Good, Bad, and Ugly: Strikeforce Nashville

Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Jake Shields picked up his 14th consecutive win, first title defense, and defining victory of his career with a unanimous decision over mixed martial arts legend Dan Henderson Saturday night at Strikeforce “Nashville” on CBS.

After meeting the two-time Olympic wrestler’s famed right hand a few unforgiving times in the main event, Jake Shields employed American Jiu-Jitsu to control, punch and wear down the former PRIDE 183 and 205-pound champion.

But rather than relish the moment, his post-fight interview was interrupted by a brawl involving his camp and the man he defeated to capture the belt in November, Jason “Mayhem” Miller.

It’s a shame that on a night with three title fights, the main question being asked is who the hell let “Mayhem” in the cage?

There’s a reason post-fight rematch hype appears staged in the UFC – it is. Post-fight fights can and do happen in MMA and its gentlemanly cousin boxing, but they shouldn’t and preventative measures need to be taken to ensure that they don’t. CEO Scott Coker claims no one on his staff let “Mayhem” in the cage, but the fact is Strikeforce should have control of its fighting arena at all times.

And with all due respect to Miller, why even talk about a rematch after a gimme fight against a 9-7 regional fighter Tim Stout only five months following a decisive loss?

MMA fights to disassociate itself from the kind of street fight that appeared on Saturday’s broadcast. This damages MMA’s reputation since it’s still not legal in media capital New York and critics can provide video from the incident as evidence for the downfall of a moral society to marginalize MMA. It hurts Strikeforce’s appearance as a serious promoter (the last time such antics occurred it was in semi-circus EliteXC). The worst part comes if CBS decides to ditch prizefighting altogether.

However, the reality is that as bitter as the post-fight brawl tastes, it’s no worse than the Detroit Pistons fighting the Indiana Paces in the stands or assaults with a deadly weapon in hockey. All major sports endure negative moments that can be overcome. As long as CBS doesn’t enforce a double-standard with MMA and yank Strikeforce’s broadcast agreement, the sport will overcome Mayhem vs. Team Cesar Gracie.

Lemons can always be turned into lemonade in the fight game – Nick Diaz has fought heavy before, so why not promote a sanctioned bout between Diaz and Miller? All silliness aside, Strikeforce: Nashville celebrated the San Jose-based promotion’s one year anniversary in the big leagues with some positive and intriguing stories.

Jake Shields is pound-for-pound one of the best in the sport. Undefeated in five years, he’s won four belts, beat seven champions, finished eight opponents, and found his way into the top five at welterweight and middleweight in that time. He’s the most accomplished fighter to never compete in the UFC or PRIDE. Placed in opposite roles as the champion and the underdog, Shields shut down Dan Henderson like no one has before, legitimizing his place among the elite.

With a little more exposure Ronald “Jacare” Sousza, rumored to be fighting Joey Villasenor on May 15, could be a marketable contender. That’s if Shields stays in Strikeforce. The San Franciscan has been calling for a fight with UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre over the last few years. The best blend of money and competition offered signs the soon-to-be free agent.

Even in defeat Dan Henderson is still a top fighter.
The Team Quest fighter is no stranger to ups and downs in his career. He knows how to rebound. He just lost to another top fighter.

Many expected Henderson to be too big and too strong for Shields because Shields is a natural 170-pounder while Henderson holds victories over heavyweights; however, Shields was 195-pounds a week out from the fight, which is approximately Henderson’s natural weight. Henderson allegedly fought with a bad back and claimed to be hampered by a bad weight cut.

His ability to bounce between divisions bolsters Henderson value to Strikeforce. Challenging “King Mo” Lawal (pending there are no issues surrounding former Team Quest man Ryan Parson’s relationship with Lawal), who bested Gergard Mousasi with repeated takedowns to capture the 205-pound crown, seems best for the 39-year-old.

“King Mo”’s new piece of bling shines bright.
The self-proclaimed “moneyweight champion” requires smart matchmaking from Strikeforce so the Olympic-level wrestler can develop into a superstar and a complete mixed martial artist (see: conditioning). Henderson is the right blend of name value and in-fight nastiness to test him.

Co-promotional opportunities abound.
Gegard Mousasi’s entry into DREAM’s 205-pound tournament gives the fallen champ a place to recoup but given DREAM’s relative lack of promotion in the United States, even if he takes the tournament he’ll need to win on American soil to climb back into contention for the Strikeforce belt.

While Shields vs. St-Pierre is a dwindling Strikeforce contract away from happening, there’s still an issue of co-promotion and there’s an incredibly compelling case for Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez versus UFC Lightweight Frankie Edgar.

After defeating Japan’s lightweight king Shinya Aoki in a cautious but well-executed 25-minute bout, Melendez told Sherdog.com he’d like a shot at Edgar because he wants to prove he’s the best regardless of promotions.

The UFC is not in the co-promotion business though.

It’s unfortunate because Melendez and Edgar have solid cases for the top spot on the lightweight ladder. Both have multiple wins over top-10 opponents, rare blemishes (three between the two of them in 33 fights; Melendez avenged both his losses while Edgar is currently campaigning for a chance to do so), and title belts in the two biggest organizations in MMA. Stylistically, it’s a great fight, but sometimes fight industry politics counterproductively prevent quality fights.

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