What we learned at Strikeforce
Nick Diaz defended his welterweight title with a unanimous victory over KJ Noons
Diaz had lost to Noons in 2007, but came back Saturday to inflict a broken jaw
The winner of the Paul Daley-Scott Smith battle may be next in line for Diaz
Here are five things we learned from Saturday's Strikeforce card in San Jose, Calif.:
1. Boxing in 4-oz. gloves. Although their fight three years ago offered evidence to the contrary, Nick Diaz, the current Strikeforce welterweight champion, remained convinced he's a better boxer than KJ Noons.
Diaz walked into Saturday's event intent on proving so, and was vindicated after a 25-minute affair that featured more than 1,000 strikes between the two.
Judges at cage-side saw the result unanimously for the defending champion -- 48-47 and 49-46 twice -- who threw Noons off-kilter by switching between orthodox and his natural southpaw stance.
"I knew he trained for southpaws," said Diaz (23-7) after his eighth consecutive victory following the loss to Noons in 2007. "I was hit when I was standing southpaw. He's the wrong guy to stand southpaw against. He's a good boxer."
Noons, who was forced to brush his long bangs out of his eyes during the five round fight -- "I trained with the hair," he said. "It was a factor but I'll just cut it for the next fight. Stupid. -- indicated that x-rays revealed a broken jaw and a fractured left hand, which came in the first and second rounds respectively.
"I knew I hit him pretty hard," Diaz said. "I didn't know I broke his jaw. I felt something in there."
The challenger, who moved up 15 pounds after campaigning at 155 in three previous bouts this year, still unfurled 592 punches as the pair remained in boxing range throughout the vast majority of the contest. But, unlike the first bout, which ended when a doctor decided Diaz should not continue because of deep cuts over both eyes, Noons (9-2) couldn't find the magic shot. He said he was just off, missing by fractions when he fired off power shots. Diaz started strong despite walking to the cage cold after mistiming his warmup in the back as the undercard unfolded in front of 7,473 fans inside the HP Pavilion.
"I don't want to say I'm completely happy with my performance," Diaz said. "I know what I shouldn't have done now. I'm happy with the way it went. I can't complain. I won the fight."
2. Who's next? The welterweight division in Strikeforce is one of the promotion's most intriguing, even if it seems otherwise. Asked who might be next in line for Diaz, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker suggested the winner between Paul Daley and Scott Smith would be seriously considered. As would veteran Brazilian Evangelista Cyborg. More interesting, perhaps, are the kids on the way. Strikeforce has done a good job of building talent at 170 pounds, most notably Tyron Woodley (more on him in a bit) and Tarec Saffiedine.
3. "There's no way I won that fight 30-27." Classy comments from Josh Thomson following his unanimous decision victory over Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante. The former Strikeforce lightweight champion earned a points victory against the Brazilian veteran, though dismissed the 30-27 scorecard put forward by judge Susan Thomas Gitlan. To her credit, Gitlan had it 48-47 Diaz (the same as SI.com), so her night wasn't a total waste. But how the California State Athletic Commission-appointed judge came to a 3-0 tally for Thomson over Cavalcante, no one knows. Watching in the arena, I had it 29-28 for Cavalcante (15-4-1), giving him the first and third rounds. The first was the toughest to score, considering both men faced defeat via submission. The difference maker in my mind: a heavy right hand from "JZ" that dropped Thomson midway through the first.
Thomson's camp prior to the bout said the fighter was awful in the gym. Three weeks ago, he said he considered pulling out of the bout because of a bum ankle, a partially torn MCL in one knee and ever-present hand issues. Thomson (18-3) said he's also battling "athlete's asthma" and used an inhaler leading up to the fight.
"I'm just breaking down," Thomson said. "This sport's killing me. I need to become a commentator."
4. Marloes Coenen ruins Kaufman's big shot. Sarah Kaufman (12-1) got what she wanted: a spot on a feature card on Showtime. After being relegated to the Strikeforce Challengers Series events since joining the promotion last year, the undefeated Canadian women's welterweight champion stepped in against Marloes Coenen. It didn't go her way. Coenen, cutting down from 145 pounds for the first time in her career, made the most of the title shot, which some said she did not deserve, by neutralizing Kaufman's strength and making the most of a significant reach advantage. The finish came on the floor, where Coenen's well-rounded, calm and focused submission-heavy guard yielded a perfect armbar.
"I thought it would become a brawl," Coenen said. "The strategy was to get into it. It didn't happen. I don't know why. Maybe she didn't want to exchange punches much. At the start of the third, my trainer told me to give her a straight punch and go for a takedown. I do what he tells me."
Coenen (18-4) is slated to fight Meisha Tate (11-2) in the early part of 2011, according to Coker.
5. Woodley is just what Strikeforce needs. It's tempting for burgeoning promotions to cull big-dollar veteran fighters from rival organizations. Strikeforce has dabbled with the likes of Dan Henderson, who went out in his first attempt after being signed from the UFC and was dominated. But even if Henderson had defeated Jake Shields earlier this year, spending that kind of money would seem to be an unsustainable model.
Tyron Woodley is the type of prospect Strikeforce must build if it has any hope of competing for the long term. The former University of Missouri All-American wrestler showed his vast potential by hurting Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Andre Galvao in the opening exchange with a straight right to the jaw, leading to finish at 1:59 of Round 1.
Woodley (7-0) is one of the first fighters to graduate out of the Strikeforce entry-level cards on Showtime with the potential to hold a championship belt.
"I think within the next 12 months you'll see him in some sizable fights at 170 pounds," said Coker.
That pace is just fine for Woodley, who said he was encouraged by what he saw in the main event between Diaz and Noons.
A bout against Tarec Saffiedine, another interesting prospect that's emerged out of the late-night fight series (next scheduled for Oct. 22 in Fresno, Calif.), would be terrific.