Three title fights end in three five-round decisions. Strikeforce: Nashville didn't go off the air until after 11:30 on the east coast. To make matters worse, the card was punctuated by an after-fight scrum between Jason "Mayhem" Miller and Jake Shields' teammates. Shields had just upset Dan Henderson, the former holder of two divisional titles in Pride. However, Strikeforce's big free agent signing looked every bit his age of 39 following his early heavy-handed onslaught of Shields. That proved to be the bulk of Henderson's offense for the night as Shields controlled the action on the ground.
Strikeforce faces a challenging reality. First of all, Shields has made himself even more attractive to the UFC. It seems logical that he would jump ship when his contract expires in the near future. Strikeforce would lose a fighter who, despite his inability to garner much fan support, has been the promotion's most consistent performer - a champion in both the welterweight and middleweight divisions. Certainly, I and many other fans are interested to see how Shields can perform against Georges St. Pierre, Thiago Alves and the slew of other top welterweights housed in the UFC stable. Dana White is quite aware that he can strike a definitive blow against Scott Coker and Strikeforce by stealing Shields away. I would be surprised if White doesn't pull out all the stops to lure Strikeforce's middleweight champion to the UFC dark side.
Secondly, the after-fight brouhaha between Mayhem Miller and Cesar Gracie's team won't do much to strengthen the company's relationship with CBS/Showtime. This coupled with the event lasting far past its 11:00 p.m. ending point and probable lackluster ratings may well spell the end of Strikeforce on prime time network TV. From the beginning, Strikeforce needed Fedor Emelianenko to fight in Nashville. Whether or not that would have significantly improved public interest in the event is impossible to know. Strikeforce has put a lot into Fedor, so much that they need him for high profile events on CBS.
Lastly, the overall quality of the fights was lacking. Some MMA purists might emphasize the "chess game" aspects of the first two fights, but I think that's both an act of sugarcoating and irrelevant in terms of broadening brand appeal. CBS and Strikeforce need to bring in a large contingent of "casual MMA fans" for the network TV venture to work. Bouts akin to the aforementioned fights won't do the trick. There were a number of exciting moments in the main event, but both Lawal vs. Mousasi and Melendez vs. Aoki featured relatively long periods where meaningful offense was notably absent. On top of that, Gegard Mousasi, one of Strikeforce's risings stars and fresh off of signing a new contract with the promotion, met his kryptonite in the form of a strong wrestler.
Strikeforce has shown what a shallow pool of talent does in the large, unforgiving arena of "free TV." So much emphasis is placed with so few names that when they under-perform so does the larger promotion. There are no back-up plans. The name value of Strikeforce's star fighters has always been suspect. When some fail to deliver and some leave, there's not much left to go with. The most recent installment of Saturday Night Fights should lay to rest any illusions that Strikeforce is meaningful competition to the UFC.
(Photo via Dave Mandel of Sherdog)