(VidProps: YouTube/Heyman Hustle)
Even though it probably committed its welterweight champion to the wrong grudge match, Strikeforce has managed to cobble together a decent little card for its Showtime broadcast tonight. Nick Diaz’s main event bout with KJ Noons could be the kind of brawlalicous slugfest that MMA fans always say we don’t see enough. Couple that with Sarah Kaufman finally getting the chance to fight on a “major” show and Josh Thomson battling Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante for the respect he believes they so richly deserve, and it should be a pretty good time. So why do I feel so concerned? Maybe because there are a few storylines running just below the surface that we as MMA fans should find a bit disquieting. Here’s a look at them …
1. Paul Heyman is angling for a piece of the MMA pie.
Heyman’s first patently unfunny advertising spot for EA Sports MMA is like a terrible PTSD flashback for people who watched wrestling during the late ’90s. Predictably, it features all of one line of spoken dialogue from Diaz during three awkward and hastily choreographed minutes of lame, rassling-style “comedy.” The whole thing only makes it more inexplicable that these wrestling guys retain their reputations as “great promoters” while their product pretty much sucks.
Now, in a general sense, there’s nothing wrong with Heyman — smart guy, outspoken, pretty entertaining when not working from the world’s worst script. But the fact that his new advertising and marketing firm, Looking for Larry, has nabbed EA MMA as its first client should give us all pause. Given the sport’s precarious position in mainstream sporting culture, MMA needs fewer connections to pro wrestling, not more.
2. Nobody wants KJ Noons to be the champ. I mean, right?
We all kid Nick Diaz a lot because, well, he’s Nick Diaz. However, the real truth is most of us would vastly prefer Diaz walking around with any kind of MMA belt than Noons, a guy who may not have any redeeming qualities at all aside from pretty hair. That’s why it’s so worrisome that A) A lot of people are picking Noons in this fight and B) According to Diaz’s most recent performances, he may well try to stand up with the dude who moonlights as professional boxer. In addition, news that Diaz will have former professional wrestling stooge Dave Bautista in his corner for this bout doesn’t build any extra confidence.
Swear to God, if Noons wins the Strikeforce 170-pound championship by beating the always punch-hungry Jorge Gurgel (in a fight marred by cheating anyway) and then an obstinate Diaz refusing to use his BJJ black belt … I … I won’t know what to think.
3. Newsflash: A bunch of new T-shirts won’t save Strikeforce.
Some of the advance footage from EA MMA a few weeks ago clued us in to the fact Strikeforce would be giving itself a makeover. On Saturday morning, the promotion released word that it was “pre-launching” its new online apparel store to coincide with Diaz vs. Noons II. First the good news: The new Strikeforce logos are a vast improvement over the god-awful, winged monstrosity the company initially used to brand itself. Now the bad: It’s gonna take a lot more than a new insignia to put Strikeforce back in MMA fans’ good graces. It’s gonna take fights. Good fights. Fights that don’t involve former pro wrestlers or football players or guys with just a couple wins or Internet street fighters. Fighters fighting fights, that’s the only way to dig yourself out of this hole, Coker.
4. Sarah Kaufman finally talked herself onto a main card. Now she better not screw it up.
Regardless of what any of you think, Kaufman was totally right to call bullshit on the fact Strikeforce kept sticking its 135-pound female champ on dead-end Challengers cards and the slam of Roxanne Modafferi was just the exclamation point on the end of the sentence. So here she is, on (almost) as big a stage as MMA’s second-best fight promotion can offer, with a pretty formidable opponent in the towering Marloes Coenen. It would be, frankly, extremely embarrassing to lose this fight. Coenen is another pretty likable fighter who might actually be the more marketable of the two, were she to become the new champ. Still, I hate to see a good rhetorical strategy go to waste, so I’ll be pulling for Kaufman here.
5. As the great poet Matt Lindland once said …
“When you’re the man, you don’t have to run around screaming about how you’re the man. Everybody already knows you’re the man.” In essence, former champ Thomson ignored that advice this week when he chose the Strikeforce prefight press conference as a good time to voice his displeasure with the media’s MMA rankings and – apropos of nothing – sort of call out WEC champ Ben Henderson for being overrated. Yeah, it wasn’t exactly the classiest thing to do and it downgraded my excitement level for Thomson’s fight with Cavalcante from about a mild seven out of 10, to a middling five. Is it cool to root for a double knockout here? Because, like, then what would those hapless MMA rankings guys do?