Diaz, Melendez shine at Strikeforce
Nick Diaz said Strikeforce undercut him by scheduling three fights in six months
What an emotional win for Shinya Aoki, who hasn't seen his family since the quake
Gegard Mousasi and Keith Jardine slogged their way to an unsatisfying stalemate
There are a dozen wrongs you can cite about Strikeforce and the way it's done business as the Avis to the UFC's Hertz over the past two years. But there is no question that it delivers, more often than not, a thoroughly compelling product.
The promotion's major events are awash in finishes since this time last year when the CBS-televised "Strikeforce: Nashville" crashed with three title snoozers and burned with a post-event brawl. There were 11 in the promotion's three most recent major events: three at Saturday's "Diaz vs. Daley," three at "Feijao vs. Henderson" and five at "Fedor vs. Silva." All in all, 75 percent of main-card bouts did not go the distance since May.
Compare that with main-card pay-per-view bouts in the UFC, where 44 percent of fights resulted in stoppages during the same time frame.
Now, about those wrongs. The argument easily can be made that the action is the result of a more shallow talent pool and the relatively short amount of official prep time given to fighters. There were six fewer major Strikeforce events than in the UFC, and nobody is arguing that the level of competition is much greater inside the Octagon. In fact, what became abundantly clear in last month's buyout is the California-based promotion's status as a big regional player with few of the resources, leverage and stars as the UFC.
The point, though, is that Strikeforce offers a lot of fun fights, just as the WEC once did. You need relevant and well-matched bouts to advance the sport. But you also need those that entertain along the way. Although the promotion offers far fewer of the former at this point, it offers a whole lot of the latter.
You could say Saturday's headliners, Nick Diaz and Paul Daley, are great in Strikeforce and merely good in the UFC. But tell me that their fight wasn't fistic 5-hour Energy, and may the wrath of Stockton be upon you.
The UFC wound up folding the WEC's bantamweight and featherweight divisions into its ranks four years after acquiring the lighter-weighted promotion and cherry-picking the best from its lone overlapping division at lightweight. The WEC's ratings on the Versus channel were mostly uninspiring, and all but its most talent-packed cards (or those headlined by Urijah Faber) did so-so at the box office. But it routinely upstaged its sister promotion in delivering action-packed fights that got fans talking.
Strikeforce doesn't have the market cornered on a particular niche in the MMA marketplace. Instead, it has a number of talented, marketable fighters that make it a prime target for cherry-picking.
That's what Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker is hoping for, at least when it comes to matching his champions against the UFC's. But he also believes his brand is valuable enough to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the industry-leading promotion. Can he convince Octagon execs Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White, who took in Saturday's show, to see the value in keeping Strikeforce alive long term, and eventually, blending brands through cross-promotional fights?
Magic 8-ball says: outlook not so good.
Some notes from the "Diaz vs. Daley" news conference:
Coker confirmed an an SI.com report that Fedor Emelianenko and Dan Henderson are likely to meet at a Strikeforce event in late July. As reported, Emelianenko's camp wants a catchweight fight of 215-220 pounds, while Henderson's camp wants the limit set at the standard heavyweight maximum of 265 pounds.
Coker said Gina Carano will return to the cage June 18 at "Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum" against an opponent to be announced. As Coker told SI.com on Thursday, Carano's original opponent, Cindy Danois, was set to fight Carano before she discovered she was due in six months to have a baby.
Heavyweight Grand Prix alternates Daniel Cormier and Shane del Rosario will meet at "Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum," as will Chad Griggs and Valentijn Overeem.
A rematch between former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi and Keith Jardine, who fought to a majority draw on Saturday, is a possibility. The word from Coker on when that will happen: "Who knows?"
And now, a stock watch:
Nick Diaz (25-7): His expression after defeating Daley suggested a fighter in the throes of post-loss disappointment. Nothing, of course, could be further from reality. The champ blew the roof off the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego with a back-and-forth slugfest that ended in the first with his hand raised. Tweeted a cageside Dana White: "Holy [expletive] [expletive]."
Diaz, though, always needs an opponent to fight, and this time around, he hinted it was "The Man," otherwise known as the California State Athletic Commission. In an interview with MMAFighting.com, he expected to be suspended following some extracurricular jawing at Daley post-fight. He also accused Strikeforce of working against him by scheduling three title fights in six months, all against dangerous strikers.
"It's going to take a little more to get rid of me," Diaz said.
Coker said the chronically brash fighter will get a well-deserved vacation. The good news is that it won't be one of the involuntary kind. A call to manager Cesar Gracie on Sunday revealed that an unnamed person not affiliated with the commission threatened punishment to Diaz during his post-fight celebration. Nothing of the sort materialized from CSAC officials afterward.
Likely waiting for Diaz when he returns is Tyron Woodley, who sported a "I Got Next" T-shirt to the weekend's festivities. Slogans aside, Woodley will be further vetted with a fight or two while Diaz enjoys his six-figure payday. With his limited standup game and standout amateur wrestling background, Woodley will give the champ exactly the kind of fight he doesn't want.
I'm thinking that's where another fight could materialize. Gracie said Diaz won't sign a revised contract bearing the name of Forza, LLC, the Zuffa-owned parent company of the recently acquired Strikeforce, which is making its way to all fighters under its banner. (Previous contracts were executed under Strikeforce's previous LLC, Explosion Entertainment.) File that decision in the "doesn't want to play the game" file, which White believes is keeping the champ from bigger and better things. But that's the least of Diaz's concerns, said Gracie.
"Nick's not going to play the game," Gracie told SI.com. "He is the game. Nick is putting fighting back into MMA. That's what the fans want. Now, if you play games, then all of a sudden you're a game-player with all the connotations.
"It's like, play what game? This is fighting."
Gilbert Melendez (19-2): "El Nino" picked up his fifth consecutive win and defended his Strikeforce title for the second time in a rematch with Tatsuya Kawajiri. Where the champ won the first fight on points, he left no doubt who was the better man this time around, pounding out the Japanese fighter in the first round. My guess is he'll either meet the winner of a No. 1 contender bout featuring either K.J. Noons or Justin Wilcox against Jorge Masvidal.
Shinya Aoki (27-5): The submission ace dispatched the quickly cooling Lyle Beerbohm with a bar-arm choke/face crank that forced a tapout in the first round. It was an emotional victory for Japan's Aoki, who hasn't seen his family since a devastating earthquake struck his home country last month. Saturday's fight was his last obligation for Strikeforce. But with the current state of Japan, I'm betting he'll work out a new deal with Coker.
Gegard Mousasi (30-3-2) and Keith Jardine (17-9-2): An illegal upkick from Mousasi in the first round brought the kiss-your-sister draw. It was really Mousasi's fight all along; the former champ simply schooled Jardine in striking, though the UFC veteran did some nice work inside. If Mousasi had defended the takedown better in the second round, there would have been no question about the result. But that element of the game is still a work in progress, and he likely sensed the stakes of the fight when he took Jardine down in the third. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to sway the judges, and these two will have to do it over again.
Lyle Beerbohm (16-2): As Strikeforce commentator Mauro Renallo pointed out, it seemed curious that Beerbohm would try to tie up Aoki as a prelude to a ground-and-pound campaign knowing the Japanese fighter's guile on the ground. But that's just what Beerbohm did. He didn't think he could be submitted by Aoki; he said as much. What he found out in short time was that he was wrong.
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