By Cage Potato contributor S.C. Michaelson
(Hmm..Guess they ran out of space for Cyborg and Gracie on the poster.)
Saturday’s Strikeforce event is the promotion’s first non-Challengers event of 2011. Unfortunately, it’s been toiling in the shadows of the much-anticipated Heavyweight Grand Prix and hasn’t received much in the way of coverage. There are quite a few reasons to tune in this weekend.
Here are five big ones.
Herschel Walker, Genetic Freak
Though only a novice in the game of mixed martial arts, Hershel Walker is no stranger to high levels of competition. His athletic accolades read like a novel. College football Heisman trophy winner, All-Pro NFL running back, track and field star, black belt in Tae Kwon Do, Olympic bobsledder. Yes, Olympic bobsledder. And after all of this, Walker decides to throw his hat into the cage and try MMA. Did I mention he’s 48? Now, in MMA that may not seem special as we have our own version of a 48-year old wonder in Randy Couture, but Couture looks every year of 48. Walker, on the other hand, could pass for a man in his early 30s and has the physique that men in their athletic primes dream to attain. Herschel Walker, at 48, might be the greatest physical specimen to step foot in an MMA ring or cage…ever.
Roger Gracie, Ground Wizard
The Gracie name is synonymous with the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Their legacy extends back to the inaugural UFC some 17 years ago. Following names like Royce, Rickson, Renzo; Roger Gracie is the 21st century embodiment of the Gracie pedigree. His submission grappling resume is unlike any other in contemporary MMA. A winner of every imaginable BJJ competition while suffering only a handful of defeats, Gracie took his submission skills to the MMA cage and acquired at 3-0 record with his last victory over Kevin Randleman. Fans of BJJ should take notice of his skills, especially when it gets to the ground…and if Gracie wants it to, it will. Gracie is only 28 years of age and still has a future in MMA and potential matchups at 205 with Dan Henderson, “King Mo” Lawal, and the Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, Rafael Cavalcante.
Robbie Lawler, Crocodile Hunter?
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza is the Strikeforce Middleweight Champion coming off an undisputable win over Tim Kennedy. However, the question going into this fight is “Which Robbie Lawler is going to show up?” If it’s the Robbie Lawler that went on a 5-fight (T)KO streak with wins over Joey Villasenor, “Ninja” Rua, Frank Trigg and Scott Smith, then there will be a great fight. That same Robbie Lawler who took a beating from top-level striker Melvin Manhoef before countering him with a beautiful punch to KO him and just last month crippled Matt Lindland with one punch. IF that Lawler shows up, we could possibly have a new champion. But if it’s the Robbie Lawler that was choked out by Jake Shields or picked apart by Babalu, then it could be a long (or short) night. Lawler’s love of entertaining the crowd with his standup could prove to be his undoing as the other facets of his game have not evolved in line with the evolution of the sport since his earlier days. A focused Lawler could walk away from the fight with the Middleweight Championship of the world.
Nick Diaz, Billy Goat’s Gruff
Known for his resemblance to Pan from Greek mythology, Stockton, California’s favorite bad boy Nick Diaz will celebrate his one-year anniversary as Strikeforce welterweight champion by going to battle with Evangelista Santos. The build up for this match has been overshadowed not only by the Heavyweight tournament, but Diaz’s own “beef” wit h fellow Strikeforce personality Jason “Mayhem” Miller who’s been pushing for a fight with Diaz. His own pre-fight phone conference was filled with bizarre ramblings about broken down cars, Hondas, and GSP. To say he is an interesting character is an understatement. One thing he is not is boring; neither outside, nor inside the cage. Diaz’s high-volume, rap and slap style of punching is visually fascinating and, if by chance it gets to the mat, Diaz’s aggressive submission offensive style appeases even the biggest groundophobe.
Strikeforce has been able to pick up some much needed momentum after a subpar 2010. It began with the December 4th show that went up head-to-head with the UFC. Though the UFC show won the ratings war, Strikeforce had overwhelming shown itself as the better show that night. Then an announcement of a Heavyweight Tournament with 8 of the top 25 heavyweights in the world was made. Steam really picked up when the first round announcements were made and Fedor/Silva and Overeem/Werdum were announced. Strikeforce was able to put on a second great show in a row on January 7th featuring prospects Ovince St. Preiux, Daniel Cormier and Tyron Woodley. Suddenly Strikeforce has some cache in the MMA community, Coker and Co have the next few shows outlined and fans actually have a semblance of a schedule. There’s a lot of momentum behind the Strikeforce brand, the question is, can they keep it up?