It's difficult to believe, but it feels like ages since the debacle that was UFC 112. Doesn't it? Time tends to slow down when three championship fights go the distance in relatively lackluster (note to Tyson Griffin: that's one word) performances. For Coker, his sympathies for the victims of the Hindenburg couldn't have been more intimate then when Miller asked Shields for a rematch, and was subsequently attacked by Gilbert Melendez, Jake Shields, and only a few members short of the Diaz Brothers' entire family tree.
For a lot of people, these will be what characterized a "disastrous event": Mousasi's takedown defense (and Henderson's for that matter), Lawal's gas tank, the decisions, and the post fight brawl. Outside of all the players in the Shields brawl (which technically included Shields himself as he landed a punch on the red racing stripe on Miller's scalp), the fights themselves don't deserve the excessive criticism they've been getting. For all of Lawal's faults, this is a man that hasn't even been active in MMA for two full years. He's already a LHW champ, beating the always dangerous Gegard Mousasi , himself once anointed as a P4P candidate: a major achievement no matter how you look at it. Melendez fought as best he could, perhaps doing the most significant damage while IN Aoki's guard, ironically: very Fedoresque, and someone who continues to improve. For Shields, he showed he could take a really good punch, demonstrating legitimate poise under fire. Every fighter tonight fought tough matchups, stylistically, so I think consideration for this fact is due.
But the real loser wasn't Dan Henderson, Shinya Aoki, or Gegard Mousasi. That title goes to Scott Coker, not for the card he put together, but for the card he must put together for the future.
I take that back. The main card he put together was stellar, but the undercard was utter trash. Cody Floyd, Thomas Campbell, Dustin Ortiz, and Justin Pennington all had never had a single professional MMA fight before tonight. This isn't a first. For SF's Miami show, five fighters had never won a single professional MMA fight before that night (Oxley, Gomez, Clarke, Ray, and good ole' Herschal). For their Challengers 6 show, a whopping 12 fighters (!) don't even register in Sherdog's fighter finder. Meanwhile, they've had trouble getting Andre Galvao and Vitor Ribiero on cards: two guys who could actually challenge for the titles in their respective weight classes in Strikeforce. What is the point of signing big name fighters if you've got them stuck in divisions that offer little in the way of challengers? Jason Miller predictably ran through Tim Stout, a near .500 fighter. Why not sign a MW that could be a threat to Miller in at least a parallel universe, like Douglas Lima, Rafael Natal, Justin Torrey, or Dave Mewborn? Coker and Co. make matchmaking look like trying to assemble the Large Hadron Collider in a backyard out of drumsticks, and fruit roll ups.
It's shocking to me this this isn't a big issue for MMA "journalists" who write ten articles about how Dana screwed up another PPV, yet are are all too eager to laud the efforts of Strikeforce in playing second fiddle to Zuffa, while zero attention is paid to the issues that need to be addressed should Strikeforce establish themselves as the type of premiere organization they seek to be. What could be more important than fostering consistent interest in your big name fighters with interesting competition? Moving forward, will Lawal have it any tougher than fighting the man he just dominated for nearly five rounds? Who does Fedor have after Overeem if that fight even happens? If Shields leaves, who does Jacare have? Or Diaz, besides a still fairly green Galvao?
And now the very presence of their champions are in doubt. There's a minor dispute between Strikeforce and Shields over whether or not he has a one fight option, while Shields and his camp seem certain on the lack of a champions' clause (I'd curious to know how Lawal's reads). Here, Coker finds himself in a terrible situation. Strikeforce just spent a good bit of money signing Dan Henderson away from the UFC. Moreover, they spent good money setting up this fight with Shields. Should the UFC sign Shields, not only does Henderson end looking like a bust, but the man who beat him isn't even in the organization: circumstances Dana would be more than happy to see materialize. Moreover, there's incentive for Dana not just to hamper Strikeforce, but Shields is an interesting opponent for GSP insofar as he's a fresh face coming off a major win, and would likely force GSP to showcase his standup: the absence of which has garnered most of the GSP criticisms.
The Monday before last night's event, Scott Coker talked to the beatdown crew, Jack Encarnacao, and Lotfi Sariahmed, and when asked about the Fedor contract situation, confirmed that there was no official date for Fedor's next fight (an hour and forty minutes in), seemingly just as frustrated over the situation as MMA fans. I don't doubt Coker is making a sincere effort to put on good fights, but sincerity isn't enough. Should we accept this? Should we accept sincerity over incompetence? Is that description unfair, and if so, in what ways? 'A failure to communicate', as the cliche goes, is not befitting of a fight promoter, especially where his champions are concerned.
To me, it'll be interesting to see how the MMA media responds to last night's event. It'll be interesting to see if the same degree of indignation is directed at Strikeforce in the same way the UFC took heat following their own disaster. Will the same standards be applied, or does Coker get the kiddie gloves? Dana took responsibility. Will Coker? The question of whether or not they should take responsibility to begin with is irrelevant. It's the principle of the matter: the principle that we are promised more of the same when what we watch is quality, or something different when it is not.
If the bell does begin to toll for Strikeforce, at least they went out with Nick Diaz banging, instead of Jared Shaw whimpering.