Downtown St. Louis played host to the Strikeforce: Lawler vs. Shields event last night at the Scottrade Center and put on a great show in front of the near-capacity crowd.
With Strikeforce’s newfound willingness to work together with Affliction to move fighters back and forth between the two promotions to make the best fights possible, the end result was a mixed fight card stacked full of talent from top to bottom.
Even the cage-side observers got a boost in star power with the new cross-promotional alliance. Seated in the first couple of rows were the likes of Fedor Emelianenko, Josh Barnett, Gegard Mousasi, and Tim Sylvia.
The night was kicked off by a series of undercard fights that featured a lot of local flavor and one big exclamation point courtesy of journeyman and virtual unknown Mike Kyle, who came into the evening with a career record of 11–6.
His opponent was the heavily favored Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante, who trains alongside UFC stars Anderson Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Kyle was able to land a flurry of powerful and devastating punches to the chin of Cavalcante and then pounced on him and finished him off. The destruction left him briefly unconscious as the crowd looked on in stunned silence.
Cavalcante was originally scheduled to fight on this card for the Strikeforce light heavyweight title against Renato “Babalu” Sobral, but it was scrapped when Sobral’s wife recently gave birth to their new child.
Needless to say, the young Brazilian was never going to be ready for his primetime close up and may have underestimated Kyle coming into this fight.
The next two bouts saw veteran Mike Whitehead and Joe Riggs both record unanimous decision victories over Kevin Randleman and Phil Baroni, respectively.
Nick Diaz, the pride of Stockton, Calif., also made his way to the cage to take on the very dangerous Scott “Hands of Steel” Smith.
It was evident from the get-go that Diaz was the more technical striker, having had professional boxing experience in the past.
Diaz got the best of the majority of the exchanges for the first two rounds by continuing to pepper Smith with a flurry of combinations.
In the third round, Diaz looked as if he was fed up with trying to put forth so much effort to finish off Smith, who was hanging tough for as long as he possibly could.
To expedite the situation, Diaz was able to take Smith down, where the Cesar Gracie-trained Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt sunk in a rear naked choke that quickly ended the fight.
Diaz shared his thoughts on Smith at the post fight press conference stating,“I know what he (Smith) does. I know who he trains with. I work a lot harder than him…It’s pretty much how I saw it going.”
Consequently, Diaz has done enough to be able to fight for either the interim middleweight championship or directly against current champion Cung Le, who has been dormant since March 2008 due to his blossoming movie career.
The two biggest men in the arena also did battle. Former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski locked horns with up-and-coming prospect Brett Rogers. These men are imposing figures at 244 and 262 pounds, respectively, and both stand well over 6 feet tall.
On the line was a title shot against current Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem on Aug. 15.
Arlovski, arguably the biggest star on the entire fight card, was caught off guard while Rogers pressed forward early in the first round.
At the 22-second mark into the opening frame, “The Grim” scored the knockout over Arlovski in what instantly became the crown jewel of his relatively young MMA career.
Rogers reflected on his night saying, “It was short and to the point. Basically, I wanted to go in and keep the heat on him. I didn’t want to give him a chance.
"I had a lot of respect for Arlovski going into this fight. I went in there with heavy shots and landed four or five. He (Arlovski) wasn’t really moving much. I am not really sure what was going on with him.”
The win moved Rogers’ career record to 10–0 and a possible shot at the Fedor Emelianenko and Josh Barnett winner that will be determined on Aug. 1, but only if he can get past Overeem.
For Arlovski, it has now been two fights in a row he has been caught and knocked out early in the first round. The aforementioned Fedor was also able to knock him out in January 2009 at the Affliction: Day of Reckoning event.
“The Pitbull” is currently slated to fight a professional boxing match on June 27 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. He was not available at the post fight press conference so he may or may not be medically cleared or healthy enough to fulfill his commitment.
The main event of the evening featured a pair of former EliteXC champions in Jake Shields and Robbie Lawler going head-to-head.
This was the proverbial striker vs. grappler matchup pitting the jiu-jitsu black belt Shields versus the heavy handed and excellent standup skills of Lawler.
It was also home field advantage for Lawler, who co-owns the H.I.T. Squad gym in nearby Granite City, Ill., with former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes.
It was evident from the get-go that Shields had a fantastic game plan and he was not going to deviate from it.
He used a series of kicks to keep Lawler at a distance and avoid his hands. He also sprinkled in some punches to keep him honest.
Shields was able to get Lawler to the ground after the two had clinched against the cage and he immediately sunk in a deep guillotine choke that forced Lawler to tap.
As Lawler put it, “I overcommitted with my right underhook when I had him up against the cage.”
He later went on to tip his cap to Shields, saying simply that he, “is the best at what he does.”
It was a disappointing finish for Lawler in front of his hometown fans. For Shields, it was yet another impressive feather in his cap that likely earns him a shot against middleweight champion Cung Le.
Since fellow middleweight contender Nick Diaz is a teammate of Shields, they will likely never do battle.
Therefore, Strikeforce could choose to have Shields fight for the vacant welterweight title against a guy like Jay Hieron, who is currently on the Affliction roster.
One thing is for certain. The Strikeforce organization is here to stay and will continue to put on the matchups the fans want to see.
With Affliction now working hand-in-hand ,this double-headed monster is now poised to take direct aim at the UFC.