(‘Let’s talk about boys!’)
With Strikeforce’s big Gina Carano vs. "Cyborg" Santos main event on Showtime just a day away, we go head-to-head to determine just how unmissable this card is after all the injuries, whether Nick Diaz has hurt our feelings for good, and more in this edition of Ben vs. Ben.
After all the injuries and changes to the line-up, where does this Strikeforce card rank on your must-see MMA spectrum?
BF: If we’re looking at a 10-point scale, with 10 being UFC 100 and 1 being YAMMA Pit Fighting, I give the current iteration of this Strikeforce card a 6.5. Originally it was probably at least an eight, maybe even a nine. Then it lost Overeem, Thomson, and Riggs. Then it actually got a little better when Jay Hieron stepped in. Then Nick Diaz declined to even submit to a piss test and, well, this is where we find ourselves now.
Obviously what’s propping it up at this point is Cyborg/Carano. It has a kind of Ali/Frazier feel, in that it’s not only a fight we’ve been waiting for and felt like we might never get, but it also seems like an important cultural moment, albeit on a much smaller scale. This is the fight that could give us a glimpse of the future of women’s MMA, and that’s what makes all the difference. Having Sobral/Mousasi on there, too? It doesn’t hurt, even though Strikeforce has done nothing to promote it. But as interesting as it promises to be to the hardcore fans, I could watch that on the internet the next morning without feeling like I lost anything in the bargain. That, for the record, is also how I watched YAMMA Pit Fighting. It was hard to see the screen through my tears, but I managed.
BG: Well, considering I never cared about the Thomson/Melendez rematch in the first place, and Fabricio Werdum‘s heavyweight title shot was fairly undeserved, Nick Diaz going M.I.A. is the only change to this card that really bothers me. Ali/Frazier is an apt comparison not just because Carano vs. Cyborg is drawing attention beyond hardcore fans of the sport, but because the supporting card is completely beside the point. How psyched you are to see these ladies throw down = how psyched you are to see this card. So I’ll still give it a solid 8.
But with great attention come great responsibility. It’s a spotlight moment for women’s MMA, which means that if either Gina or Cris (or both) miss weight, or if the fight turns into an ugly gas-fest after the second five-minute round, the entire show will be judged as a failure, and we probably won’t see an MMA card headlined by two women ever again. And to be honest, that’s influencing my level of interest. Saturday night will either give us a divine moment in the sport’s history, or a catastrophic train wreck — either way, it’s must-see TV.
The only other meaningful fight on this card besides the main event is the light-heavyweight title fight between Renato Sobral and Gegard Mousasi. How will it play out, and who will be the next person to challenge for Strikeforce’s light-heavyweight belt?
BG: Mousasi by youthful exuberance. Sobral has looked great over the last two years, but his wins have come across middling opponents — guys like Mike Whitehead, Bobby Southworth, and the always-submittable Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. Meanwhile, Mousasi has scored first-round stoppages against very dangerous fighters like Denis Kang, Melvin Manhoef, Ronaldo Souza, and Mark Hunt (not a huge accomplishment these days, but the weight difference was significant). He has tremendous confidence for a fighter his age, and his instincts are, dare I say, Fedor-esque. Against Babalu, Mousasi will keep the fight standing and score a TKO in the second round.
Unfortunately, the winner of this fight immediately hits a ceiling. Since Kevin Randleman took a loss in his Strikeforce debut to the aforementioned Mike Whitehead, there’s virtually nobody else with a name to set up as the next #1 light heavyweight contender. Coker & Co. will have to look outside their thin ranks for another challenger. Picking up Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal from Sengoku would be a nice get. Otherwise, they could try to sign Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who’s on a five-fight win streak and currently hopping between organizations. With the UFC owning almost all the top 205′ers, it’ll be a tough division to build from scratch.
BF: I tried really hard to convince myself that “Babalu” could live up to his promise to make Mousasi piss himself, but after some serious consideration I admit that the only way I can see it happening is if he gets him really, really drunk. Mousasi has the ability to dictate how and where this fight will play out, and that’s going to make the difference. Sobral probably can’t take him down and he lacks the kind of aggressive striking attack that might enable him to pressure Mousasi without leaving himself wide open for counters. Mousasi via late TKO.
If you need to know what a bad state the Strikeforce light heavyweight division is in, just remind yourself that Sobral got the title by beating Bobby Southworth. That’s about the caliber of talent/star-power that’s floating around the division outside of the UFC. King Mo would be a good acquisition, and maybe they can also sign Stephan Bonnar when he finally gets released (should be any day now, right?), but the long-term solution has to involve building up talent rather than just acquiring it.
So get in an RV and tour the gyms of North America, Coker. Bring Gina Carano and a reality TV camera crew with you. Maybe also see if Gary Busey’s available. This show is going to need a wild card to stir things up.
Has Nick Diaz’s most recent weed-related failure changed your attitude towards the guy, or is this just Nick being Nick?
BF: Here’s a fun story for you: not too long ago Fight Magazine sent me to Stockton to do a cover story on Nick Diaz. He had agreed to cooperate and I was, to say the least, excited about writing a story on such an interesting and unique subject. After four days in Stockton, innumerable phone calls to Nick, Nate, and Cesar Gracie, and two days spent staking out his gym, I never even glimpsed Nick Diaz. I say that to say this: no act of self-destructive irresponsibility or utter disregard for others on Diaz’s part could surprise me now.
The guy refused to show up to his own gym in order to be part of a magazine cover story that he had agreed to. And yeah, that’s the same Nick Diaz who frequently complains about not getting enough media coverage, especially from MMA magazines. So has it altered my opinion of him to know that he just decided to skip a mandatory drug test and let his employers, his opponent, and his fans suffer the disappointment without ever, so far as we’ve heard, giving a shit? No. My opinion is basically unchanged.
Nick Diaz doesn’t give a fuck. That sounds cool in the abstract, when it’s a counter-culture slogan or the basis for a character in “Menace II Society,” but in real life it sucks. Like Immanuel Kant said, "What would the world be like if nobody gave a fuck?" At least I’m pretty sure that was his basic point. Living with such an aggressive disregard for others makes you seem like a selfish child, even if you’re a great fighter. At this point that’s the Diaz I expect, and so when that’s the one who shows up (or doesn’t) I am Ben’s complete lack of surprise.
BG: Look, it’s hard to be unbiased when you’ve been screwed personally by Nick Diaz; I get that. But "Diaz is an asshole and he’ll always be an asshole" doesn’t feel like the right lesson to take away from this story. Can we maybe have some sympathy for the fact that the guy has suffered a massive career setback due to an addiction? I know, weed is one of those drugs that’s, like, not a drug because it helps with your migraines and you can’t die from it. Still, it’s a banned substance according to the California State Athletic Commission, and Diaz compulsively uses it in the face of adverse consequences. (By the way, Cesar Gracie seems like a world-class enabler. Anybody else watch Intervention?)
So yes, my attitude towards Nick has changed. Before, I used to be entertained by his bristly misanthropy and passed no judgments on his love of marijuana. Now, I just feel sad for him and want him to get professional help. As Dr. Drew will tell you, addicts use drugs/alcohol/whatever to bury the pain of psychic trauma that they don’t want to confront, and Nick Diaz seems like he’s haunted by a lot of shit that’s never really been addressed; growing up in Stockton can’t make you that much of a psycho. So maybe a stint in rehab will not only prevent weed from ruining his career again, it’ll also help cure his trademark just-don’t-give-a-fuckness that’s clearly a defense mechanism for God knows what. I think most of us have affection for Diaz as a fighter, and I’d love to see him return with a healthy mind and spirit.
If his recent comments are any indication, it seems like Dana White is going to come after Strikeforce now, ending their long and peaceful co-existence. Can he really hurt them to the point of bringing about their destruction, or is that just typical Dana-talk?
BG: Well, let’s be clear: As much as Dana White likes to gloat about the death of his rivals, he’s never really destroyed any of them — they’ve destroyed themselves just fine without him. Poor marketing, bad management, and over-reliance on a single marquee fighter have sunk brands like the IFL, EliteXC, and Affliction, and so far, Strikeforce has been smart enough to avoid those pitfalls. But now that the UFC and Strikeforce are the only big boys left in the sandpit, it’s about to get very personal.
Forget counter-programming — the way that the UFC can really hurt Strikeforce is by luring away its stars with money. Do you think Jake Shields wouldn’t be seduced by a huge pay bump and the opportunity to fight top competition? If the UFC comes calling, the only thing that would keep Strikeforce’s fighters from jumping to the Octagon is loyalty, and loyalty doesn’t pay the rent. And yes, the UFC also has the roster depth to put on impromptu Spike TV cards to draw eyes away from Strikeforce’s Showtime broadcasts; they’re already thinking of doing it in October. Of course, Dana White is expecting Strikeforce to tie its own noose by overpaying Fedor Emelianenko and dealing with M-1 Global. The UFC will do their best to throw some spike-strips in the road, but as with the MMA promotions that have fallen in the past, it’s ultimately up to Strikeforce not to put themselves out of business.
BF: Strikeforce definitely faces the problem of being an MMA organization that is not the UFC, which typically means employing a bunch of guys who either on their way up to the UFC or on their way out. Since they can’t compete with the UFC as far as what they can offer fighters in terms of money or fame or the ability to impress girls in bars, they have to focus on what they have that the UFC doesn’t: non-exclusive contracts. You can fight in Strikeforce while also fighting in Dream and occasionally doing some bullshit pro boxing matches. That’s an attractive option to a certain kind of fighter.
The point is, there will always be someone for Strikeforce to sign. The UFC can’t employ every decent fighter in the world, and their turnover rate is high enough that a sizeable free agent market is virtually guaranteed. Maybe the UFC can lure enough fighters away to annoy Strikeforce, but they can’t cripple them that way. The best the UFC can hope to do is make sure Strikeforce never gets any bigger or more popular than they are right now. Don’t let them have any star fighters, don’t make it easy for them to get the casual Spike TV viewer, but also don’t spend too much time trying to destroy them. Strikeforce has been doing this for too long to go out like those other punks.