Strikeforce

Strikeforce

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(Courtesy of Minhsu Wang.)

Jesse Taylor is undefeated in seven bouts in the year and a day since being dropped from the UFC. So it wasn’t unreasonable to take a fight with former IFL welterweight champion Jay Hieron on less than a week’s notice.

Taylor famously frittered away potential winnings from “The Ultimate Fighter” season seven on a drunken Las Vegas night and then submitted to CB Dolloway in his lone UFC appearance. The accelerated pace he’s taken on since, though, has kept him focused, grounded and most importantly, out of trouble. And he doesn’t plan to stop after making the most of this “awesome” opportunity.

“I just want to keep plugging away,” said Taylor. “I just look at it as another fight. The only thing is, its not your last fight—you’re only as good as you’re next fight.”

If Taylor’s only as good as his next fight—a replacement-status scrap with Hieron at Strikeforce’s latest Showtime offering on Aug. 15 from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. —then he may shed his UFC flunky status and seize a spot among respected 170-pound combatants. It’s something Taylor has dreamed of since he decided to be a professional athlete during his formative years. He was reminded of it when he returned to the sport’s grander stages of Japanese promotion Dream in July, only to see his fight end abruptly due to Dong Sik Yoon’s foot injury.

“I’m here to make a statement to prove to myself and the world what I can do,” said Taylor, “So I’m real fortunate.”

Taylor is eager to mix it up with “Thoroughbred” because they trained together when Taylor started in the sport roughly three years ago. It’s not a good evaluation of Taylor’s ability according to the Southern Californian, but he hopes Hieron recalls it and underestimates him.

“I know Jay’s a tough guy but I train with tough guys and I do pretty damn well,” said the Team Quest Temecula fighter. “So I’m really motivated and happy to be here especially on fast notice to step up.”

“If I bring what I really have, all my potential,” said Taylor, “I think I’ll prevail.”

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Strikeforce has come to terms with Los Angeles-based Shine International for global distribution of its video catalog. According to the company’s website, Shine International is the sales and distribution arm of the Shine Group, a British television production and distribution firm.

“Mixed martial arts is quickly becoming one of the most dynamic and popular sports in the world. The Strikeforce brand already represents the absolute best of this business domestically, and Shine International is thrilled to help them extend their brand internationally,” said Chris Grant, President of Shine International, in today’s press release.

The deal includes 30 episodes of previously recorded fights as well as live fights through Feb. 2012. International television deals should provide significant additional revenue for the promotion, which is rapidly expanding its fighter roster as well as the schedule and scope of its events.

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Danny Acosta recently caught up with elite wrestler and nascent mixed martial artist Daniel Cormier at AKA in San Jose, Calif. With only a few months of serious training under his belt, Cormier is preparing to fight at Strikeforce Challengers on Sept. 25.

Check out Fightmagazine.com’s previous coverage – here and here – to learn more about Daniel Cormier’s life and career.

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(Nick Diaz walks to the cage. Check out the full gallery here.)

Nick Diaz survived a knockdown scare against DREAM Welterweight Champion Marius Zaromskis and ended the Lithuanian’s night with a right hook with 22 ticks left in the first round to become the first Strikeforce Welterweight Champion. In doing so, the Cesar Gracie black belt entered the pound-for-pound ranks and bringing a third major organizational belt to the same camp for the first time in history.

With quality wins at lightweight, welterweight and middleweight, Diaz’s post-UFC career has sent the Stockton, Calif. native’s stock soaring. He left the UFC on a high note—it’s rare to see fighters exit the UFC with back-to-back wins—and has only lost once since in nine bouts, a cut stoppage loss to KJ Noons. Anderson Silva is the only other fighter to earn meaningful wins in more weight classes – Shooto middleweight (167 pounds), Pride welterweight (183 pounds), UFC middleweight (185 pounds) and light heavyweight (205 pounds). Diaz’s recent run has earned him a place in the pound for pound conversation along with “The Spider,” Fedor Emelianenko, Georges St-Pierre, BJ Penn and Lyoto Machida.

Diaz (21-7), started his unlikely ascent by tapping PRIDE Lightweight Champion Takanori Gomi with the gogoplata in 2007, bouncing up to middleweight and stopping reputable middleweights Frank Shamrock and Scott Smith before finishing off with a return to his natural weight of 170-pounds and becoming the first man to unify major belts in Japan and America with his first round TKO over Zaromskis.

Diaz’s 170-pound strap completes a Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu triple crown. Pat Miletich is the only other trainer to boast major-promotion champions in three different divisions – Jens Pulver, Matt Hughes and Tim Sylvia – but the three never held their belts concurrently. Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Jake Shields, Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez and Diaz became champions in consecutive months.

Champions are defined by their title defenses though, so Diaz and Cesar Gracie’s team have stern challenges ahead to maintain their status. Diaz is likely to face former International Fight League Welterweight Champion Jay Hieron, who took a unanimous decision over Joe Riggs earlier in the night, while Shields and Melendez are rumored to have Dan Henderson and Shinya Aoki on the horizon.

Matchmaking Duties

Strikeforce’s cupboard isn’t as bare as it was just 12 months ago, but the promotion still needs to think carefully about how it uses its talent. Here are some suggestions:

• If Marius Zaromskis doesn’t return to DREAM, a tilt with Tyron Woodley would provide good style tests for both.

• Marloes Coenen would be wise to enter the April 145-pound female tournament to try and earn a rematch or await Gina Carano’s expected summer return for a noteworthy contest.

• Robbie Lawler’s reluctance to jump into the title picture should see him tangle with Jason “Mayhem” Miller. Melvin Manhoef and Benji Radach could present equal excitement as Manhoef-Lawler, and a rematch of that fight later this year would be worth watching.

• Putting Bobby Lashley across from former UFC title challenger Jeff Monson would be a step in the right direction if he and the “Snowman” haven’t formed an unbreakable bond at American Top Team, and the same could be said of Antonio Silva.

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The last time mixed martial arts was on CBS it beat Major League Baseball’s playoffs in the coveted 18-34-year-old male demographic. Back then, EliteXC relied on Kimbo Slice to deliver ratings. On Nov. 7, the network will pin its hopes on world-class middleweight and host of MTV’s “Bully Beatdown,” Jason “Mayhem” Miller.

“If they stick a microphone in my face then I’ll go rip on it. Let’s just do it. I want everyone to know about this fight,” said Miller during Strikeforce’s Wednesday conference call. “I want everyone to watch this fight. I think they’re missing out [on] the big time not only on a fantastic match—me against Jake Shields—but seeing arguably the best fighter in the world [Fedor Emelianenko] compete against an undefeated Brett Rogers.”

The former ICON middleweight king, and current DREAM contender/reality TV star insists there’s no reason fans should miss the fight either. It’s free, and he’s spending his time off from training blowing up Facebook, Myspace and Twitter reminding fans to save the date. He made sure to create some sound bites for fans during the call too.

When his opponent, Jake Shields stated that there’s no hard feelings between the two but its business and he’ll “have no problem punching him in the face,” Miller interrupted. “You’re breaking my heart. I thought we were best friends,” Mayhem

Miller wasn’t always so polished and media-savvy. He started in the sport during its darker days as a nerdy, overly energetic teenager looking to defend himself. He slept in a van outside of a Huntington Beach, Calif. gym and dedicated himself to fighting. Gaining recognition in Hawaii’s fight scene, Miller became a cult figure and dubbed his fervent fan base “Mayhem Monkeys” and assigning them numbers. He began hosting his own MTV show, “Bully Beatdown,” in March 2009 and started infiltrating the mainstream. The Strikeforce card on CBS represents a breakthrough opportunity for him. But Shields, a Cesar Gracie black belt and former Shooto and Rumble on the Rock champion, plans to spoil Miller’s coming out party.

“I think the middleweight division is the toughest division. That’s why I chose to move up [from 170-pounds]. I’m out here looking for competition,” said Shields. “This fight against ‘Mayhem’ is awesome. That’s why I’m taking this serious and training my ass off and I can’t wait for the 7th.”

Miller is 5-1 with no one contest in the past two years (22-6 overall). Shields (23-4-1) enters the fight as the favorite thanks to 12-fight win streak that’s approaching five years. Despite his underdog status, Miller remains confident.

“I don’t care. Whatever,” he said. “I’m gonna do everything better than Jake: I’m gonna be able to grapple, kick, punch, choke, do whatever I have to do to win the fight…I’m just gonna show everyone that I have the skills to beat Jake.

“I think I can drive up some ticket sales and some viewership here on TV in the United States for [Strikeforce owner] Scott [Coker] so I’d love to do that to have a good partnership here in the United States with Strikeforce,” said Miller before adding he still plans to fight in Japan. Should he defeat Shields, two challengers Miller has already faced, Tim Kennedy and Ronald “Jacare” Souza, await. Miller welcomes those bouts—even offering to fight both in one night—but isn’t looking past the San Franciscan.

Shields concluded, “I think its gonna be a good fight and we’ll probably beat the crap out of each other for the people at home.”

Not to be outdone, the Hollywood-based Miller rolled out his best sales pitch last.

“Let’s get it done folks. Let’s watch the damn fight. Let’s get excited because we finally get to see Fedor fight for free on television, which I’ve been waiting for forever. I’ll be excited to watch it in the front row with my brand new Strikeforce belt.”

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(KJ Noons is one of Strikeforce’s top guns at 155.)

K.J. Noons and Jorge Gurgel plan to put on a show while establishing themselves as the clear number one contender for Gilbert Melendez’s 155-pound strap.

“In my eyes, Jorge is the number one contender. I think he beat Billy Evangelista. In my eyes, this is a tough fight for me and by no means am I taking anything light or training like I have this one in the bag,” said Noons. “This is probably the hardest I’ve ever trained. This is probably one of the most dangerous opponents I’ve had.”

“I agree, I did not lose the fight to Billy Evangelista,” added Gurgel. “I consider myself the number one contender. KJ Noons was brought into the organization as a former world champion, also the number one contender. He is the most elevated guy in the lightweight division. So I agree with him, the best man that walks out there that day, the winner of the fight should get a title shot against a great champion in Gilbert Melendez.”

Gurgel declared he’ll fight standing fast and hard until someone’s hand is raised. When asked about his affinity to trade rather than employ his jiu-jitsu black belt, the Brazilian quipped, “I don’t remember last time I tried a takedown. I don’t even practice those things. What is a takedown again?”

Noons is excited to be across from an opponent like Gurgel.

“Jorge comes out and puts on great shows. If you want to watch jiu-jitsu in a gi, go to a tournament. This is fighting, you know what I mean?” he said. “You want to watch some lay and gay? Go watch Jake Shields, go watch [Georges St-Pierre], go watch something boring as hell. You want to see something exciting? Come the 21st, get a guy that’s been boxing his whole life, get a guy who stands up and has a black belt in jiu-jitsu. Don’t get me wrong—I’m taking nothing away from his jiu-jitsu game—but [stand-up]’s what people want to see.”

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(Props to Esther Lin.)

Marloes Coenen rarely gets asked about fighting.

In fact, for the last few weeks, media attention surrounding the Dutch 145-pound fighter has centered on appearances. And Coenen is fine with that. After all, would you get tired of being called beautiful?

“In every sport and in society, women are always judged by their appearance,” Coenen said. “MMA is a sport, but it is also entertainment. You can have your philosophy, but you have to be realistic. In the end, bills have to be paid.”

On Jan. 30, Coenen (17-3) will fight Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos at Strikeforce: Miami for the lightweight women’s title. It is the most prestigious women’s title in the world and the winner is the face of female MMA, or, as Coenen prefers, “MMA for women.”

“It will be a tough fight,” Coenen said. “I want to win and do my best. It’s a big challenge, but I like big challenges. The harder, the better. It feels like there’s a bigger reward.”

There is no bigger challenge than Cyborg (8-1), a fierce, intimidating physical specimen that has easily destroyed her last eight opponents. Her five-minute demolition of Gina Carano last August did more than change the face of women’s MMA (literally), it also illustrated the gap between Santos and the rest of the top challengers.

But while Cyborg may be the best female fighter on the planet, the Portuguese-speaking Brazilian does not intrigue Madison Avenue ad firms in the same way Carano has. With a victory, the well-spoken Coenen could follow Carano’s lead to become the Next Big Thing.

“MMA for women needed a girl that looked as good as Gina to get people interested,” Coenen said. “She became famous. A lot of other fighters were talking trash about her and saying (her success was) just because of her looks. But she opened doors for the rest of us. If the other women would have had what she had, they would have used it too.”

A virtual unknown to most American fans, Coenen has been among the top female fighters in the world for a decade. Yet her route to the top was as much by circumstance as design. Like many of her peers, Coenen grew up playing tennis and volleyball. And also like many in Holland, Coenen rode her bike to school, but hers was a long ride through some sketchy areas.

“You’d hear all these stories of scary men,” she said. “I thought I should learn to defend myself.”

The Netherlands is right place to learn how to fight. The country is about the size of Maryland, but has produced a disproportionate number of top fighters and has a disproportionate number of top gyms. At 14, Coenen began taking Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes and excelled almost immediately.

“Fighting is so much in my heart I don’t know another option,” she said. “I like testing myself. If you are in a cage, you are on your own. If you mess it up, you mess it up yourself. It really is survival of the fittest.”

By 18, she turned pro. But in the moments before her first fight, Coenen wondered if she had made the right decision.

“I doo-doo’d in my pants,” she said, jokingly. “I was in a ring, I shook hands, went back to my corner and thought, ‘OK, now she’s going to beat me up.’” Instead Coenen broke her opponents’ nose and won via armbar in 2:37. She immediately quit school and declared herself a fighter.

“In the beginning, I was almost hysterical before each fight,” she said. “Now I’ve worked and have more experience. I feel tension and I need that tension. If I come in calm and relaxed, I don’t always deliver a good fight.”

In her second fight, Coenen entered a Japanese tournament. A few hours and three wins later, the 18-year-old was the World ReMix champion. But it would take another ten years and another pretty girl to make MMA for women lucrative.

Coenen, who recently quit her day job to train full time, said she hopes her days in the office are over. And if she pulls off the upset, they may be. But if she wins Coenen will be lauded for her looks as much as her performance. And she is fine with that.

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“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.

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(Props to KahL-One and MMAScraps.)

Each week FIGHT! brings you the best from our friends around the web.

– Armchair Matchmaker: Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale Edition (Cage Potato)

– Five Lessons: Strikeforce vs. UFC (Versus MMA Beat)

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– TUF 12 Finale Payouts (MMA Convert)

– Jim Miller Is Patiently Waiting for His Title Shot (Heavy MMA)

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– TUF 12 Suspensions (5 Ounces of Pain)

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(Noons gave Heun matching gifts. Check out the full gallery here.)

It was a weird card – a midweek show in a theater – but Strikeforce Live delivered entertaining fights that set up interesting match ups down the road. You’ll find full results below along with press conference notes, an analysis of how the fights effected our rankings and more.

FIGHT! Facts

Renato Sobral def. Robbie Lawler by unanimous decision.
Evangelista Santos def. Marius Zaromskis by knockout at 2:38 of Round 1.
Tim Kennedy def. Trevor Prangley by submission (rear-naked choke) at 3:35 of Round 1.
KJ Noons def. Conor Huen by split decision.
Jeremy Umphries def. RJ Clifford by submission (rear-naked choke) at 2:27 of Round 2.
Hugo Sandoval def. Marcus Kowal by TKO (punches) at 0:43 seconds of Round 2.

Attendance and Gate

The special Wednesday night attraction, Strikeforce Live, drew 5,259 for a $418,000 gate according to Strikeforce and Showtime officials.


(Goldberg manhandles Frank Shamrock. Check out the full gallery here.)

FIGHT! Rankings

Renato Sobral outlasted Robbie Lawler in the night’s main event, climbing to #6 in our Light Heavyweight Rankings after the 195-pound catchweight affair. Lawler drops from #12 to #25 in our Middleweight Rankings with the loss. Both fighters will be reassigned if they continue to fight outside of their respective divisions.

Evangelista Santos may have lost his nickname to his wife, Cris Cyborg, but he regained some credibility after dropping to welterweight and dropping Marius Zaromskis. Santos climbed from #58 to #35 in our Middleweight Rankings while Zaromskis fell from #22 to #50 in our Welterweight Rankings. Santos will be reassigned if he continues to fight at 170 pounds.

Before his fight, Tim Kennedy made the case for fighting bigger names on bigger cards. He has a point – he finished Prangley easily but stayed put at #31 in our Middleweight Rankings after besting the lower-ranked fighter. Prangley drops just two spots, from #64 to #66.

KJ Noons won his fight but lost his ranking, falling hard from #25 to #51 in our Lightweight Rankings after eeking out a split decision against the much lower-ranked Conor Heun, who actually jumped from #88 to #66 after the loss.


(Cris gets to pick up Evangelista for a change. Check out the full gallery here.)

FIGHT! Picks Recap

We’re now 58-31 with our picks in 2010.

Renato Sobral (+125) vs Robbie Lawler (-155)
FIGHT! Pick: Sobral Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

Tim Kennedy (-125) vs. Trevor Prangley (-105)
FIGHT! Pick: Kennedy Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

KJ Noons (-450) vs. Conor Heun (+300)
FIGHT! Pick: Noons Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

Evangelista Santos (+230) vs. Marius Zaromskis (-290)
FIGHT! Pick: Zaromskis Resulting Outcome:  INCORRECT

Random Bits

After beating Robbie Lawler, Renato “Babalu” Sobral asked to fight former PRIDE 205-pound and 183-pound champion Dan Henderson, who defeated the Brazilian ten years ago via decision in the Japanese organization Rings.

KJ Noons broke a rib in the first round of his split decision win over Conor Huen.

Evangelista Cyborg broke his hand in his two-minute-plus affair with Marius Zaromskis.

Tim Kennedy was medically suspended for seven days after submitting Trevor Prangley.

Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker expressed interest in a KJ Noons-Nick Diaz fight at the post-fight press conference.

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