Strikeforce: Miami Recap and Thoughts
Well, another weekend, another successful event for Strikeforce. None of the five fights on the main card ended up going to a decision, and I’m sure hardcore MMA fans were pleased with the results. For casual fans and the new spectators who were just tuning in to see Herschel Walker fight, the main card featured three relatively unknown European fighters facing off against established champions or former UFC talent. Obviously, that wasn’t the case because Melvin Manhoef, Marius Zaromskis and Marloes Coenen are all proven exciting challengers, but I had a feeling they weren’t mainstream enough to be stars in the US yet when the MMA reporters had trouble pronouncing their names in the conference call.
Ok, enough foreplay, let’s get to the main dish. The night kicked off with a welterweight bout between Joe Riggs and Jay Heiron. This was not on the main card, but was supposed to be aired for free on the EA sports website. There were several issues with the website stream and most people didn’t end up getting to see the fight. That was probably a good thing early. Heiron looked like he was just trying to do enough to win a decision rather than end the fight for the first two rounds, using his wrestling to smother Riggs. The real action started in the third round when Riggs clipped Heiron behind the ear and dropped him to the canvas temporarily. Heiron remained calm under pressure and swept Riggs when he jumped guard right after the knockdown. A couple minutes later when the fight was stood up, he got his revenge by dropping Riggs with a power left. Neither fighter could finish the fight after their third round knockdowns and Heiron wound up with a unanimous decision win.
Strikeforce must not have been impressed because they announced that Dream fighter Hayato Sakurai was most likely the next challenger for their welterweight title. I think this is a poor decision on their part. Sakurai has lost his last two fights, and he appears to be on the downside of his legendary career. There’s no way he deserves to leapfrog the challengers at 170 in Strikeforce like this. If Scott Coker doesn’t want Heiron to be the next challenger, he should wait until Jake Shield’s title defense at 185 and then have him fight for the 170 title afterwards. Heiron has gotten a raw deal lately, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he decides not to resign with Strikeforce now that his contract appears over.
Bobby Lashley steamrolled Wes Sims for a first round TKO victory in what might have been the most predictable fight in MMA history. Sims hot dogged for the cameras in the beginning of the first round and Lashley wasn’t having any of it. He successfully landed a takedown and went to work. After about 55 unanswered short punches to the side of the head, Sims rolled over on his back and flattened out. A couple punches later, the ref stepped in and stopped it. Sims immediately began protesting the end of the fight, but the referee had just saved him some brain cells and he also had stopped potential new fans from seeing any more of this one sided and completely uncompetitive beat down. If Strikeforce wants Lashley to be a threat in the heavyweight division, it’s time for them to actually give him someone he has a chance of losing against.
The fight that was easily given the most attention of the mainstream media was Herschel Walker’s match against Greg Nagy. If not for Walker’s name recognition, this fight most certainly wouldn’t have been on the main card. Most fight fans had several questions about Walker. Was he going to take this seriously unlike other former pro athletes like Jose Canseco or Johnnie Morton? How much could he possibly learn in 9 months of training? Most importantly, how would his 47 year old body hold up in an MMA fight? After a short feeling out period, Walker answered all the questions. He landed a couple leg kicks, defended a takedown attempt, took the fight to the ground and proceeded to ground and pound. Walker even successfully rolled out of a first round heel hook attempt. The second round was more of the same as Walker used his size, strength and athleticism to control Nagy in the clinch and on the ground, nearly finishing the fight with a late 2nd round flurry of punches on the ground. Walker finally ended it in the third after gaining full mount, Nagy covered up his head intelligently and Walker rained blows on his body and shoulders until the ref stopped the fight.
After the fight, Walker was once again a great ambassador and talked about all the things he did wrong or could have done better. I don’t know if he ever plans to fight again, as he was vague about his future. To me it just seemed like he wanted to prove himself one more time in one of the toughest sports on the planet. Walker started too late to ever be a champion anyways, but at least for one night, he put on a show of skills that you would not expect someone with only 9 weeks of training to do.
The fight between Melvin Manhoef and Robbie Lawler proved to be just as awesome as I anticipated, if not even more so. The fight began with Manhoef stalking Lawler from the middle of the cage looking for an opening, and he found it in Lawler’s body and lead right leg. After peppering Lawler with some powerful kicks to the body, Manhoef went in for the kill with some power punches to the head as Lawler covered up. Eventually, Manhoef just started teeing off on Lawler’s lead leg with some of the most vicious inside leg kicks I’ve ever seen. I was shocked that Lawler continued to leave his right leg so far forward despite Manhoef repeatedly kicking it so hard that Lawler’s foot would shoot up nearly over his own head. After Lawler began noticeably limping and slowed down, Mahoef smelled blood and went in for the kill with a quick flurry…..and then it happened.
Manhoef dropped his hands as he rushed in and Lawler squared up and threw a nasty right hook that hit “Marvelous” Melvin square in the jaw. As Manhoef dropped to the ground, Lawler creamed him with a left for good measure and it was all over. This one definitely had comeback and knockout of the year potential. After the fight was over, Lawler could barely walk as he awkwardly limped around the cage picking up his sponsorship gear. Lawler won despite being outstruck 27-3 by Manhoef and his “Scott Smith-esque” performance definitely gained him some new fans. Afterwards, Lawler was coy when asked about a potential Strikeforce title fight. He has had several problems with Strikeforce management lately and I would not be surprised one bit if, now that his contract is up, he resigns with the UFC and competes in the middleweight division there.
The lightweight women’s title fight between Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos and Marloes Coenen ended up just as I predicted. Coenen tried to keep it standing early and despite landing some occasional shots to the head, Santos walked right through them. Cyborg muscled Coenen to the ground and proceeded to drop some bombs as Coenen kept an active guard from the bottom. After the fight was stood up again, both fighters continued to trade, with Santos coming out ahead in the exchanges in terms of damage. The second round was more of the same, Cyborg dropped Coenen early and pounded away in her guard until they were stood up. Time and time again, Coenen would lunge forward and try to land her right hand and Santos would punish her for it with combinations as she was off balance. Santos also fended off all Coenen’s takedown attempts and was confident enough in her abilities to chase her to the ground and continue to unleash punishment there. Every time Coenen tried to set up a submission, Santos would simply power out of it. The third round began with Santos yet again fending off a takedown attempt from Coenen before reversing into a power takedown of her own. Santos unleashed a barrage of punches to Coenen’s body and head from her half guard before Coenen got up. The fight was stopped after Cyborg again reversed a Coenen takedown attempt and rained down several unanswered punches as Coenen simply chose to cover up.
Cristiane Santos is going to be causing fits in the women’s 145 division for a long time. Marloes Coenen was a very game opponent, and Cyborg displayed a sturdy chin in this fight. Coenen nailed Santos with several power right hands and they never seemed to faze her. In the end, Santos was just too strong for Coenen and her experience and BJJ wasn’t enough to overcome it.
The main event of the evening was a duel between Nick Diaz and Marius “The Whitemare” Zaromskis for the first Strikeforce welterweight championship. Zaromskis was coming off 3 straight headkick KO victories en route to winning the Dream welterweight title. Diaz knew about it and he had a fantastic game plan for The Whitemare. The fight opened with a wild flurry of punches for both fighters and after about 30 seconds, Diaz went to work. Diaz pushed Zaromskis against the cage, held him there in a semi-clinch and began relentlessly kneeing him in the right leg. After 90 seconds and about 50 straight knees to the right leg, Diaz went for a clumsy takedown. Zaromskis scrambled out of the attempt and the fight went back to the feet. Both fighters were throwing bombs, putting up hardly any defense and as Diaz let his right hand drop, Zaromskis came over the top and blasted him with a straight left. Diaz tried to turn and cover up and Zaromskis nailed him again with a right hand that dropped him to the ground. Diaz turtled up and the Whitemare pounced, but he may have been a little overzealous. The referee stepped in and warned him about punches to the back of the head and that may have been all the break Diaz needed to fully recover. Diaz stood back up and began peppering Zaromskis in the face with his 5 inch reach advantage. After a brief clinch, Diaz began unloading punches to Zaromskis’s face and as Frank Shamrock said “those punches in bunches scramble your brain.” Diaz continued to paw with the right hand jab and follow with a straight left until Zaromskis began to wilt with about 50 seconds left in the first round. After that, the unceasing attack of Diaz continued as he chased down the retreating Whitemare and finally dropped him for good with 22 seconds left in the first round.
This was in my opinion one of the best performances of Diaz’s storied career. He wanted to use his range, and to do so he needed to eliminate Zaromskis’s ability to land his power kicks. Diaz used the fact that Zaromskis didn’t have a ton of cage experience to his advantage and that 90 second assault of knees to the Whitemare’s right leg while he had him pinned against the cage sealed the deal. I think Zaromskis only tried to kick with the right leg one time after that barrage and it was just a weak body kick that did no damage. With the threat of the right kick gone, it was only a matter of time until Diaz wore Zaromskis down with his seemingly endless flurries of punches. Strikeforce does not have a plethora of challengers for Diaz in the welterweight division, so until some of the prospects develop, we’ll have to settle for Hayato Sakurai.
Also, this is not the last we’ve seen of Zaromskis in Strikeforce (hopefully). He has some serious power and he had Diaz hurt even after the repeated knees to his leg. I think with a little more experience fighting in a cage, he’ll be able to come back and challenge again for the Strikeforce welterweight title.