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; thereâ€™s not much this event doesnâ€™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 itâ€™s just up to the athletes to deliver.
Gegard Mousasi (champion) vs. â€œKing Moâ€ 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 personasâ€¦and styles; Iâ€™m telling you; Mousasi/Lawal is THE fight of the moment.
â€œKing Moâ€™ 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, Moâ€™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 â€œKermit The Frogâ€ on their recent telephone conference call.
Mousasiâ€™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 coolnessâ€¦and of possible dislike. This is a first. Mousasi even admitted, â€œIt bothered me before, but now I can laugh at itâ€. It will definitely add a new element to his performance and we shall see, whether laughing or not, if itâ€™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 â€œtestsâ€/training wheel fights (Ryo Kawamura, Travis Wiuff, Yukiya Naito, Fabio Silva). Regardless of the rhetoric coming from King Moâ€™s camp that he is â€œthe most phenomenal athlete in the sportâ€, 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 cageâ€¦until his scope gets you in its bead, then
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 â€˜the king of the ring entrancesâ€™, 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 â€“ 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 â€œTobikan Judanâ€œ 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 heâ€™s displaying pure gonadal fortitude by making his first trek outside of Japan to challenge â€œEl Ninoâ€, Gilbert Melendez (16-3) in his homeland. Somehow I hear the â€œWorld Policeâ€ theme songs for both Japan AND America, in the back of my mindâ€¦
On that note, Aoki has very much made this a Japan versus America match. Good! A little â€œprideâ€ (sorry, I couldnâ€™t resist) will translate into the always-welcome â€˜heatâ€™ in an effort to make his â€œdreamâ€ come true. Thank youâ€¦
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 â€œYarennokaâ€ 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; â€œEl Ninoâ€ has momentum going into this fight.
Even though Aoki demonstrated his willingness to stand and bang when he out pointed â€œShaolinâ€ 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 Gilbertâ€™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 isnâ€™t much that Diaz and the rest of the Cesar Gracie mafia havenâ€™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 Aokiâ€™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 Aokiâ€™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. Whatâ€™s the worst thing that would happen – right hand counter? Maybe. A takedown â€“ 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 thereâ€™s moreâ€¦like, you knowâ€¦THE MAIN EVENT!
â€œDangerousâ€ 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, Iâ€™ll let you do some journalistic/investigative research on your own â€“ remember â€˜Googleâ€™ is your friend (I already plugged Sherdog once). And this champion level fighter â€œwho got awayâ€ (from the UFC), Dan, will pose the most serious threat/danger to Jake Shields (24-4-1) in his careerâ€¦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 â€œRuthlessâ€ 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 â€œentertainmentâ€ side of the equation. When Jake Shields decisioned Jason â€œMayhemâ€ 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. Câ€™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 â€œsmartâ€. In his early MMA career, he was temporarily, and derisively labeled â€œDecisionâ€ 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 openâ€¦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.