For those, like myself, who disproportionately enjoy the honed skills of world class grapplers, last night was a treat. Though Roger Gracie may be a novice mixed martial artist, he's absolutely incredible at what he does well - submit opponents. The skill exhibited against Trevor Prangley on the mat was everything one would expect from the current flagbearer of the storied Gracie dynasty. It's apparent to me that Gracie catches quite a bit of criticism just because of who he is. Listen, the man's no kickboxer, but thus far he's been able to maximize what rudimentary skills he does possess in the standing position to get the fight where he needs it to be in order to win.
There aren't many in the MMA game who are elite level in more than one skillset, and most can't be counted as "elite" in any one thing at all. Well-roundedness has been the holy grail of MMA for a good while now. Certainly, I won't argue that a Georges St. Pierre or an Anderson Silva would likely be dethroned by a counterpart not possessing a solid grasp of the various facets associated with modern MMA. What I will say is that quite a few talented, experienced mixed martial artists can't overcome the skill of a Roger Gracie or Ronaldo Souza if that battle takes place on the mat. Jacare's skillset is much more varied than Gracies; his ability to get through Robbie Lawler after being hurt standing is certainly a noteworthy accomplishment. However, let's not delude ourselves into believing that either one of these fighters can challenge those at the top of the sport, given the current states of their respective games. Yes, Jacare is already a champion, but he would be a huge underdog against the likes of say Anderson Silva.
With all that said, is that what Strikeforce is really about? Undoubtedly, Strikeforce is a competitor to the UFC in that both are MMA promotions vying for largely the same viewers and their dollars. Both are selling products that are almost the same....almost. These products are not commodities. They are not completely homogeneous. The UFC occupies what I'd call the high ground. It's not that what they do is inherently better or morally superior to what Strikeforce does or anything like that. They have positioned themselves in a dominant place from a talent perspective.
Because Strikeforce can't legitimately say that the promotion houses as talent-rich a pool of fighters as does the UFC, it has to lure fans with a product that's palatable in other ways. That's why we see guys like Gracie and Jacare. If I had to choose only one promotion to watch, I'd have to pick the UFC. I love the hierarchy of it all. Who's positioning themselves for a title run? Who are the young fighters making waves, trying to break into the picture? In all honesty though, I can't say that I don't thoroughly enjoy a lot of what Strikeforce is doing with the talent that's within their reach. It's fun for me to watch Roger Gracie. If he never challenges for a title, so be it. A very small percentage of MMA fights are waged with a title in reach. That doesn't mean the bulk of the fights can't be appreciated when viewed in the proper perspective. These fights don't have to be brawls, either.
While I do enjoy the occasional brawl, I like a little more variety on a card than eight fighters who'll "stand and bang" and a title bout. Top-level grapplers and their counterparts in the standing game (think Pat Barry) and even wrestlers, too have truly important places to occupy in modern MMA. Most fights don't have a lot of significance vis-a-vis the almighty rankings. With that in mind, I'll commend Strikeforce for their latest effort.
--Photo via Esther Lin