Matt Lindland is not slumming.
But the 40-year-old fighter understands if some fans see Friday’s bout against Kevin “King” Casey at Strikeforce Challengers 8 in Portland, Ore. as a huge step backwards. A former Olympian and MMA pioneer, Lindland has fought some of the best fighters in the world. Now he will take on a fighter more famous for awarding himself a black belt, spitting in well-known trainer Marc Laimon’s face and making an oft-criticized rap video.
“This fight came up on short notice,” Lindland said. “They said they were going to do a card in Portland but that it was a Challengers card, so I couldn’t be on it. Then they came back and said they needed a headliner.
“I understand it and I am absolutely being used. It takes me out of a bigger Strikeforce show (in June) with more viewers. My purse is lower. But I don’t think they are disrespecting me. They needed me and I said I’d take the fight. I don’t want this to be THE fight. I am hoping they will put me back in there in July or August.”
In the end, the chance to compete in front of hometown fans for just the third time in his 13-year MMA career outweighed other concerns.
“It’s nice because I don’t have to abandon my family,” Lindland said. “Plus my kids can go to the fight. I’ve never been able to take the whole family to a fight (out of town).”
If Lindland believes Casey is a step down from past competition, he is saying all the right things.
“Casey is a skilled jiu-jitsu guy,” Lindland said. “He is quick and athletic. He can do back flips. I don’t know how well-rounded his striking is. He can throw guys on the ground.
He’s strong. He may be stronger than me, but he’s not tougher than me. He’s not as skilled as me.”
If Casey was hoping to catch Lindland looking past him, his chances faded when Spencer Pratt – his rap video guest star and castmember of “The Hills” – bad mouthed Lindland on a popular MMA call-in show. Among other things, Pratt disparaged Lindland’s wrestling silver medal from the 2000 Olympics.
“Spencer Pratt? That guy is such a douche,” Lindland said. “He is pretending to be a celebrity. My wife reads People magazine and Us magazine. I asked her who he was, but she had to look him up. So he’s not a celebrity. Being on a reality show does not make you a celebrity.”
While karma and the hometown fans will be in Lindland’s corner, Father Time is definitely against him. The “Law” has just seven fights over the last four years and is 3-4 during that span. However, his losses were against some of the world’s best: Fedor Emelianenko, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Vitor Belfort and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Emelianenko is considered one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Jackson and Belfort are former UFC champions. Souza is a Abu Dhabi Combat Club champion. He submitted Lindland in the first round last December.
“He is one of the best submission guys in the world and I got caught playing his game,” Lindland said. “He did a great job and I don’t think I performed to the best of my ability.
“It was like I was competing in a sport instead of just kicking someone’s ass. I have to get back to just stepping in there to do some damage.”
Unfortunately, Strikeforce rules are detrimental to ground-and-pound fighters because it does not allow elbows to the head of a grounded opponent. Strikeforce champions Jake Shields and Mo Lawal drew criticism despite recent wins because they were unable to do damage on the ground.
“It takes away one of my weapons for sure,” Lindland said. “I have to try to work other stuff. You have to posture, work on your passing and gain position. Some of the uneducated fans will consider it boring.
“But the bottom line is: this is a fight. When I step in the ring and they close the door, I have a gameplan and that gameplan is kicking ass and f***ing guys up.”