Last night's Stikeforce event certainly lived up to its hype. It was a stacked card from start to finish and it delivered. Yes, there were upsets and surprises but the thing that is most surprising to me is going over some of the comments and articles from the MMA community in regards to last night's card. Wow! Now there are some doozies. If you were brand new to MMA and followed the reactions from last night you would think that Antonio Silva is a can, Jacare Souza doesn't belong in the top 10, hell, top 15 middleweights, Daniel Cormier is really the incarnation of Kratos the God of War, AKA has been handed the secret scrolls of MMA fighting from Pai Mei, Roger Gracie was retired if not murdered, and well, Josh Barnett, he had it easy. Let's settle down for a moment and take all things into perspective.
There is a lot of brooding disappointment going around about Maximo Blanco's debut last night and if you didn't see the fight you would think Blanco was a bum. However, he isn't. He was mixing up strikes well, attacking from angles, keeping his opponent on the defensive while they were standing. He was fighting an entertaining fight, aside from some heinous illegal kicks to the head. There are two things Maximo had going against him. First, it was his debut in a cage. You go back and look at just about any fighter who gained fame in a ring and moves to a cage and you will find a high percentage will struggle greatly or lose in that debut. It takes time, especially for strikers, to learn how to work in the confines of a cage. The second is he was facing a very tough, grizzled veteran in Bam Bam Healy. Healy used some very slick BJJ to get Maximo to tap as he moved Maximo into a crucifix position and secured a rear naked choke. So, surely Maximo being stopped by some guy who was a late replacement means he isn't worth the hot towel you get on a flight from Tokyo to New York, right? No. Healy has finished such talents as Paul Daley, Dan Hardy and the newly minted #1 WW contender Carlos Condit (or is it Conduit?). He has great submissions and he can utilize them if he is given a hint of daylight against just about anyone. Last night, that was Blanco. I'm still looking forward to Blanco's next foray in the cage, even though he is coming off a loss.
King Mo vs Roger Gracie
Has someone checked for the funeral time? Because from what I have read and heard today Roger Gracie was killed by King Mo. Seriously, King Mo did what a lot of people expected and I hoped he wouldn't. But, the things I'm hearing today do not gel with what really happened in that fight. First, let's remember this is Roger's 5th fight and it was against a very tough, talented opponent. If you look at most good to great fighters over the years it is not unusual to find a loss or two in the first half dozen fights or so. It wasn't till the past few years that fighters could be brought along slowly and were able to build up the undefeated records of say a Cormier or Cain. Second, Roger's striking was not that bad. He was efficient with his jabs, he had the flying knee ready when Mo started to encroach. He was tentative thru most of the bout, as was Mo, and had a difficult time finding ways to get inside but I think he found a valuable tool last night with his kicks. He could have used them a hell of a lot more and hopefully that is where his training takes him. The question is does Roger get to continue to ply his trade underneath the Zuffa/Forza banner? Not at his price. Does that mean his MMA career is over. Hell no. He is committed to MMA, as can be read in this piece by Mike Chiappetta, and has said the next ten years he will focus on bettering his MMA game. If Zuffa/Forza chooses not to be in the Roger Gracie business I am sure Pro Elite or, the other haven for many a Gracie today, ONE FC, will have him. In fact, spending extensive time with some of the Muay Thai experts on the EVOLVE MMA team in Singapore could do wonders for Roger's game. He still is among the best in the world on the ground, if not the best (Rodolfo Vieria will test that in a couple of weeks at the ADCC), and I believe if he sticks to his commitment to MMA there will be some belts in his future.
Oh, and let's not forget about how that headbutt stung Roger and dropped his defenses so Mo could unleash that overhand right. Just sayin'.
Jacare Souza vs Luke Rockhold
I'm not going to say much here. This was a highly entertaining, hotly contested fight that I thought could go either way with the judges. Good job by Luke staying off the ground and staying busy with his strikes to get the judges to go his way.
Bigfoot Silva vs Daniel Cormier
Now, this is where the hyperbole machine goes into overdrive. Let us start by simply saying that Bigfoot is not as terrible as a fighter as he looked last night and Daniel Cormier is not Kratos. However, last night, for one night only, they both were. Let's start with Bigfoot, and further, let's start with Bigfoot vs Fedor.
I'm a Yankee fan, have been since the days of Bye Bye Balboni. But, during this last run of Yankee success (1995- the present) I have watched over and over again as teams that were not nearly as good as the Yankees come in and give them tons of trouble and then go suck or tread water for the rest of the season. I have seen rookie pitchers who get lit up elsewhere give them fits. These teams and their players gear up, scout like mad, heighten their focus, and play their best baseball against them. Why? Because, they are the Yankees. In MMA, we see the best in fighters come out when they face someone like Fedor, and unfortunately for Fedor he looks more like the 2008 Yankees instead of the 1998 Yankees. Bigfoot looked awesome against Fedor because he was. He was focused, he had a specific game plan, he knew his opponent, and he knew exactly how he could beat him. He looked like a top 5 fighter that night. Now, here is Bigfoot's greatest fault, he takes some fights and fighters for granted and he certainly seemed to take Cormier for granted last night. His defense was atrocious and he clearly was not remotely prepared for the dangerous Cormier. He suffered from his own arrogance, something we have unfortunately gotten used to with Antonio, and paid by getting truly KO'd for the first time in his career.
Now, we should note two things. One, Bigfoot was preparing for The Reem. Cormier could not be more different than The Reem as a fighter. The second thing is he just started training with Team Nog. Cormier has enjoyed the benefit of training daily with Cain for years and, damn, does it show. Bigfoot just started doing the same with JDS. Mauro is annoying but he is right when he says iron sharpens iron. Bigfoot is going to come back strong if he loses his arrogance and treats each opponent with equal amounts of respect and preparation. He has a tremendous amount of tools and size. Best of all for Bigfoot, he is finally cemented with a stable, fantastic team.The reports of his "canly-ness" are greatly exagerrated.
Oh, and another thing. I have seen the complaint that he was pulling a "Werdum" and pleading for Cormier to jump in his guard. Nonsense. He was in a defensive posture and as soon as Cormier moved to let the ref stand him up, he got up. What the hell do you want him to do, try to get up with Cormier hovering over him ready to pounce? As soon as Werdum would drop and set up for guard play The Reem would tell the ref to stand him up. Cormier wasn't doing that. The two are not comparable.
Let's talk about Cormier. He did look amazing. His boxing has really advanced and propelled him to a higher level. He truly is dangerous and has become so in a relatively short amount of time. He saw the opportunity last night and he grabbed that victory with unbridled violence. He deserves a ton of praise for his dismantling of Bigfoot. But, now we all know what he is capable of. No one is going to take Cormier lightly again and adjustments will be made by his future opponents. Barnett could not be a more perfect test for the rising Cormier. He looked great but I'm not ready to hand him the crown yet.
It was pointed out during the fight that last night was the fifth anniversary of Josh Barnett's painful PRIDE Grand Prix finale defeat to his Krpytonite in quarter checkered bike shorts, Mirko Cro Cop. Cro Cop had Josh's number. His legend was added to greatly by defeating him three times without ever dropping a bout to the Babyface Assassin. Many were saying that Josh had the easier path, and he did, but Kharitonov hits like a mule and I was concerned, considering a majority of Josh's defeats came at the hands of vaunted strikers, that he might go to sleep. Sergei can make that happen for just about anyone in the heavyweight division today. Yet, Josh reminded me why he was once the #2 heavyweight in the world. He is so proficient in what he does and he is tremendously consistent. I know he is an offender of the three strike rule but I hope he is under the Zuffa/Forza banner for a long time to come. I love his style of fighting, it so damn entertaining. I look forward to seeing him take on the best of the rest of the division. That starts with him taking home the Grand Prix title.
It was a great night of fights, I was thoroughly entertained. But, the lessons learned are just about one night and though they can give us some deep insight to these fighters, the whole tale they do not yet tell. Much more is to be written by many of the fighters who came up short and I look forward to seeing how it all unfolds for them.
Oh, and a final note, did you notice that with Alexis Davis' victory against the fierce Amanda Nunes we are watching the slow but sure formation of a solid corps of women who can compete in the 135 and 145 weight class. Keep 'em coming!