Pep Talk: Contenders (Maybe) Emerge from Strikeforce Live

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(Babalu kicks Lawler. Check out the full gallery here.)

Strikeforce Live saw new contenders emerge. Well, maybe it did.

In one of the stranger main event set ups I’ve seen in the time that I’ve been covering mixed martial arts, the winner of the main event between Middleweight Robbie Lawler and Light Heavyweight Renato “Babalu” Sobral fighting at a catchweight of 195 pounds was promised a title shot in his respective division. Don’t try to make sense of it, just run with it and accept that regardless of divisions and belts that it’s easier, and makes more sense, to view Strikeforce as a superfight promotion until they are able to build deeper divisions that don’t see fighters come in and compete for a title in their first or second fight for the promotion.

For their part, Lawler and Sobral lived up to the superfight concept by waging a three round back and forth battle that probably could have been scored either way. The second round clearly belonged to Sobral, who displayed better and more technically diverse striking than we’ve seen from him in the past. He was able to land effective counter strikes along with some good leg kicks and knees to take the round. The third saw a much more aggressive Lawler land the bigger shots early and often, leaving Babalu the more damaged fighter as the two stood center cage awaiting the decision. That decision would largely come down to how the judges scored round one, which I saw for Babalu thanks to two takedowns, two choke attempts and greater overall cage control. The judges agreed, giving Sobral the fight 29-28 on all three cards, and the Light Heavyweight title shot along with it. Maybe.

In true American Kickboxing Academy style, Babalu bypassed the issue of fighting his friend and division champ, “King Mo” Lawal, and respectfully called out Dan Henderson, the man who handed him the first loss of his MMA career when the two fought at Rings eleven years ago. So much for the title shot.

One guy who wouldn’t turn down a title shot would be Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos who looked fantastic in his first Strikeforce fight at 170. Cyborg lost a split decision to Joey Villasenor in his Strikeforce debut at middleweight and decided to put himself thought a tougher weight cut and make the move south to the welterweight division. Strikeforce didn’t pull any punches in his divisional debut, giving him Dream Welterweight champ Marius Zaromskis, who was coming off his own Strikeforce debut loss to Nick Diaz. After that loss the “Whitemare” made some changes as well, training at AKA to get ready for Santos. The taller Santos looked great at the new weight and didn’t lose any of his signature aggression. He outstruck Zaromskis from the opening bell to the conclusion of the fight at 2:38 of the first round when he put the TKO win on his resume. Santos effectively used a five inch reach advantage throughout the fight to score in the exchanges and put the Lithuanian to sleep with a big right hand as Marius jumped in with a knee.

Closing Shots

• Takedown Defense Betrays Prangley Trevor Prangley may have forecaste his own demise when he said that his key to victory was going to be his takedown defense. A little over two minutes into the first round, Tim Kennedy got Prangley to the ground and the South African never made it to his feet again until ring announcer Jimmy Lennon announced Kennedy the winner by rear naked choke. Kennedy showed great strength and control on the ground, dishing out enough ground and pound for Prangley to give up his back and try to stand. That was the beginning of the end as Kennedy sunk in the choke, causing Prangley to tap at 3:35 of the first round. Tim moves to 12-2 overall in MMA and 3-0 in the Strikeforce middleweight division. Expect Kennedy to get one of the promotion’s high profile middleweights as he continues his climb up the division’s ladder and establish himself as a contender at 185.

• Koons Victorious Conor Huen took the fight on twelve days notice and almost pulled out the win, losing a split decision to KJ Noons. Noons, who is simultaneously pursuing boxing and MMA careers, took advantage of Huen in the striking department. Conor was the more active of the fighters and definitely pushed the action but took a ton of damage to his face with multiple cuts on both sides of his face and eyes. The fight could have been scored either way, but given the damage suffered by the exciting Huen, it’s not surprising that Noons got the nod. For his part, KJ didn’t look particularly sharp in this fight and it’s hard to think that this is the same fighter who beat Nick Diaz back in 2007. Since that loss, Diaz has gone on a tear with seven straight wins, including victories over Frank Shamrock, Zaromskis (for the Strikeforce Welterweight Title) and Hayato Sakurai.

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