all but one in the first round. But the attack of the blogger people may be in part to the fact that Jake Shields does not possess an edgy, whacky or showy personality. C’est la vie.

Dan Henderson knows all too well that kind of journalistic fallout for the combination of displaying a sense of humility combined with fighting “smart”. In his early MMA career, he was temporarily, and derisively labeled “Decision” Dan. Of course no fighter enjoys that kind of tag and Dan stepped up his game and literally went on a warpath from 2003-2005 in retaliation. And men fell like flies. He grew from the experience and so will Jake.

I see a competitive match unfolding where Henderson presses the action as he tries to land the bomb. This will force Jake to move and pick his moment to tangle. But the problem with Dan initiating a punching attack is that he will be open…to be taken down. I do not rule out a scenario where that happens. But Henderson MUST stay on his feet to have the advantage in this title fight. And of course Shields needs to grapple. Whoever can impose their gameplan, wins.

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[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steven Money, Strikeforce, Ray Chin, MMA Supremacy, Stephen Quadros and others. Stephen Quadros said: Here's my take on this Saturday's Strikeforce on CBS. Enjoy! [...]

Whoa…Where is Fedor when you need him?

Mousasi vs. Lawal

What on earth happened to Mousasi? His striking looked like it was in slow motion…He refused to take any risk to stop from getting pummled on his back..Dumb founded!

Melendez vs. Aoki

I think Melendez is now probably the best LW in the world. His mental game is very strong and is very disciplined at executing his fight strategy. And he seems to be hitting harder and harder, especiall on the ground. That said, what a crappy fight! I truly believe that if Aoki would have decided to kick and punch with Gilbert he would have at least had a chance. But nothing. When you are that one dimensional, it is easy to strategize. And Gilbert did do that.

Henderson v Shields

Dan, say it aint so! Was he fighting with a broken back or what? And is there a ligher puncher than Shields anywhere in MMA? Of course Jake ground game is great as he was sticking to Dan like glue but…. cmon man!

Stephen…a reoccuring theme seems to be once these fighters are mounted they just lay there. The 3 options that I assumed anyone that has worked the ground tries are, in order:

1) Isolate posts on one side (ankle and arm), buck and roll. These is a white belt BJJ reversal and IT WORKS!

2) Give em your arm. Granted most guys wont take the bait, but try it for Gods sake.

3) Give em your back. Back door escape. Worse case you lose by getting choked instead of getting your face broken.

What am I missing?

Hi Wayne,

The techniques you mention of escaping the mount are correct and logical. But Jake Shields knows how to prevent them. I think Henderson would rather fight off strikes while being mounted than give up his back or his arm.

Gilbert Melendez has worked his way back into prominence and surely has now be considered one of the best, if not THE best lightweights, especially since BJ Penn was defeated by Frankie Edgar. I’m thrilled that he was able to conquer a great like Aoki. Gil’s gameplan was everything.

Mousasi needs to improve his wrestling and his cardio. He will improve from this. And…King Mo has arrived. I can actually see these guys going at it again in a few more fights.

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