Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal punches champion Gegard Mousasi from top control. Lawal went on to win the title via decision. Photo by Esther Lin, AllElbows.com
After a long Saturday afternoon of hard labor, I sat down, cracked open a few beverages, and looked forward to watching Strikeforce: Nashville on CBS. Unfortunately, looking forward to something isn't the same as actually enjoying it once it's in front of your eyes. Nearly all of the fights were borderline unappealing in the style of fight that played out, and only a piece of my hardcore roots saw some positives in the battles.
Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal's stock rose substantially on Saturday night with his unanimous decision victory over now-former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Gegard Mousasi. Lawal's wrestling was phenomenal, but the bigger surprise was how easily he was able to topple Mousasi from his feet and work enough ground and pound to completely route a fighter who many fans felt was the second coming of Fedor at 205. While the fight was viewed by many as boring, Lawal provided the perfect gameplan to stopping the ultra-dangerous Mousasi while remaining active enough to score and gaining a second win as the fight went into the late rounds.
Impressively, Lawal now puts himself into some high standing among fans. At 7-0, he's a prospect the UFC will surely be keeping an eye on, but the real question is whether Mousasi's stock has been horribly exaggerated. His win over Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza is by far his best win on his resume with the exception of possibly Renato "Babalu" Sobral, but he won via an upkick that is rarely landed for a finish. It'll be interesting to see who Strikeforce pits against him next, although the promotion doesn't have a lot of high profile guys to push into the cage against him. Henderson at light heavyweight seems like a good test, but I imagine Henderson would pay close attention to what Lawal had done.
Gilbert Melendez's complete domination of Shinya Aoki was by far the most boring fight of the evening for me. While Melendez's gameplan was obviously an effective way to defeat the Japanese submission master, it was evident from the beginning that his style in this fight wasn't going to finish off Aoki as he had to hold back a lot of his power in order to remain less aggressive instead of wildly committing himself. Nonetheless, he did manage to land some solid blows to a folding Aoki.
A lot of writers are focusing on Melendez's legitimacy as a top three or top five fighter in the lightweight division, and while that's a story that should be written -- the bigger story is the fall of Shinya Aoki. He's been considered a top five fighter for a very long time, although many fans felt his rank should have been in the 8 to 10 range. The problem, however, has been the lack of crossover battles, and now we have a huge one that can clear up some of that discussion. Unfortunately, Melendez is also a fighter who hasn't fought a lot of UFC competition in his career, and when he did -- it was years ago.
Regardless of the rankings discussion, Aoki's stock has dropped substantially. Not only did Melendez truly show how to defeat Aoki effectively by using range and maintaining posture in his guard, but he also showed that most top fighters would probably be able to effectively punch and stay away from his submission abilities. At the highest level, most lightweights could implement the same performance, and that doesn't bode well for Aoki's chances against top 5 competition. He may even have problems against solid wrestlers in the top ten.
Last but not least, Jake Shields absolutely dominated Dan Henderson after the initial first round flurry from Henderson. It wasn't even a close battle in the late rounds, and Shields secured the consensus thought that he belongs in the UFC. As a matter of fact, Shields not in the UFC is probably going to garner a lot of groaning from fans at this point.
The interesting issue is that Shields actually stated he feels good at 185 pounds, and it's apparent his strength and conditioning program to beef himself up a bit for this fight worked well. Could Shields be a real threat at both 170 and 185? It definitely adds more potential match-ups to the table, and it'll probably garner him some bigger money from the UFC as well as gaining him a pay-per-view percentage clause. But don't be fooled, Shields will head to the UFC.
I know this might get the Henderson fanboys a little riled up, but Henderson's wrestling ability has deteriorated. While he is a Greco-Roman wrestler instead of a freestyle guy, he has shown much better takedown defense in the past than he displayed on Saturday. Furthermore, he was just completely outclassed in the grappling department. Sure, he possesses that one punch knockout ability, but his age seems to be catching up with him in terms of speed. If Strikeforce ends up pitting him against Mousasi or Lawal at light heavyweight, it could get interesting. If Lawal vs. Henderson ever happens, I'm throwing his Olympic credentials off the table and picking Lawal.
- The brawl following the fight could be blamed on multiple parties, but the fact of the matter is that Strikeforce didn't limit who was in the cage whatsoever. The overhead shot says it all. The cage is completely filled with camp members, media, my grandmother, the entire cast of Glee, who knows. Cesar Gracie's camp should have restrained themselves, but the Diaz brothers always have a look on their face as if they'll fight over a lost penny on the ground. Preventative measures should have been taken to ensure that didn't happen.
- The commentary wasn't so great. Most notable, Shamrock's continued bashing of Jake Shields and Ranallo's awkwardness were the highlight of the bad commentating performances. Gus Johnson's call at the end was obviously in the heat of the moment, but he's just bad now. When he first broke into the business, he wasn't terrible by any means, but he's just fallen off the horse.
- The actual numbers for this event were abysmal in comparison to past events, and that's what happens when you have a first fight that goes five rounds with Lawal busting up Mousasi from the top without really advancing position and trying to finish. I don't blame Lawal at all though. Mousasi is a dangerous fighter, and his gameplan worked to perfection. But the casual fan's interest won't stick to that gameplan.
- The big question is whether CBS will bury the Strikeforce deal following the brawl at the end of the show in conjunction with such poor ratings. I would think that they probably would as I believe they were probably borderline on whether they should continue to begin with. If that's the case, would they separate the Showtime deal as well? Probably not, but Strikeforce on Showtime isn't a competitor to the UFC at all in any way.
- Jake Shields will head to the UFC. There is no doubt in my mind. Start thinking of some of the great match-ups we'll see, but I wonder if his training sessions at AKA would actually limit his pool of opponents. I know he's not a full-time trainee there, so I would think he'd be fine with fighting guys like Koscheck, Fitch, and Swick.
- Ronaldo Souza seems like the only real threat to Shields in Strikeforce as his grappling in at a very high level, and he possesses some explosive strength. Shields will likely depart before that ever happens, but look for Souza to win a few fights and exit his contract with an eye for the UFC.
- Strikeforce will need to have Fedor on a CBS card in the future for any chance to please the executives at the network and continue this relationship. Overeem isn't a bad idea either as he has the Greek God look going for him. Americans are apparently drawn to that, and Overeem is the epitome of that sculpted look.