Strikeforce: "Fedor Vs. Rogers" Preview and Predictions

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Strikeforce:
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Staring across the Rubicon river in 49 BC, Julius Casear knew he faced an a critical juncture in his life, a true all or nothing moment. All around him, his army marched into the attack. Across the river lay Rome, the city he had served for his entire adult life - now, it would serve him. Weighted by all of this, the future emperor of Rome turned to a friend and uttered a now famous phrase.

Alea iacta est. “The die is cast”. I think Scott Coker would sympathize.

For him and his company, everything is on the line this Saturday night. A big night makes them the legitimate #2 MMA promotion in North America. A bad night, and he will most likely never get a shot on network television again. For Coker and Strikeforce, it’s all or nothing.

Still, you’ve got to give it to the San Hose promotion - their growth from a low level, regional promotion to one verging on a national presence is startling and impressive. They carefully avoided many of the pitfalls that doomed other startup promotions, keeping a low profile while building up their own stable of stars and establishing consistency in putting on exciting, well matched cards. They showed great business savvy in bolstering their roster with big names like Cung Le, Gina Carano, and Alastair Overeem to interest, even if it was only temporary.

To my mind, the way Coker and Co. have built and promoted Strikeforce should serve as the model of how to develop a competing Mixed Martial Arts brand in North America - but the crucial final chapter, the one that will determine failure or success for Strikeforce and their business model, will be written Saturday. This is key because while Strikeforce has largely done their own thing their own way, they now gamble their success the same way so many others have - on a certain Russian heavyweight who just may be the best fighter alive today.

No doubt about it folks - the pressure is on Fedor Emelianenko to finally prove he can be a legitimate draw in North America. This is a dubious, risky, and downright unproven proposition. The graveyard of failed MMA promotions is filled with companies who took a chance on Fedor as a star attraction - and collapsed into bankruptcy as a result (while M-1 made off handsomely - but that‘s a subject for another blog).

Think about this for a moment - every promotion Fedor has ever competed in has gone out of buisness while he was the heavyweight champion. This is his last - and greatest - chance to finally prove he can be a draw outside the hardcore fans, and maybe, just maybe, fill that elusive void of “World Heavyweight Champion” left empty by professional boxing.

It’s a big night for the sport folks, no doubt about it.

I know I’ve said some bad things about Fedor Emelianenko in the past, and have been harsh in my criticism of his recent career choices. Still, let me be clear - after the corrupt, embarrassing Elite XC network fiasco’s of last year, I’m damn proud of the fact that Fedor Emelianenko is headlining a major MMA card on network TV. He is everything I want this sport to represent to the mass audience - the lack of ego, the martial spirit, a love of ice cream - and his being on TV now after Kimbo Slice and James Thompson is a definite sign of progress.

Fedor Emelianenko vs. Brett Rogers

Alright, so I’m gushingly, proud mom-esque in my praise of Fedor as a network TV star - but I’m frustrated too, because for the umpteenth time in his recent career, he is in a lose/lose fight.

I understand the matchmaking of this fight from Strikeforce’s point of view. HW champion Alastair Overeem seems uninterested in ever returning stateside to defend his title, and the promotion has spent more time marketing and promoting Rogers then any other fighter in their rather thin HW roster. When it comes to attracting casual viewers, this is probably the best bet - but in terms of Fedor’s career, its another opportunity to either pad his record, or get “Matt Serra’d” out of the P4P rankings.

Don’t get me wrong - I have nothing against Brett Rogers. The dude is huge, with powerful strikes and a lot of potential. If he continues to train full time at a good camp and fight reasonably matched opposition, he could be a very successful HW fighter. But as of right now, today, he is not on the same level as “The Last Emperor”. Fedor has been training martial arts like Sambo and Judo full time for close to 20 years, and has beaten some of the best fighters in the world over the course of a decade long career in the sport.

Six months ago, Brett Rogers was working full time at Best Buy and training mixed martial arts in his spare time. Sorry Fedor, but beating Rogers doesn't make you the best fighter in the world.

Does “The Grimm” have a chance in this fight? Of course. Fedor does not have a chin of granite - if Rogers manages to connect with a bomb, he could be the first one to ever shut the Russian’s lights off. I suppose he also has a size advantage - somewhere in the neighbourhood of 30 pounds or so - but we’ve seen from past Fedor fights (Zulu, Mark Hunt, Hong Man Choi) that size without the technique to back it up is really not a problem for “The Last Emperor“. He also needs to make sure he doesn’t try to head butt Fedor’s fists.

So what this fight comes down to for Fedor is a catch 22. If he wins, he will have defeated a borderline amateur MMA fighter, and will do nothing to silence critics of his record or his level of opposition. If he loses - say goodbye to the mystique, the big money offers from the UFC, the M-1 co-promotions - all of it. The best case for Fedor is he trounces Rogers in front of a huge audience - increasingly his visibility for when he finally faces a serious opponent like Overeem or Fabrico Werdum, or increasing his hand in negotiations with the UFC.

Oh yeah, I have to give my prediction - I'm thinking this fight is going to be one sided folks, more one sided then BJ vs. GSP 2. Fedor by submission, probably an armbar or a rear naked choke in the first round. Followed by a 10 minute, translated back and forth post-fight interview.

Jason “Mayhem” Miller vs. Jake Shields

Call me crazy, but this match screams “insurance policy” to me - especially the inclusion of Jason “Mayhem” Miller. Never more then a cult favourite in the United States, his exposure as host of MTV’s “Bully Beatdown” has risen his profile considerably. He’s now “that guy from Bully Beatdown” to most folks in the US, a definite promotion over his previous identity as “that guy who got train wrecked by GSP.”

So we have “Mayhem” to draw in the 10-14 year old demographic as well as his hardcore fan base - which is good, because his opponent has all the charisma of a wooden plank and hasn’t exactly drawn in the ratings in the past. Call it biased, call it unprofessional, call it stupid even - something about Jake Shields just screams I’m a big douche bag. Maybe it was that whole “I don’t even feel like standing so I’m just gonna butt scoot after you” thing he did VS. Paul Daley.

Ok, so I’m being a bit hard on Jake, who is easily the best welterweight competitor outside the UFC - but that’s exactly the problem, as Zuffa basically holds a monopoly on welterweight talent. Despite being their de facto welterweight champion, there fact remains that there is no one to seriously challenge Shields in his own weight class. The complete lack of depth to any of their divisions remains the biggest problem facing Strikeforce - hell, facing any league not named UFC. Grooming stars is important, but so is grooming a stable of contenders for that star to face.

So, that leaves a match for the 185 lb title between a guy who is a natural 170 and a guy who is making his debut for the promotion. Strikeforce has spent a lot of time promoting and marketing Jake Shields (to what effect is anyone’s guess) and he is one of their “homegrown stars” - but I wouldn’t be surprised if Scott Coker and Co. were pulling for “Mayhem” to win, assuming his MTV crowd comes in hot as it’s supposed to do. He’s just such a better showman and personality for selling a card then is Shields, plus when it comes to network TV, there is nothing but the bottom line - if he can convince even a portion of the ADD afflicted MTV crowd to watch him instead of “My Super Sweet 16”, then CBS will be smiling.

Who’s gonna take it? The odds have Shields as the favourite - so I’ll go against the odds on this one and pick “Mayhem” to win it by TKO in the later rounds. There’s no doubt that Jake has some stellar submissions and possesses a really excellent grappling game - but that’s all he has. Outside of that, his striking is subpar, and his chin is untested, as is his ability to go 5 hard rounds, especially at a higher weight class against a heavier guy.

Conventional fight wisdom seems to say that Shields will submit Miller in quick, Robbie Lawler fashion, but I just don’t see it. “Mayhem” went the distance with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, possibly the best no-gi grappler in the world today, in DREAM - and despite spending 90% of the match twisted up in painful knots by the Jiu-Jitsu master, he never tapped out or got finished. If “Jacare” cannot tap the rubbery limbed Miller, I just don’t see Jake Shields doing any better. Miller withstands the early onslaught, forces Jake to stand with him, and TKO’s him.

Gegard Mousasi vs. Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou

Remember a few paragraphs back when I was talking about the lack of serious contenders in any of Strikeforce’s weight divisions (except heavyweight - I guess time will tell on that one)? Well, here it is again, and the result is downright confusing.

This past summer, Gegard Mousasi dropped out of the super prestigious DREAM “Super Hulk Tournament” (featuring such MMA legends as Jose Canseco, Hong Man Choi, and Minowa Man) in order to pursue serious opportunities stateside, dashing any hopes for the only semi-legitimate contest that could have come out of the “Super Hulk” - Mousasi vs. Sokoudjou.

Not to worry, though, because Mousasi was matched up in Strikeforce with Renato “Babalu” Sobral, who was coming off a devastating win over Sokoudjou in the last Affliction event - making this an even more legitimate fight for the young Armenian. He proceeds to dominate “Babalu” as no one ever has, becoming the new Strikeforce LHW champion. Good for him.

He then proceeds to sit on his thumbs, while Scott Coker tries very hard to find any 205 lb fighter outside the UFC who can give him a serious challenge.

His solution is - surprise - Sokoudjou, coming off big wins in the “Super Hulk” - and by “big”, I mean physically big, not big for your record (See: Sapp, Bob). So, now the fight that Mousasi originally ducked in the hopes of finding more legitimate opposition is happening, six months later - after Mousasi already trounced the guy who beat Sokoudjou last, outside of the “Super Hulk”, and - most confusingly - with the 205 lb. belt NOT on the line.

Um…what?

Does M-1 have some sort of deal with Strikeforce wherein their fighters can only be put in lose/lose situations? If Mousasi wins, well, that’s great - it won’t move him up the 205 ladder at all, and only proves what his destruction of Sobral already showed. If he loses, he’ll be in a situation beyond awkward - at the bottom of the mountain, yet somehow still the Strikeforce LHW champion (who the hell had this bright idea anyways?).

Luckily, he won’t lose. Just like his larger, Russian M-1 compatriot, “Dream Catcher” will catch “The African Assassin” with a submission, probably a triangle choke before the end of the second round.

Fabrico Werdum vs. Antonio Silva

Now this is interesting. Opening the show for Strikeforce is a true “battle of the opposites” in the Heavyweight division.

On the one hand we have Werdum, a world renown BJJ black belt and ADCC submission grappling champion, who also trains his Muay Thai at the legendary Chute Boxe camp in Brazil. On paper, his all around technical skill set is very impressive. The problem is his inconsistency, both mental and physical. He has come into fights looking out of shape and unmotivated in the past - and boy did it cost him.

His opponent, Antonio Silva, is the exact opposite. Standing 6’5, weighing in north of 265 lbs, Silva is every inch the imposing, physical monster - which is good, because his overall MMA game is still a bit, shall we say, unpolished. Sure, his most recent win was via submission - over no less reputable an opponent then Jim York. Previous to that, his offence, like all rookie “big” fighters, consists of using his enormous size, strength, and reach to shut down his opponents game.

How is this fight going to go? Probably like this - I’ll say Werdum via kicked out of a train.

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