Strikeforce Aftermath: Storylines and Consequences

Derek BolenderSenior Analyst IJune 8, 2009

The Strikeforce: "Lawler vs. Shields" event went off without a hitch this past Saturday from the Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis, Missouri.

The fight card, a cross-promotional effort between Strikeforce and Affliction, was stacked with both notable names and upcoming stars from top to bottom.

The near-sellout crowd bore witness to not only an exciting night of action, but also to the element of surprise, as a few favorites tumbled as the evening transpired.

In the aftermath of the event, many different storylines have emerged, and questions have started to be asked.

Let’s carefully sort through the uncertainty, starting with the two main event combatants in former EliteXC welterweight champion Jake Shields and former EliteXC middleweight champion Robbie Lawler.

The end result was a first round submission via guillotine choke for Shields over the hometown favorite Lawler, who co-owns the H.I.T. Squad Gym just seven miles from the arena with former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes.

For Lawler, it was a disappointing loss and a setback in his march to once again be a champion, but make no mistake about it, he will be seen and heard from again sooner rather than later. 

As Lawler told me in an interview just prior to Saturday night, “I’m hoping to fight maybe two or three times before the end of the year.  I had a long layoff, and I want to make up for lost time.”

While Scott Smith, who was also defeated earlier in the evening by Nick Diaz, would be a logical choice for his next opponent, it is unlikely because of the long history between the two.

“Ruthless” and “Hands of Steel” fought twice already in EliteXC, resulting in a no contest in May 2008 and a TKO victory by Lawler in July. 

Lawler clearly demonstrated throughout the course of the two fights that he is the superior fighter, and a third fight is one that will likely be a hard sell to fans.

More likely opponents for him in the future include Kazuo Misaki or the loser of the Jorge Santiago and Vitor Belfort fight that is scheduled for the Affliction: "Trilogy" event on Aug. 1.

On the other hand, Jake Shields is in a bit of a quandary due to the fact that current Strikeforce middleweight champion Cung Le has been holding the division hostage to pursue his blossoming acting career. Le has not fought since defeating Frank Shamrock back in March of last year.

Shields has done enough to earn a title shot, but so has his teammate, the aforementioned Nick Diaz. These two will likely never fight each other, so that would rule out an interim championship bout where the winner would eventually take on Le to unify the belts.

When Diaz was asked at Saturday’s post-fight press conference whether he would be willing to fight Shields, he said, “That’s not funny. I’ll fight anybody who’s not on my team. I just want to fight someone important.”

A more likely scenario is Shields dropping back to his natural weight class at 170 pounds and fighting for the vacant Strikeforce welterweight crown against a guy like Jay Hieron, assuming he is able to defeat Paul Daley on Aug. 1.

Shields would be favored over Hieron due to his superior ground skills. He is a black belt in jiu-jitsu under Cesar Gracie and one of the best submission fighters in the world. 

Hieron may have the slight standup advantage. However, Shields has proven time and time against the likes of Lawler, Yushin Okami, and Paul Daley that he can handle dangerous strikers by taking them to the ground.

By using a combination of leg kicks to keep those with great standup at a distance and mixing in punches to keep them honest, it allows him to buy time to pursue takedowns so he can take the fight to the mat and play to his biggest strength.

Consequently, Nick Diaz would be left to wait out Cung Le, with the two likely doing battle sometime during fourth quarter 2009. 

Diaz is a well-rounded fighter that would present a matchup nightmare for the champion. He is a former professional boxer and is also phenomenal on the ground, where he has a black belt in jiu-jitsu. 

While Diaz would likely prefer to stand with Le and put on a show for the fans, his best bet would be to take the fight to the ground, where he would have a significant advantage against the kickboxing-based Le, and look to end the fight via submission.

Besides rising superstars Shields and Diaz, the third crown jewel from Saturday night was up-and-coming heavyweight prospect Brett Rogers, who stunned former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski with a flurry of punches that resulted in a knockout victory just 22 seconds into the first round.

It was certainly a big surprise that not many people saw coming.

Rogers reflected on his big night at the post-fight press conference, 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 wasn’t really moving much. I am not really sure what was going on with him.”

“The Pitbull” is currently still scheduled for a professional boxing match on June 27 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California against an unnamed opponent. He may or may not be medically cleared or healthy enough to compete. 

If and when he returns to mixed martial arts, he could take on any number of the mid-tier Strikeforce and Affliction heavyweights.

On the other hand, Rogers’ coming-out party has all but officially earned him a title shot against current Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem.

Strikeforce publically confirmed during the Saturday night broadcast that Overeem will be fighting on Aug. 15 at the next event against an opponent to be named later, which will almost certainly be Rogers... 

After the post-fight press conference, Strikeforce executive Mike Afromowitz said, “I know Brett (Rogers) said he is ready (to fight for the title). We will see how he is feeling next week and go from there.”

A matchup between Rogers and Overeem would favor the veteran Overeem, who is the more experienced of the two and the better overall fighter. 

There is not one aspect of mixed martial arts where Rogers has the superior skill over Overeem, who is above average across the board and hard to deal with for any heavyweight in the world.

Rogers would simply have a puncher’s chance in this fight, which has been his specialty lately, but it is not likely to continue against a fighter who is the caliber of Overeem.

Furthermore, the winner of Rogers and Overeem would likely square off with the winner of the much-anticipated matchup between WAMMA heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko and No. 1 contender Josh Barnett, but that may be getting a little too far ahead.

While the immediate future of the fighters and the various scenarios are currently in limbo, one thing that is for certain is that the newly improved Strikeforce organization is here to stay. They seem poised to continue to put on the shows that the fans will want to come back to see.

With Affliction now working in tandem to create the best possible fights by pooling the talent, the result will be both increased Pay-Per-View buys for Affliction and Showtime subscriptions to view Strikeforce events.

If you build it, they will come, and as long as these two organizations remain committed to putting forth a good product, the sky’s the limit for these brands. 

Someone please send a memo to UFC President Dana White: The double-headed monster has officially been unleashed into the marketplace.


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