Pep Talk: Mixed Emotions In Miami

(Walker celebrates his win at Strikeforce: Miami. Check out the full gallery here.)

Strikeforce’s inaugural card for 2010 was a mixed bag that left me with mixed emotions. The MMA debut of Heisman Trophy winner and pro football phenom Herschel Walker was the storyline that garnered the lion’s share of attention coming into the event. No big surprise there. It’s not every day that a wealthy, 47-year-old uber-athlete decides to get in a cage and fight for the challenge of it and donate the proceeds to charity. For his part, Walker handled the enormous spotlight perfectly. He was utterly respectful toward the sport, the fighters, his opponent, AKA and anyone else he could pay homage to in every interview he did. He told the world, via numerous ESPN programs and one media outlet after another, that training for MMA was the most challenging thing he’s ever done. That’s no small statement for a guy with his football pedigree and Olympic experience. No doubt about it, the debut of Herschel Walker was a home run for MMA in terms of bringing a ton of mainstream eyeballs to the game and going a long way toward giving each of them a newfound respect for MMA and the athletes who make it their personal playground.

I was a Herschel Walker fan before he put on the gloves and I’m a bigger Herschel Walker fan tonight. But more for what I saw of Herschel, the man, than Herschel the fighter. Now before you jump out of your seat and think I’m expecting too much from the rookie fighter or being too harsh, hear me out. I’m not the least bit critical of him for having stiff standup or not really knowing what to do when the fight went to the ground. Some guys don’t figure that out in their first ten fights and go on to become world champions. (Can you say Rashad Evans?) I’m not bothered by his inclusion on the main televised card either. Not putting him on there would have been nothing short of moronic marketing. And I’m impressed by his poise in the cage, his cardio and the fact that he eats one friggin’ meal per day and looks like he mainlines protein drinks.

So what’s my issue? Many will praise Herschel for winning his first fight and dominating one Greg Nagy, a fighter who entered the cage with a 1-1 record. Experience-wise, an absolute fair choice. Upon further review, however, Nagy said in an interview with Yahoo’s Steve Cofield that he was cutting for a fight at 185 pounds when he got the call to face Walker at heavyweight, so he walked in the cage at 210, out-of-shape pounds and got manhandled by 216 legitimate pounds of muscle who won with strength and conditioning, not technique. Sure, on paper it looks like a six pound difference. But a 185-pound fighter carrying a bunch of extra bodyfat into a heavyweight fight does not a legitimate heavyweight make. At a minimum, they are a weight class apart as I’m sure Walker can make 205. In a fight between two inexperienced, less technical fighters, that’s a huge difference and certainly was a factor in this fight.

Did Herschel accomplish something in his MMA debut? Absolutely. To win his first fight at 47 years old after a few months of training against any pro MMA fighter is special. It’s just not as special as many will make it out to be.

Another high profile Strikeforce debut came in the form of Bobby Lashley. The behemoth came in and dominated an utterly out of shape Wes Sims en route to his fifth victory in five tries. Don’t blame Sims for being out of shape, though. After Strikeforce tried to book Lashley against Johan Banks (quickly denied by the Florida Commission) and journeyman Jimmy Ambriz (approved by the Commission, probably wanted too much money to take a late notice beating), Sims agreed to the fight on a week’s notice with no time to train for the fight. Maybe that’s why Bobby was a -1200 to -1500 favorite! Lashley looked fine in winning the fight but I can’t say that I learned any more than I knew when he took Bob Sapp down and beat him like he owed him money. More mixed emotions. To really learn what kind of MMA fighter Bobby is at this point in his career, he’s going to have to fight a legit heavyweight (not Jason Guida, not Bob Sapp) who actually has time to put in a full camp (not Wes Sims). Lashley may be the second coming of Brock Lesnar, but the time has come for him to face an opponent where we can really see where he is in his learning curve. I’m not suggesting that he fight Fedor, but a guy like Shane Del Rosario isn’t too much to ask for, is it?

I have no mixed emotions when it comes to the other fighters on the card. Does Nick Diaz realize he’s a high-level Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt? As much as his striking improves every time I see him fight, I guess it doesn’t really matter. Diaz overwhelmed reigning Dream Welterweight Champion and feared striker Marius Zaromskis on the feet, scoring at will and ending “The Whitemare” late in the first round. Zaromskis had a 2009 campaign that saw him go 4-0, winning his last three by lethal head kicks and leading some to argue he should be considered for Fighter of the Year. 2010 isn’t off to such a good start….unless your name is Nick Diaz. The newly crowned Strikeforce Welterweight Champion has won six straight and may have to start getting some love on Top Ten Pound for Pound lists. It also means that three Strikeforce belts now reside at Caesar Gracie Jiu Jitsu: Gilbert Melendez at 155, Diaz at 170 and Jake Shields at 185.

Can women be included on Pound for Pound lists? If so, Cyborg Santos makes mine. Another dominant performance by the women’s champ, who finished a game Marlos Coenen in the third. I learned two things about Cyborg tonight. One, she must have a head like a rock because she didn’t even flinch when Coenen landed a huge shot square on her grill. That’s really bad news for Erin Toughill or whoever the poor woman is who has to fight her next. I also learned she is only 24 years old, which I never took notice of before. That’s really bad news for every other female fighter in the world.

And last but not least, for any idiot who has ever uttered the words, “The way that fight was going there’s no way so and so could have won”, watch Robbie Lawler’s stunning knockout of Melvin Manhoef at 3:33 of the first round. Manhoef battered Lawler, leaving him stumbling at times and unable to walk in a straight line after. (Here’s betting a grip of cash that Lawler has an MRI of his knee coming this week). Manhoef landed a barrage of leg and body kicks and strikes that made this look like a mismatch. Lawler landed a grand total of three strikes. The second was a right hand that floored Manhoef, the third a left that knocked him cold by the time he hit the mat. Melvin wins Compu Strike, Robbie wins the fight, in Scott Smith fashion.

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