By FIGHT! contributor Larry Pepe

When Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers hits the airwaves this Saturday night on CBS it will mark the long-awaited return of mixed martial arts to primetime network television. It will also mark another golden opportunity to expose MMA to millions of new and casual observers who can be converted into long-term fans of the sport. Of course, that can only happen with smart, aggressive promotion that garners substantial viewership.

Unfortunately, that’s not happening.

As we head into the event, much has been written questioning the marketability of Fedor Emelianenko. Does “The Last Emperor” have the star power to attract millions to the broadcast? Should we expect domestic viewers to tune in en masse to watch a fighter most of them have never heard of before, who doesn’t speak English, doesn’t have the muscular physique or menacing persona to pull off the Drago storyline and, quite frankly, isn’t brimming with charisma?

Why are we even having this conversation, again? If we were in a courtroom, opposing counsel would be objecting on the grounds that the question has been asked and answered. He’s a phenomenal fighter who can’t carry a card in the United States. Is this news? Did he suddenly forget how to speak English a few months ago? Did we expect that he would make the late-night talk show rounds a la Kimbo to pimp the event? Has he slapped on 50 pounds of muscle and turned into the reincarnation of Brock Lesnar? And to make matters worse, Fedor has openly said that he can’t be worried about selling himself to the fans. Strikeforce has to be thrilled to hear that, but not quite as thrilled as Dana White.

There is, however, a question we should be asking. Why is the marketing triumvirate of Strikeforce, CBS and Showtime centering the entire promotion of the event on Fedor? Strikeforce held a media conference call on Monday that featured two fighters and lasted a whopping 90 minutes. You guessed it…Fedor and Brett Rogers. For a guy who has never had the spotlight shine so brightly on him, Brett is doing a solid job promoting the fight, but he can’t be expected to carry the event on his shoulders, broad as they may be.

Monday’s call was a bad foreshadowing of what was to come on Tuesday when Showtime debuted Fight Camp 360 to promote the event. The 30-minute program is the network’s version of Spike’s Countdown show, which is always an hour and devotes time to at least two fights on the card, sometimes three. Predictably, and sadly, Fight Camp is completely and entirely focused on Fedor vs. Rogers, with no mention of the rest of the fights on the card. Not one mention for one second! Was Showtime’s schedule too loaded with “Weeds” reruns to devote 60 minutes to the event? Or were network executives smoking too much weed to realize that it would be a great idea to promote the Strikeforce middleweight championship fight between former EliteXC champ Jake Shields and Mayhem Miller, the ultra-charismatic, highly entertaining host of MTV’s “Bully Beatdown” who happens to be one hell of a fighter and hype man?

And we haven’t even gotten to the guy who might just be the best fighter on the entire card, Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi, who annihilated Babalu in 60 seconds while remaining more relaxed from start to finish than most of us do when the traffic light takes too long to turn green. And yes, Gegard speaks English. Last but not least, might there be some value to at least acknowledging that one of the top heavyweight submission artists in the game, Fabricio Werdum, is fighting a monstrous Antonio Silva who has only lost once in his entire MMA career?

As if ignoring that there are three other fights on the main card that night wasn’t bad enough, the episode did a terrible job of promoting the one fight it chose to focus on. No mention of Fedor’s 30-1 record or the laundry list of top heavyweights and prior UFC champions he has left in his wake. No footage of him fighting. (Yes, I know the UFC owns the Pride footage but what about the dozen fights Fedor had in Rings?) And aren’t these shows supposed to build your anticipation for the event and get you thinking that no matter how much the odds are stacked against one of the fighters, that guy has a good shot of pulling the upset? Let’s see…the one common opponent they have is former UFC champ Andrei Arlovski. Rogers took him out in 22 seconds while Fedor took over three minutes. Call me crazy but wouldn’t that build the storyline? And are you ready for the icing on this stale cake? They never gave the date of the fight on the entire episode! It was more like a scattered episode of “Biography” than “24/7.” Congratulations, you just failed Promotion 101.

They say that those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. Is it possible that CBS has already forgotten the sting of partnering with EliteXC, watching them build the promotion on Kimbo’s beard and folding up shop immediately after Seth Petruzelli nearly knocked it off his chin? And has everyone forgotten that Affliction exited the fight business stage right shortly after Josh Barnett tested positive and this very same Fedor refused to fight Vitor Belfort a week before their last card was scheduled to happen?

There’s a reason the UFC continues to do big business. They recognize that no one fighter makes the promotion and that, unlike boxing where one fight dominates a card, a solid MMA event has multiple fights of interest and storylines that are deserving of promotion that will peak people’s interest so they watch. While I have no doubt that the fighters on the CBS card will do their part in delivering action-packed mixed martial arts action, I can’t help but think that the pre-fight promotion of the event won’t deliver the audience those fighters, and the sport, deserved.


Strikeforce welterweight Jay Hieron talks to FIGHT! about Nick Diaz.


(Tate vs. Maxwelll. Courtesy of Strikeforce.)

Miesha Tate got a makeover and it doesn’t look good—for her opponents.

Fight fans last saw “Takedown” in a nine-minute decision loss to Sarah Kaufman in May 2009. Slated to meet Zoila Frausto at Strikeforce Challengers VII on March 26 in Fresno, Calif., Tate strived for improvement after coming up short against Kaufman, who claimed Strikeforce’s vacant 135-pound title against Takayo Hashi at Strikeforce Challengers VI on Feb. 26.

“Striking was definitely my focal point after my Kaufman fight because I feel like I’ve already got good grappling,” said Tate. “My base is wrestling so I think my weakest link was striking, I think by strengthening that, it will help everything else come together.”

In her first fight after the loss, she demonstrated her new skills with a head kick KO over Sara Oriza. She followed up with an armbar victory over Valerie Coolbaugh. Both were special to Tate—she defended her Freestyle Cage Fighting title versus Coolbaugh—but the first knockout of her career was simply “awesome.”

“Considering that my strong point is grappling, it was definitely confirmation that all the work I’ve been putting into my stand-up and becoming more well-rounded is paying off,” said Tate, now 8-2. “I feel a lot more comfortable on my feet and a lot more effective, efficient, stronger, faster.”

The 135-pound fighter credits time spent with trainers at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif. for her newfound abilities.

“[We] broke down from head-to-toe, you know and started with just two inches to the left, two inches to the right,” said Tate. “Very small movements and literally picked apart my foot work, picked apart my head movement, picked apart my striking. And we just started over on a clean slate. We started forming habits that were good habits on my feet.”

She’ll need those habits against Frausto, an aggressive undefeated muay Thai stylist. Not looking past the “Warrior Princess,” Tate wants to fight in Strikeforce’s 135-pound tournament—set to begin in April—too. She’s contracted for another fight before May and desires a renewal with the San Jose, Calif.-based promotion. Barring injury, it may happen. Frausto, the tournament and Tate’s progress are all linked to her designs to fight Kaufman again.

“I want to continue to climb the rankings—I just broke the top 10 women. I’m number 10 in the world at this point and I just want to keep climbing those rankings,” said Tate. “Kaufman’s number one and I think I had a really close fight with her. I really learned a lot about myself, I just want to keep going and eventually I want to get another shot at Kaufman and give her a better fight.”

Fighting is her focus, even though her looks lead some to dub her the next “face of women’s MMA,” a burden born by Gina Carano until her stoppage loss to Cris Santos last summer.

“I don’t really want to be the next Gina Carano. I want to be the first Miesha Tate, whatever that means,” said Tate. “If I get more or less fame because of looks or what not, it doesn’t really matter to me. I’m just coming to the place to fight and be the best fighter that I can be.”


Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker reflects on “Diaz vs. Noons II,” Strikeforce’s future and his promotion’s relationship with DREAM in light of the Japanese company’s continued failure to pay fighters. Interview by Danny Acosta. Video by Rick Lee.


Former UFC, Pancrase, and Strikeforce champion Frank Shamrock discusses the return of man who took his Strikeforce title, Cung Le, and his fight with Scott Smith.


I was reading FIGHT! contributor Ben Fowlkes’ column on today and immediately thought of five (different) things I learned while in Chicago on Saturday. I normally wouldn’t coattail another writer/site so brazenly but Fowlkes and I are on friendly terms. Even if we weren’t, that chisel-faced zombie lives in Montana so it would take him a week to snowshoe to the nearest Greyhound station and come after me.

The Midwest deserves to host more large-scale MMA shows.

Strikeforce’s shows in St. Louis, Mo. and Chicago were well attended and the UFC set gate receipt records in Columbus and Cincinnati. So why are midwestern MMA fans treated to one, at most two, major MMA cards a year? I understand that the UFC’s home base is Vegas and Strikeforce needs to be anchored to San Jose. But 14,000+ screaming people tells me that promoters are not tapping into this market as well as they should. I know that sanctioning has been a problem in the past, but it’s more or less been solved outside of the eastern seaboard. Fans in St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Ohio will support more big shows and they deserve to get them.

No elbows on the ground is stupid. I assume Strikeforce (and the International Fight League before it) bar elbows on the ground because they think that gushing cuts are a public relations nightmare and turn off the casual fan. But in addition to limiting in-cage plasma donations, they limit the fighter on top to maintain control long enough to do anything. When a fighter postures up or creates enough distance to throw a punch from guard, half-guard, or mount, he or she is giving the fighter on bottom space, and jiu-jitsu/submission grappling is about utilizing space and leverage. So what we saw time and time again is one fighter would score a takedown, his opponent would stand, he would score another takedown and his opponent would stand again. Blood or boring fights – your call.

Women’s MMA is bigger than Gina Carano.

She may be the only female in the sport with a high Q-score other than Arianny Celeste but that didn’t matter on Saturday night. The average fan can’t pick Roxanne Modafferi out of a lineup or distinguish Marloes Coenen from Marlo Thomas but the Sears Centre was electric for their fight. Do novelty and fetishism factor into that? Absolutely, but those fighters put on a show (albeit a short one) and the crowd showered them with applause, proving that you don’t need big names to carry the women’s side of the sport. I hope Strikeforce adds women like Kelly Kobold, Julie Kedzie, Amanda Buckner, Tara LaRosa and Megumi Fujii to its growing stable of female fighters.

Fedor is who we thought he was.

No, he’s not a big pay per view draw, but he’s a star. A star of sufficient size to headline a card that sold 14,000+ tickets in a major market. The crowd held its collective breath when Rogers dropped punches from the top and it lost its collective mind when Fedor floored his opponent. Now that Strikeforce/Showtime/CBS owns some of his fight footage they can go to work making him a household name in the U.S. And yes, he proved that he’s still the best heavyweight in the world until further notice.

Jake Shields is a lot better than he gets credit for. Some idiots actually thought before this fight that Mayhem would win due to his superior size and stand up game. Unbelievable. Shields dominated Mayhem with his wrestling and was smart to be conservative on the ground – the one time Mayhem had an opening he nearly put Shields to sleep. It wasn’t a highlight reel win, but Mayhem is no schlub and Shields took the win. I wouldn’t rush to put him on any P4P lists just yet but he’s a legit middleweight. According to Shields at the post-fight presser, Cung Le doesn’t want to fight him. Fine, throw Tim Kennedy or Jacare at Shields and see what he does.


(Jake Shields and Gil Melendez enjoy Thanksgiving Day.)

Strikeforce Lightweight Interim Champion Gilbert Melendez invited FIGHT! Magazine’s Danny Acosta into his training camp for five days. Acosta documented a week of the San Franciscan’s quest to unify the Strikeforce Lightweight belts versus title-holder Josh Thomson on Dec. 19 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. live on Showtime.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.—It’s Thanksgiving and Gilbert Melendez’ coach, Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Jake Shields, shows up early at Melendez’ home gym to ensure that “El Nino”’s holidays aren’t too happy. Just weeks away from his Dec. 19 rematch Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Josh Thomson, Melendez must stay on course with his training.

Training will keep Melendez from returning hom to Santa Ana, Calif. to visit his family today, and dieting will prevent him from indulging in gut-busting Thanksgiving fare. It’s something he’s accustomed to but that doesn’t make it easier.

“That’s always hard,” says Melendez of missing celebrations with his mom, dad, twin sisters and his first niece, who entered the world in the last 30 days. “But fortunately I’ve met Keri, who is also my family, my girlfriend. I consider her family. I’ve been real fortunate that I’ve met some amazing friends out here, which makes San Francisco that much better. They’re friends, but I can call them family myself and I’m real fortunate to have that.”

After wrapping up an all-encompassing conditioning, sparring and technique session that leaves Melendez and Shields steaming, “El Nino” changes into a grey Metal Militia flannel and a black Dethrone hat. The Oakland Raiders break his heart, losing 24-7 to the Dallas Cowboys while Keri gets ready for Thanksgiving at her family’s house.

Melendez drives his Toyota truck through the San Francisco fog. Keri’s family welcomes him with family photo opportunities and an insistence he eats. He can’t—it’s not part of the right diet, maybe some salad and lean proteins so he can eat but not cheat.

Preventing little kid’s from getting hurt, playing penny poker games and talking about Ninja Assassin occupies most of his night. “When are you fighting?” he is asked repeatedly. Most answer before he does, “December 18th, right?”

He’s polite in correcting everyone and when Keri’s brother dances around an invite to train, Melendez tells him at least come to the fight.

“Were you there last time I fought Thomson?” he asks.

“No—wait, yeah I was!”

“Then don’t come,” Melendez says.


Jason “Mayhem” Miller tells FIGHT!’s Danny Acosta that he is an artist AND a mixed martial artist. Shot and edited by Rick Lee.


Heisman-winner and NFL great Herschel Walker talks about his professional MMA debut. Walker will fight Greg Nagy on Jan. 31 at Strikeforce: Miami.


“The Grim” will face Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem for the title on May 15 in St. Louis but what he really wants is another crack at Fedor. Shot and edited by Rick Lee.