(Someone should tell Nick that in some cultures they consider that an insult.)
As Strikeforce’s Showtime debut closes in on us and we prepare to get our liveblog on (that’s right, so remember to stop on by tomorrow night) it’s time to debate the hell out of the merits of this fight card, its resemblance to a Zombie EliteXC here on Zombie Jesus weekend, and more. Here it is, your Ben vs. Ben…
BF: Of course it’s a meaningless fight. I mean, it’s being contested at 179 pounds. That’s not even a round number, let alone a weight class. It’s not as if this is a fight to settle some longstanding grudge (unless you count the grudge Frank Shamrock has against anyone unwilling to admit that he’s the greatest fighter ever, or the grudge Nick Diaz has against the world). It’s certainly not a fight to sort out the contenders from the pretenders in the 179-pound division. Naw son, this is just for kicks.
Does it matter to me? Not in this case. It may be fighting for the sake of fighting, but it’s such a weirdly compelling match-up that I don’t care. Diaz and Shamrock are always fun to watch, and they’re both absolutely insane in very different ways. So why not make them fight each other? It’s not as if either one of them is climbing to the top of any division at this point.
As for who’s going to win, the fact that I have to think about it a little only makes me more interested in seeing it. Five years ago this is Shamrock’s fight all the way, but the ravages of age, as they say. I’ll still take Shamrock via decision, based mostly on superior size and strength, but also based on his notorious in-fight antics, which will bait Diaz into fighting a stupid fight. Not that that’s especially hard.
BG: I’m thinking the fight will end in a draw after Shamrock and Diaz spend fifteen minutes with their arms in the air, each trying to lure the other one into hitting them in the face. On the real though, yeah, probably Shamrock by decision, or a late TKO stoppage that Diaz will immediately complain about. It’ll be a much less nuanced fight than it could be. Both of these guys prefer to stand and bang, so that’s what’s going to happen. The deciding factor will be power, which Shamrock has and Diaz lacks.
I admit I’m looking forward to the over-the-top in-ring trash-talk, and it could definitely be an exciting fight, but in a perfect world Diaz would be fighting Jake Shields at welterweight and Shamrock would be scrapping with Robbie Lawler at middleweight. Cruel reality tells us that Diaz and Shields are Cesar Gracie training-bros, and Shamrock wants a fight that he has a decent chance of winning so he can set up a rematch with Cung Le.
But devil’s advocate here, what’s stopping Strikeforce from creating a 179-pound division? It wouldn’t be the first time that a weight class was created for Nick Diaz. (See also: EliteXC’s 160-pound “lightweight-plus” division.) I’m just saying, competing with the UFC is going to require some out-of-the-box thinking. Why base weight classes in pounds in the first place? How about those fancy “stones” that the Brits are always going on about?
How does this broadcast not end up feeling like Zombie EliteXC? What can Strikeforce do in the future to differentiate themselves from that train-wreck?
BG: If you watched EliteXC’s “Saturday Night Fights” series last year, “Shamrock vs. Diaz” is going to provide an eerie sense of déjà vu. You’ve got Brett Rogers opening the show, Cris Cyborg taking on a random Japanese chick, and Scott Smith, Benji Radach, and Nick Diaz scattered throughout the main card. Only the presence of Frank Shamrock and Gilbert Melendez will remind viewers that technically this is still a Strikeforce event. But I think the familiar lineup is due in large part to Scott Coker just wanting to put those shipwrecked EliteXC fighters back to work as soon as possible — he’s good like that — rather than a larger strategy to replicate Saturday Night Fights.
Unfortunately, it’s going to be hard for him to find and develop new stars for future shows, considering the current scarcity of unsigned talent. The UFC is done shedding big names. Between the WEC, DREAM, and Sengoku, every promising fighter under 155 pounds seems to be spoken for. That’s why Strikeforce must fill the void and become the leading venue for women’s MMA, capitalizing on the fact that Zuffa continues to drag their feet in setting up female fights. Carano vs. Cyborg could be the springboard for a revolutionary moment in the sport, assuming that Strikeforce puts the proper resources into it.
The other piece of advice I would give Strikeforce is be wary of the freak-show main events. Tomorrow’s card will be headlined by a catchweight fight, and so will their next Showtime event (Lawler vs. Shields). And while any one of Strikeforce’s headliners has more talent in his little finger than Kimbo Slice and Seth Petruzelli have combined, the fights are still meaningless exhibitions when you get down to it. Setting up legitimate contenders and champions will eventually need to be more important than booking oddly compelling bouts between guys who really shouldn’t be fighting each other.
BF: More than the line-up, what makes this feel more like Zombie EliteXC to me in all the worst ways is the announcing crew. You’ve got Gus Johnson and Mauro Ranallo working each other into a frenzy, with Pat Miletich checking in every so often just so someone is there to utter something not dripping with hyperbole. They’re about a Bill Goldberg and a Michael Schiavello short of the worst mic crew in MMA history right now. Why they don’t put someone in there who is sane, calm, and knows what he’s talking about, like Stephen Quadros, is a mystery to me.
There, now that rant is over. I can’t get upset about the fight card. It’s some recycled EliteXC talent, but it’s the right EliteXC talent for the most part. The way I see it, they’re doing the best with what they’ve got. If they have to play fast and loose with the weight classes to create interesting main events (and they kind of do), so be it. It’s so hard for them to make the case for any of their fighters as the best in any one division. Aside from heavyweight, the UFC has that market cornered. Strikeforce has to settle for entertainment, which is fine by me.
Say Brett Rogers knocks out "Abongo" Humphrey like we all expect he will. What can Strikeforce do with him next? Do they have enough heavyweights to build an interesting division, or do they need to go find some more big guys?
BF: I like that Strikeforce picked up Brett Rogers and is putting him in their first Showtime event. He’s a marketable fighter who actually has some talent, and if EliteXC wasn’t run by morons and sycophants they might have realized that in time to use Kimbo Slice as a catapult for Rogers. But if Strikeforce is going to make a serious effort at promoting heavyweights, they need some new bodies.
The good news for Strikeforce is that Affliction has heavyweights, and I’d bet Goldstein’s entire collection of Hannah Montana memorabilia that after this summer they probably won’t need those big men for anything other than clearing out their old warehouses. That means a flood of new heavyweight talent will enter the market with nowhere to go (the UFC might pick up one or two at the most). Their price tags will necessarily come down as their economic desperation grows.
Could Strikeforce do something with Roy Nelson, Andrei Arlovski, Ben Rothwell, and maybe even Josh Barnett? Hell yes, if they’re willing to shell out the dough. If they’re not, it’s best to forget about the division altogether.
BG: The only other heavyweight I know of that Strikeforce has under contract is their champion, Alistair Overeem — and I’d bet Fowlkes’s entire collection of certified pre-owned Japanese schoolgirl underwear that he would destroy Rogers. Which is fine if you want to re-introduce Overeem to fans, but it’s not so good for the other dude they’re trying to build. So yes: Strikeforce’s heavyweight division got problems until Affliction folds.
In the meantime, they can get creative. Wandering ronin Jeff Monson could probably use a stable home, as could his ATT teammate Bobby Lashley. Strikeforce could snatch up any promising big-men who didn’t make it through the interview round of TUF 10. They could hold a one-off event in Japan so that Antonio Silva can fight for the belt. Okay, maybe that wouldn’t be the best idea. But Strikeforce doesn’t need to flood their roster with Abongo-level motherfuckers just for the sake of manufacturing a division overnight. All they have to do is put out a credible product so that guys like Monson (and Affliction’s future refugees) want to sign, and find solid opponents for Overeem and Rogers every few months. How hard can that be?