Some Thoughts on Strikeforce: Nashville on CBS, Jake Shields, Dan Henderson, King Mo, Shinya Aoki and More

First off let's talk about the fights themselves:

  • Muhammad "King Mo" Lawal vs Gegard Mousasi: For as much as everyone is crapping on this fight, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Most commenters are overlooking the fact that IMO Mousasi won the first two rounds, the first in a dramatic comeback that almost saw him finish the fight, and the second by dominating with strikes from his back. For those writing off Mousasi, many of them the same who over-rated him before the fight, let's keep in mind he's only 24 and will continue to improve dramatically for the next four years or so until he reaches his physical maturity. And for all the savaging of Mousasi's take down defense, if he hadn't gassed even worse than King Mo after the second round, he could very well have won the fight. This fight was decided by conditioning and will more than anything else. For those criticizing Mousasi's guard work, I say this -- Mousasi never tried to break down Mo's posture, instead he consistently worked from wrist control and tried to score with strikes from the bottom. This worked brilliantly for the first two rounds.

    And for those bagging on Mo, good lord. First off, his wrestling was beautiful. Mousasi could train for six months on nothing but his sprawl and he's still not going to stop Mo's shot. Yes, Mo did have difficulty passing Gegard's guard, but he also kept up a strong and steady work rate, constantly seeking to land blows from the top and really had no reason to pass Mousasi's guard as after the second round, he was landing by far the most damaging shots from the top. In the course of watching MMA for seventeen years and learning more about the techniques involved in effective wrestling, I have come to appreciate that 1/3 of the game as much as striking or jiu jitsu. I look forward to seeing many great performances from both these athletes in the future.
  • Gilbert Melendez vs Shinya Aoki: There was a little drama early in the fight when Aoki pulled guard and very nearly got an armbar from the triangle. But that was really it. Aoki would have been well-served to wear a George Sotiropoulos style outfit if he ever fights stage side again. It was clear that the lack of grappling pants limited Aoki greatly as he was unable to stick to Melendez and keep him on the ground. Referee Mario Yamasaki's restarts when Aoki was crabwalking forward really pissed me off. The purpose of the stand up rule is to force the action and reduce stalling, not dictate to the fighters what kind of action will be allowed. The crabwalk that Aoki was doing is an offensive move that he's frequently shown in Japan can be used to land kicks and take downs. Melendez was prepared to answer that attack with diving punches of his own -- as was seen right before the most ridiculous stand up of the fight. As an old school fan of MMA who's come to accept most of the rules that have been imposed in the interest of entertainment, I was sorely disappointed to see Yamasaki blatantly dictating the outcome of the match and dooming fans to a long ugly fight once he robbed Aoki of his last offensive move.

    Secondly, Melendez has earned a very high ranking. Before his losses to Ishida and Thomson, he was an undefeated and highly ranked fighter. He avenged both of those losses and just soundly beat the #2 ranked Aoki. Unfortunately this tells us nothing vis-a-vis the UFC lightweight division vs the DREAM/Strikeforce lightweight division since Melendez has been mixing it up with the top DREAM contenders for years, beating Kawajiri, Ishida and now Aoki. Bellator's potential Roger Huerta vs Eddie Alvarez bout will be the first fight to shed any light on the relative strengths of the two promotions' lightweights. And for those who are dismissing Aoki as over-rated, why aren't you throwing Demian Maia out of your rankings? Aoki remains a supremely dangerous albeit one-dimensional fighter. This fight showed us nothing other than that Aoki has built his whole game around the rules of Japanese MMA and has considerable retooling to do if he is to succeed in the cage.
  • Jake Shields vs Dan Henderson: Henderson looked fat and ancient in this one. And for all the carping, it was a really entertaining fight. I've never seen a fight that went 10-8, 8-10 in back to back rounds before. Clearly a younger and more in-shape Henderson would have KO'd Shields, but that was then, this is now. Shields remains a very gifted but thoroughly two-dimensional fighter. I'll expect to see him in the UFC, after serving any suspensions for post-fight brawling that the Tennessee Commission might see fit to dish out. 
  • Strikeforce vs the UFC: Clearly this one was a knock out. For as much as I was on the edge of my seat for virtually the whole Strikeforce card, it was clearly poison to casual fans. The brawl at the end was just the coup de grace. The death blow was dealt by M1 Global when they elected to keep Fedor off this card. Booking three title fights on one card was a rookie mistake that Zuffa made at UFC 33 but Strikeforce/CBS apparently had to learn for themselves. Booking Jake Shields in the headliner was another huge mistake as he's proven to be ratings poison on network TV. Dana White clearly gave Strikeforce a poison pill when he did everything in his power to run off Dan Henderson. 

    Dana White may have celebrated the outcome of the event, as well he should as the apparent death of Strikeforce on CBS will leave a much smaller and less competitive world of MMA that will now be ruled by White's iron fist. While many may celebrate this, it saddens me. White and Zuffa have done incredible work in building the UFC and the sport in the U.S. but I fear they won't be able to sustain their success and MMA has now put all its eggs in one basket, barring the re-emergence of Japan as a second major market for MMA.


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