Photo by Jeff Sherwood of Sherdog
On Saturday night, I made a rather unfortunate analogy in an attempt to describe how I felt about that evening's Strikeforce event. I wrote the piece in the midst of a 2 a.m. stupor, though that's more explanation than excuse -- I'll own up to what I wrote that night. But today, just past noon on the following Tuesday, I'm a bit more lucid and clearheaded, and I stand by the point that I struggled to make, namely that while I found the Strikeforce show to be plenty entertaining, it left me thinking "Yes, and?"
Over the past few days, I've tried to sort out why I feel that way. When I look at each individual fight, the matchmaking can be reconciled. The middleweight title fight between Ronaldo Souza and Robbie Lawler was probably the best fight on the card, even if Lawler has gone 2-2 in his last 4 fights (but 2-0 in non-catchweight fights!); Roger Gracie was stepping into his fourth professional bout, and Trevor Prangley represents the sort of journeyman fighter fitting of his stature; and Herschel Walker needed a live punching back to beat up on, a role Scott Carson filled admirably.
That leaves the main event between Nick Diaz and Evangelista Santos. Diaz needed a fight, he wanted more money to put on the weight to fight Jason Miller, and Strikeforce let Paul Daley take a meaningless fight in England at the end of February. Santos had just dismantled Dream GP winner Marius Zaromskis (who Diaz already handled), so he got the Diaz fight. Which, in a vacuum, isn't tremendously awful and the fight guaranteed and delivered high action at a fast pace.
You have to judge things on their own merits. You don't go to a kung fu movie, and come out complaining because the character of Samurai 3 wasn't fully developed, or because of a glaring plot hole in the third act. And you don't judge an [sic] SF card after the fact because it lacked relevancy.
The "kung fu movie" comparison is an apt one. I enjoy kung fu movies (or at least I used to, I haven't seen one in years), but there are very few that rise above "look at all these crazy kicks and flying stunts." It's entertainment for entertainment's sake, and that's fine.
That's fine for Strikeforce, too, but then my empty feeling following the show is entirely justified. You can't simultaneously defend Scott Coker and company for putting on a mindless night of entertaining fights, and subsequently turn around and chastise people for pointing out the fact in more sinister terms.
More on Nick Diaz after the jump.
I'm most interested in the future prospects of Nick Diaz, and the main event on Saturday night shined a big, bright light tower beam on the problem Strikeforce must face going forward. As I said, Santos provided an exciting foil for Diaz, but we can't escape the fact that he had a career record of 18-13 entering Saturday night, with a 6-6 record since 2006. "Cyborg" would have been a great fight for Diaz four or five years ago, when he still hadn't hit 20 professional bouts, but Diaz stood at 31 pro bouts up until Saturday, and that's without taking his (admittedly, near-meaningless) welterweight title into consideration.
But this is the problem for Diaz. Let's assume Paul Daley does what we expect and finishes Yuya Shirai quickly on February 26th. Daley and Diaz meet sometime in the late spring, and let's further assume that Diaz drags Daley to the floor and submits him. Then what? No matter what you think of Tyron Woodley's chances in the fight, he hasn't been properly built for a title fight from a promotional stance. Past Woodley, it's fair to say that Strikeforce has zero contenders at 170 pounds to fight Diaz without factoring the title belt in the equation.
Take a look at the Bloody Elbow consensus rankings, and you'll find that 170 pounds is the one division most dominated by the UFC. After Diaz, Daley is the next ranked non-UFC fighter at number 10. Look a little farther down the list and you'll find Jay Hieron and Ben Askren -- both under contract to Bellator -- ranked at 17 and 18, respectively. Everyone else ranked in the top 25 is property of Zuffa, LLC.
It's a problem Diaz himself highlighted following his fight on Saturday:
"I'm interested in fighting people ranked above me and upping my status, but, whatever," he said. "I fight for [Strikeforce CEO] Scott Coker here, and they'll have to work that out here."
So, my frustrations with Saturday night's card have as much to do with the lack of overall relevancy as it has with the future of Nick Diaz himself.
Nick turns 28 in August, and has just entered the six-year period that most people think of as one's athletic prime. He hasn't fought a truly elite fighter since submitting Takanori Gomi back in early 2007, and that feels like an eternity ago at this point. His performances since shaking off the idea that he was a lightweight have captured my imagination, and I'm sure many others. Maybe he'll have the same problem his brother Nate has had dealing with control-oriented grappling "point fighters" in the UFC. It's the same problem he had during his initial run in the company in 2004 and 2005.
But I want to find out for myself, and that can't happen under the Strikeforce banner. Once he defeats Daley, he'll have to fight an unprepared Tyron Woodley or finally decide to put on the weight and move up to 185 pounds to find interesting fights. He's in the same situation as his self-created nemesis Georges St. Pierre, except GSP had to run the table of legitimate, world-class welterweights in the UFC.
Watching Nick Diaz in Strikeforce has been like watching Calvin Johnson toil away in Detroit. You can see the talent there, but you're left wondering what he could do with Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers at the helm. You wonder how he would produce in the playoffs on the biggest stage. That's where we find with Diaz, a fantastic fighter entering the prime of his career, and stuck in a situation that may not maximize his abilities.