Strikeforce

Strikeforce

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Frank Shamrock describes this Aug. 15 bout as “strength and power versus technique and form.”

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(Courtesy of themmanews.com)
(Scott Coker anxiously awaits a tug-of-war. Courtesy of themmanews.com)

As if Carano vs. Cyborg needed cache beyond the fact that it will be the biggest card headlined by a women’s MMA bout, Strikeforce will serve up a total of four championship fights on Aug. 15.

In addition to the main event between Gina “Is Hot” Carano and Cris “Cyborg” Santos to determine the newly created women’s 145-pound champion of the world, the San Jose-based organization is bringing Christmas early this year with three additional title fights including Gilbert Melendez defending the interim lightweight championship in a grudge match against Mitsuhiro Ishida, Renato “Babalu” Sobral defending the light heavyweight strap against Gegard Mousasi and Nick Diaz battling Jay Hieron for the brand spanking new welterweight strap.

While the thought of viewing multiple five-round championship bouts with highly regarded combatants is enough to psyche up MMA aficionados and make Adam Lambert happy in way too many places, one has to wonder whether or not Strikeforce is spreading itself too thin. There won’t be many MMA cards that can rival the electricity surrounding Strikeforce: Carano vs. Cyborg and that’s where the problem could lie.

Ever since Strikeforce purchased select assets and fighter contracts from EliteXC this past February, the promotion has been on a crusade to throw together a show every month alternating betwee two separate formats. One of these formats is a major show that features title fights and their biggest name mixed martial artists. The other is ShoMMA: Strikeforce Challengers, a series similar to the UFC’s Ultimate Fight Night, and features up-and-coming talents with a mid-level main event like Joey Villasenor vs. Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos.

After Aug. 15, the organization’s next big fight card won’t take place until October and it’s unlikely any of the four champions crowned this weekend will be willing or able to fight again so quickly except maybe Nick Diaz who is down to scrap anytime. That leaves two championships up for grabs – the middleweight and heavyweight titles.

Since 185-pound kingpin Cung Le is out getting his makeup done on Hollywood sets, Strikeforce owner Scott Coker announced that Jake Shields would fight for an interim title in Le’s absence. This could happen should Coker come up with a compelling opponent, say for instance recent Strikeforce signing Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.

As far as heavyweights go, Alistair Overeem was originally slated to defend the 265-pound strap against Fabricio Werdum on this coming event, but dropped out due to injury. Though Coker has made rumblings about Overeem returning this October, the fighter has been getting injured too often to fight. If he finally gets healthy enough to fight, who gets first crack at him? Brett Rogers, the guy he was supposed to fight in June who instead knocked out Andrei Arlovski in a matter of seconds? Fabricio Werdum, the Brazilian who tapped him out in Pride? Or Fedor Emelianenko, the Sambo master who eats people’s souls and is considered the best fighter in the world by everyone except Dana White?

Coker has promoted so many “why not” superfights in the last year that he seems to be drunk on legitimate title matches. But by promoting four championship fights on one night he might be setting the bar impossibly high for future cards. Anything less than a middleweight title scrap, a heavyweight championship fight, and Fedor on the October card will seem like a letdown. Not that we’re complaining. We’re just gonna cross our fingers and hope that Showtime can fit all four fights into the broadcast.

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News has been coming out of Scott Coker’s camp fast and furious the last few weeks. After injuries crippled his Aug. 15 Strikeforce card Coker & Co. patched it up with fights salvaged from the canceled Affliction: Trilogy show. Then Strikeforce came to terms with M-1/Fedor, fueling days of arguments on every MMA message board, blog and news site. In the wake of the Fedor signing, Strikeforce announced a partnership with Japanese promotion Dream and then signed Dream middleweight Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza to a stateside contract. It’s hard to keep up with the announcements, let along place them all in context. But now that we have a few days distance from the craziness it becomes clear that the biggest news to come out of San Jose isn’t the signing of Fedor but Strikeforce’s Dream deal.

Make no mistake, the addition of Fedor Emelianenko to the Strikeforce stable is significant. But the importance of Fedor is skewed by the fervor with which he is discussed online. Yes, he is likely the best heavyweight in the world and a top-five pound-for-pounder. But he can’t carry a major fight card in America, not on pay per view, not yet. In six months, if Strikeforce and M-1 play their cards right, Fedor will have some serious cache, but he’s more of a show pony than a workhorse right now.

Strikeforce’s partnership with Dream will have more of an impact on both promotions and the sport as a whole than Fedor’s signing will in terms of matchmaking, scheduling, and co-promotion.

Superfights are the first and most obvious benefit of Strikeforce’s commingling with Dream. Both promotions have very good fighters on their respective roster; the problem is that neither have very many of them. By pooling resources, each promotion roughly doubles their roster, allowing them to make interesting match-ups, especially if they plan to promote champion vs. champion bouts. There are scads of possibilities. Josh Thomson or Gilbert Melendez vs. Shinya Aoki, Joachim Hansen, Gesias Calvancante or Eddie Alvarez? Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Paul Buentello, Brett Rogers or Roger Gracie vs. Jeff Monson or Sergei Kharitonov? Cung Le, Jake Shields, or Robbie Lawler vs. Jason Miller, Melvin Manhoef, Paulo Filho or “Jacare”? Yes, please.

Dream needs heavyweights and Scott Coker’s got ‘em. In return, Dream can loan out lightweight fighters or ‘name’ featherweights like Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto and hot prospects like Joe Warren if Strikeforce wants to establish lighter weight classes. Strikeforce now has the ability to abandon it’s strategy of booking the two best known fighters it can for a meaningless catchweight fight and lend credibility to its titles.

Scheduling fights will become easier, both for promoters and fighters. With a larger pool of licensed fighters to choose from, fights can be salvaged in the event of injury, like Ishida vs. Melendez, or new fights, like Mousasi vs. Sobral, can be booked to replace bouts that can’t be saved. Signing with either organization will be a more attractive option for fighters in search of work.

Dream is now booking its eleventh show since it launched in March of 2008. Strikeforce has promoted as many shows during the same period of time. The UFC has promoted 30 shows over the same span, approximately ten more cards and opportunities to fight than both Dream and Strikeforce combined could offer. By letting their contracted fighters move between the promotions, Dream and Strikeforce would allow fighters to work three or four times a year instead of once or twice as many of them do now.

So far so good, right? Right. But here’s where it gets tricky. The UFC is a strong brand, something the casual fan can associate him or herself with. Many fans still aren’t familiar with the other companies that promote MMA and by working together, these promotions are only going to muddy the waters further. Even hardcore fans were confused by the Strikeforce/EliteXC co-promoted cards when they happened – how does Coker intend to explain it to “noobs?”

Signing Fedor is a big deal. But the effects (positive and negative) of a partnership between Strikeforce and Dream could be felt long after the Russian’s final fight.

FIGHT! Fans: Who does a Dream/Strikeforce co-promotion benefit the most, promoters, fighters, or fans?

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After trying to come up with a rationale for posting this we decided we didn’t need one. Tune in to Strikeforce on Showtime on Aug. 15 for Carano vs. Cyborg, Mousasi vs. Sobral and more.

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Today Strikeforce announced that it has signed Fedor Emelianenko, the number one heavyweight in the world and arguably the world’s best fighter. Signing the Russian, who was the sport’s most valuable free agent in its short history after Affliction’s promotion crumbled, is another power play toward Strikeforce’s goal of creating a fight world parallel to the UFC’s.

The San Jose-based organization has made waves since its inception, hosting California’s first sanctioned mixed martial arts contest and scoring a then-North American record of 18,265 in attendance in 2006. Despite the fast start, Strikeforce was considered a regional promotional because its California home base and lack of a major television deal or pay-per-view. In spite of this, the promotion continued to expand, setting Washington state’s combat sports live gate record in early 2008. Strikeforce cleaned up in the wake of EliteXC’s demise, securing most of its roster and parlaying that into a deal with Showtime/CBS. By bringing Emelianenko into the fold after his highly public dance with the UFC breaks down one of the strongest misconceptions surrounding Strikeforce—that it’s a UFC reject bin.

Unlike Bodog and Affliction’s live event divisions, Strikeforce was not built for Emelianenko. The Russian’s new employer existed happily before him and will after him unlike his previous promoters. Strikeforce is not nor have they ever been the WFA, IFL or EliteXC, promotions that antagonized the UFC, talked a big game and crashed and burned due to mismanagement.

Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has been promoting fights since before the UFC existed and has seen success in mixed martial arts with the small-ball approach. Even with Emelianenko, transforming into a swing-for-the-fences promotion is unlikely. They’ll just go from singles to triples and let the UFC be the home run hitters.

With Emelianenko, though, they gain cred among hardcore fans for finalizing a deal that the UFC couldn’t. Strikeforce will promote Emelianenko as the king of the sport and they’ll do it while challenging him properly. He has a strong stable of fighters to compete against in Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum and Brett Rogers for starters in addition to anyone from Japan given Strikeforce’s working relationship with promoters in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Now the talk of co-promotion can really begin. Strikeforce is considered a distant number two behind the UFC by many, and Emelianenko’s arrival isn’t likely to change that. But with notable, recognizable champions a case can be made for co-promotion. Factor in Jake Shields’ longtime clamoring for Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz’s ability to fight any one, and Strikeforce has some serious talent to offer.

It’s a lot more plausible with Strikeforce though than it was with M-1 or anyone else in MMA outside of a defunct Pride. At one time the UFC was open to co-promoting with Pride, so maybe that’s on the horizon again. But the UFC and Strikeforce will likely continue to run parallel rather than co-promote. Will it happen? Probably not.

FIGHT! Fans: Do you think that we will ever see the UFC co-promote superfights with other organizations? Do you want to see it happen?

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Fedor Emelianenko is coming to the cage, it’s just not octagonal. According to a press release from Strikeforce, the former Pride FC and current WAMMA heavyweight champion has signed with the promotion and will appear on Showtime-televised cards co-promoted by M-1 Global.

Here are comments from the major players…

Scott Coker, STRIKEFORCE founder and CEO: “We are extremely excited to have the opportunity to work with M-1 Global and Fedor. Fedor has been the reigning king of MMA’s heavyweight division for quite some time now so being able to work with M-1 and Fedor will substantially increase the level of competition amongst the athletes in this weight class.”

Vadim Finkelchtein, President of M-1 Global: “I am very happy and excited about the upcoming collaboration with Strikeforce. We are very pleased that we found a reliable partner and I feel that Strikeforce and M-1 can support each other on many things. This will create big opportunities for both parties to test their fighters against worthy opponents.”

According to Ken Hershman, Senior VP and General Manager of SHOWTIME Sports, Fedor’s first fight on the network will be this fall.

FIGHT! Fans: What do you think this mean for Fedor, Strikeforce, and MMA in general?

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bobby_lashley_one
(Props to Dreamfighters.)

Bobby Lashley doesn’t regret walking away from a lucrative professional wrestling career to enter the fight game; it’s what he really wanted to do all along.

The former professional wrestler, born Franklin Roberto Lashley, enlisted in the U.S. Army after winning the last of three NAIA National Championships at Missouri Valley College. “I was fortunate enough to go straight into the [Army’s] wrestling program,” Lashley said, and the grappler spent nearly 4 years stationed in Colorado Springs, Colo, home of the Olympic Training Center. Part of the Army’s World Class Athlete program, Lashley’s routine consisted mostly of formations, roll call, and freestyle wrestling. While in the service, Lashley won a silver medal at the Conseil International du Sport Militaire Military World Games.

Discharged in 2004, Lashley dabbled in MMA training before he was approached with a World Wrestling Entertainment developmental contract. Carrying nearly 100 pounds more chiseled muscle than he did as a collegiate wrestler, Lashley performed in regional shows and wrestled in WWE dark (i.e., un-televised) matches before becoming a “face,” or good-guy champion for the subsidiary promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling.

The company had built Lashley into a main-event performer by the time he was released in early February 2008. The wrestler is unable to discuss the exact circumstances of his departure from the WWE, but he said when he was released from his contract he “still had that wrestling drive” to train and compete. Having recovered from injuries suffered in WWE shows, he was in top physical condition, so the decision to revisit MMA was a simple one.

The wrestler signed a two-fight contract with Kentucky-based upstart promotion American Fight League at the end of May 2008 and began training in earnest. Lashley said he wanted to earn credibility in MMA by working his way up to the top shows, and AFL CEO William “BJ” Santiago, “had the plan that made the most sense to me.”

Lashley’s own plan included signing on with First Round Management and joining American Top Team. Though he has made a home in Denver with his girlfriend, former WWE wrestler Kristal Marshall, and their infant son, Myles, Lashley initially used the ATT location in Fort Lauderdale as his primary camp. The top-level instruction, positive environment, and track record all factored into his decision. The fact that large men like Marcus “Conan” Silveira and Antonio Silva are there for him to work with was a bonus.

Lashley’s first professional fight took place at Mixed Fighting Alliance’s inaugural event on December 13, 2008, at Miami’s American Airlines Arena. The fighter wasted no time in snatching Joshua Franklin’s left leg and smashing him to the mat. Lashley backed off and attempted to throw strikes, but Franklin scrambled to his feet, eating several punches from Lashley in the process. Moments later, the referee halted the action, and the cage-side doctor stopped the fight due to a nasty laceration on Franklin’s forehead.

Lashley followed that up with a lackluster decision win over veteran Jason Guida at Roy Jones’ “March Badness” event before signing with Calgary, Canada’s Maximum Fighting Championship promotion. Lashley flattened and choked his opponent inside of a minute, escaping unscathed for his next test, against Bob Sapp on June 27 in Biloxi, Miss.

Earlier this month, Lashley announced that he would be training closer to home at T’s KO Fight Club, home of Shane Carwin, Nate Marquardt, and Duane Ludwig, and a sister gym to Greg Jackson’s Submission Fighting facility in Albuquerque, NM. If there were doubts that Lashley was serious about MMA, three wins in his first three fights should have put them to rest.

Update: FIGHT! was notified that Lashley is no longer with First Round and is represented by Shambala Sports and Entertainment.

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