What Happens When One Organization's Best Welterweights Train Together?
March 10, 2006. The HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. The first MMA event in Strikeforce history. A previously kickboxing exclusive organization was now delving into the wide open sea of MMA.
It was set to feature the MMA debuts of both Cung Le and Cesar Gracie, while at the same time re-introducing the MMA world to Frank Shamrock.
Le was the current Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Sanshou Champion and brought an undefeated Sanshou record of 17-0 into the cage against Mike Haltman.
Haltman stood no chance and was easily disposed of in the first round, keeping Le's undefeated record in combat sports alive.
The main event of the evening saw Frank Shamrock make his return to MMA after a three-year hiatus taking on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master Cesar Gracie.
Gracie, known mostly for his students Jake Shields and the Diaz brothers, made his MMA debut last only 21 seconds after being KO'd by Shamrock in the first round.
Since then we've had the pleasure of watching Strikeforce become a major player in the MMA world. Cung Le has remained undefeated and won the Strikeforce Middleweight Championship.
Frank Shamrock has watched his career slowly slip away from him and has lost three of his last five bouts, while finding a niche behind the announcers' table.
Cesar Gracie has not returned to the cage, but he may have been the most successful. He has watched his students Nick Diaz, Jake Shields, and Gilbert Melendez run through their opponents. Diaz and Shields have become two of the most popular stars in the organization.
Earlier this month, Nick Diaz took another step in the direction of elitism. For the second consecutive time, Nick took a catchweight fight with a normally larger opponent.
In April, Nick took on MMA legend Frank Shamrock in a 179-pound catchweight fight. Shamrock, a normally 185-pounder, dropped six pounds to take on a top level 170 pounder.
Shamrock was looking for a name win in order to keep his elite status alive, while Nick was looking for a big-name victory in order to boost his recognition.
Diaz dominated the legend and would continue to take fights against larger opponents. His next fight came earlier this month against Scott Smith.
Smith, known for his incredible comeback knockouts, was looking to continue his two-fight win streak and possibly get another chance at middleweight champ Robbie Lawler.
Unfortunately, Diaz refused to be used as a stepping stone. In what I believe was the single greatest striking performance in MMA history, Diaz landed 192 of his 371 thrown punches for an incredible 52 percent accuracy rating en route to a third-round submission win.
Diaz proved that he is a true threat both on the ground and as a boxer.
Let me ask you this question. Would you rather take down this Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and risk the threat of being submitted, or try and stand toe-to-toe with a guy that is capable of throwing 371 punches in less than three rounds?
I'll tell you what I'd do. I'd reject the fight. Maybe now we can all understand K.J. Noons for ducking this guy.
On that same night we saw another catchweight fight. This one was between Welterweight fighter Jake Shields and Middleweight fighter Robbie Lawler. The two men would meet at 182 pounds.
Many figured that Lawler would be able to use his superior striking and size to keep this fight on its feet and dismantle the BJJ black belt. Those people were wrong.
Although it looked that way for the first minute or so, Jake Shields would use his far superior submission skills to catch Lawler in a tight guillotine choke and force the top ten middleweight to tap out.
A shocking turn of events left Strikeforce in an odd predicament. In a night that saw two welterweights take on two middleweights, both welterweight fighters won.
Whats odd about that? No, it has nothing to do with the size of the fighters. It has to do with who the two winners were.
Both Jake Shields and Nick Diaz are trained in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu by the aforementioned Cesar Gracie. Both men are members of "Scrap Pack."
The "Scrap Pack" is a team of mixed martial artists that include Shields, Nick and Nate Diaz, Gilbert Melendez, and David Terrell.
Shields is the captain of the fight crew. But what happens when a fight crew contains the two best welterweights in one organization?
Obviously, Strikeforce can't force these two to fight, and I doubt that Cesar Gracie would approve of these two fighting each other. After all, fight crews are like families, and who better to know about family then a guy with the last name "Gracie."
One obvious solution would see Diaz move up to Middleweight. Diaz has shown that he has what it takes to run through the division, seeing as how he just dominated probably the second- or third-best guy in that division.
One big problem is that Diaz has said that he wants to stay at welterweight and fight at 170. Shields said the same thing. So much for that plan.
The most likely situation would see Jake Shields sign with the UFC when his contract expires. When asked about going to the UFC in an interview with our own Derek Bolender, Jake had this to say:
"That was definitely my No. 1 option. We were just trying to get the contract cleared. We were very ready to go to the UFC. At my weight, that is where the top competition is. I was pushing really hard to go to the UFC."
No doubt this scenario is likely to happen, especially considering Strikeforce really has nothing else to offer in the way of welterweight competition.
The UFC is currently home to nine of the top ten welterweight fighters in the world. The only fighter not fighting in the UFC is Jake Shields, who is ranked No. 4 by Sherdog.
Shields has only fought one of those nine fighters, Carlos Condit. Shields won that fight by decision back in 2006.
If Shields were to leave for the UFC, Diaz would be free to dominate the Strikeforce welterweights and have a long reign as champion.
Until that happens, Strikeforce really can't name a legitimate Welterweight champion. What they can do is continue to put on catchweight dream fights, and that should be enough to keep all of our attention.
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