MMA Super Saturday: 10 Things We Learned Last Night
1. The Embodiment of "Puncher's Chance" and "Anything Can Happen"
Scott Smith may want to add "Head of Stone" to his "Hands of Steel" nickname, as once again last night, the veteran slugger survived two-plus rounds of beating to emerge victorious after landing a monster power shot.
Just as he did against Benji Radach earlier in the year, Smith came from way behind on the cards to drop Cung Le, handing the San Shou star his first professional fighting loss ever and simultaneously throwing a big ol' monkey wrench into the Strikeforce star system. More on that one later.
This is the awesomeness and awkwardness of Smith all in one; he can literally knock just about anyone out and change a fight with one punch, but he can also look very much like the journeyman who has bounced around from the UFC to EliteXC and now to Strikeforce as well.
He'll always give you an exciting fight, but he might also knockout one of your biggest stars in the process, only to follow it up by getting his dominated the next time around.
2. Falling Strikeforce Stars
While Strikeforce has made great strides this year and has a number of emerging stars on their roster, three of their top marquee fighters have fallen this year and that can't sit well with Scott Coker.
Frank Shamrock returned from his broken arm to get decimated by Nick Diaz. Though Diaz is a popular fighter in his own right, his reluctance to fight in the State of California, due to his enjoyment of marijuana, limits his possibilities.
Gina Carano got clobbered by Cris "Cyborg" Santos, who left the "Face of Women's MMA" bloodied and battered. With a reported starring role in Steven Soderbergh's Knockout in her future, when the beautiful Body Issue cover girl will reappear in the cage is anyone's guess.
Now Cung Le falls to Scott Smith.
While Strikeforce has done a great job to spin Santos as the dominant fighter she is and worked to make new stars out of Gegard Mousasi and Jake Shields, and bring in established stars like Dan Henderson, losing three main event fighters in the span of nine months is challenging.
3. "Cowboy" Needs to Clean It Up
There is no question in my mind that the knees landed by Donald Cerrone to the manhood of Ed "9mm" Ratcliff last night were unintentional.
But drilling an opponent in the pills enough times to merit two point deductions combined with Cerrone's illegal knee against Jamie Varner make me think this isn't just a series of freak occurrences.
It's not that I think Cerrone is dirty; we're not looking at the MMA version of Andrew Golota or anything like that, but rather a fighter who is sloppy and fights too fast at times.
Cleaning things up can come from taking a deep breath every now and again, and properly measuring opponents. Cerrone seems to fight a fraction of a second ahead of his mind at times, rattling off a string of moves that end up getting messy simply because he's trying to do too much.
The skill and technique is there— it just needs to be cleaned up.
4. Time for a Rematch
Two and a half years ago in Colorado's Ring of Fire promotion, Donald Cerrone and Anthony Njokuani locked horns, with Cerrone securing a triangle submission late in the first round.
Now, both men reside near the top of the WEC lightweight food chain and after Njokuani's third consecutive win last night (and third consecutive Knockout of the Night award I might add), the two need to get in the cage together again to determine the No. 1 contender for the soon-to-be-unified lightweight title.
An interesting wrinkle to the bout is that both men have lost to Ben Henderson, so the possible promotional angles moving forward have already written themselves. Not only would the fans be treated to another great fight and the victorious fighter come away with a title shot, but the WEC would have an easily marketed Main Event no matter which way things turned out.
All we need is for Reed Harris to make it happen.
5. Speaking of Rematches...
Expect there to be a Melendez— Thomson three in the future.
And by "expect," I mean that I would bet one of my kidneys on the fact that the two best lightweights competing under the Strikeforce banner will face-off in an rubber match somewhere down the line.
Each holds a Unanimous Decision win and a trilogy fight would be an easy sell. The only question is timing; do you put them right back in the cage together immediately to ensure the title is still up for grabs or do you give it time, letting each fighter earn a win or two in the interim?
Strikeforce is hopeful to get DREAM star Shinya Aoki into the promotion for a future event, so chances are that the Japanese grappling sensation would need to be in a title fight to make the trip worthwhile, so chances are the 17-2 Melendez will be dangled as his potential opponent.
Personally, I'd like to see Thomson get another fight under his belt before taking on "El Nino" for a third time. As admirably as "The Punk" performed last night, there is always a certain amount of ring rust that needs to be shaken off after spending 15 months on the shelf.
Make Melendez— Aoki happen, give Thomson another tough fight and then put them together 8-12 months from now to resolve this thing.
6. Is "Jacare" That Good?
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza looked superb in submitting Matt "The Law" Lindland in the first round last night, but the question for me is whether "Jacare" is as tremendous as he looked or did he dominate an aging fighter on the downside of his career?
The correct answer is probably somewhere in the middle.
Souza showed why he is considered one of the best BJJ players in the sport in executing his gameplan perfectly once the fight hit the floor, but Lindland's failed takedown attempt early on also showed that the best days of Matt Lindland are definitely behind him.
"The Law" has now dropped two fights in a row and hasn't made it out of the first round in either. While he used to be one of the best in the sport, those days are passed. He's still competitive when given the right matchup and certainly is a credible name to have on the Strikeforce roster, but a title contender he is not.
On the other hand, "Jacare" most certainly is and should be in the conversation about who gets a crack at the middleweight title after the rumored Shields— Henderson bout in April.
Between now and then, Souza certainly has some unfinished business with Jason "Mayhem" Miller that could be promoted as a solid second or third fight on a future Showtime card.
7. Miguel Torres' Next Opponent is
Either Joseph Benavidez or Scott "Young Guns" Jorgensen, both of whom emerged victorious from tough bantamweight challenges last night.
Benavidez stopped submission specialist Rani Yahya early, while Jorgensen rode a dominant first round to a Unanimous Decision (29-28 across the board) win over Takeya Mizugaka, putting both fighters into the title picture and as possible challengers for the returning former champ.
Jorgensen is riding a two-fight winning streak and has been working his way up the ladder, meaning he is certainly the more deserving of the two, but look for Benavidez to get the spot opposite Torres thanks to his finish of Yahya and allegiances with Team Alpha Male and Urijah Faber.
8. "King Mo" Is Like Oxy
He takes care of whiteheads... fast!
Yes, I went there, and just as he had said he would when he tweet'ed the fight announcement, Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal popped Mike Whitehead, knocking the tough veteran out three minutes into the first round.
With his entertaining entrances, over-the-top bravado and seven consecutive victories, it's going to be hard to slow the "King Mo" hype train, but Strikeforce would be wise to preserve one of their emerging prospects for a while, rather than throw him to the wolves right away.
There are tougher fights and then there are tough-as-nails fights. For now, Lawal needs the former, not the latter.
Putting him in with Mousasi this quick would squander a prospect and potential star, while Renato "Babalu" Sobral presents a potential loss and nowhere else to go should Lawal emerge victorious.
Instead, why not get the charismatic and cocky Lawal some more national exposure? The challenge will be finding fights that are credible.
9. Two Cards in One Night is Too Much
I understand counter-programming and that things like this are going to happen from time-to-time, but it doesn't really help anyone, least of all the overall sport itself.
Coverage has to be split between two events, fans get split between two events and while both did very good numbers at the gate (and I expect them to have done the same on television), a lot of fans and community members were left watching one show on their DVR instead of getting to catch both live.
Additionally, I like the WEC on Sunday nights as they have done numerous times in the past. It is a nice little niche, can work in piggy-backing a UFC event, scoring viewers off promotion during the UFC broadcast, and keeps Saturday nights like yesterday from happening.
10. As Great a Night as Last Night Was in the Cage
It doesn't compare to having a great night with my wife.
Terrific day out and about Victoria, tremendous birthday dinner at a local seafood joint, gourmet cupcakes (including candles) instead of cake, and laughing hysterically throughout The Hangover...
Happy Birthday, Baby Girl and thanks for a great night!
(photo courtesy of the outstanding Esther Lin )
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