As we head down the final stretch toward UFC 109 in Las Vegas over Super Bowl Weekend, it's clear the Ultimate Fighting Championship still has a comfortable edge on its biggest domestic competitors as far as technical practitioners are concerned.
Yet, the 800-pound gorilla's reign as the sole purveyor of relevant MMA in the United States of America is officially gathering cobwebs.
Most fans of combat sports will tell you that polished excellence is only part of what makes a scintillating blood sport and it's not a required element.
Exquisite technique certainly improves the product and vastly at that, but it's still not a constituent of every great gladiatorial endeavor.
This simple truism should be remembered when considering the sloppy, yet satisfying card put on by Strikeforce in Miami—sophisticated and advanced artistry do not equate with excitement, but excitement does equate with survival in this game.
Survival means relevancy.
I didn't get the pay-per-view, so my observations are limited to what Showtime aired, i.e. the main card. Nevertheless, I'm gonna recklessly extrapolate from what I did see because I don't imagine the lesser members of the Strikeforce stable offer refinement (for the most part).
What I did see were some very marketable names buffered by some very marketable storylines. Oh, and I saw a couple thoroughly entertaining fights.
"Ruthless" Robbie Lawler spent 99 percent of his fight with "Marvelous" Melvin Manhoef getting obliterated. I'm not sure how he was still putting weight on his front leg by the end of the massacre.
Of course, I'm really at a loss to explain the three gnarly shots that came out of nowhere and brutalized the Dutch fighter.
Manhoef would probably agree, since the trio left Lawler with the only functioning brain in the cage.
In the main event, Nick Diaz used his typical arsenal of pepper shots to rattle Marius "The Whitemare" Zaromskis (who deserved to lose for the nickname alone). The Lithuanian fighter showed he wasn't totally out of his depth as Strikeforce's Welterweight Champion, even managing to throttle the Stockton native on one occasion.
Ultimately, though, the more accomplished American asserted his boxing supremacy and settled the matter convincingly.
As far as names for the bright lights, Strikeforce trotted out most of its headliners, and the roster has become an impressive array, if for adrenaline more so than elite, well-rounded competition (in no particular order):
The UFC and PRIDE FC veteran is a known quantity amongst MMA aficionados. You can't ride any Hendo flamboyance to the promotional promised land; instead, you must make do with a resume glittering with legendary names and a propensity to deliver nuclear right hands.
This beast is finally emerging from Fedor Emelianenko's considerable Red Devil Sport Club shadow. The current Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion is no joke; there is no doubt he'd be a serious source of anxiety even in the UFC's most stacked division.
3. Nick Diaz
Whether you enjoy his teasing punches and bad-boy posturing or not, you must acknowledge the new Strikeforce Welterweight Champion has a knack for bringing the crowd to its feet. Either in victory or defeat.
Like I said, technical excellence isn't the selling point here. Regardless, anyone who gets in the cage with Fedor and dishes out some punishment before the inevitable happens is someone on whom to keep an eye.
If Rogers can improve as age and raw ability suggest, this is a sincere problem at heavyweight.
Consider me impressed. Granted, it's an insult to aluminum to call Greg Nagy a tomato can, but Walker still looked competent out there.
A decent grappler probably would've submitted the ex-NFLer quickly with some type of leg lock, but Walker did enough to guarantee eyeballs for his next appearance.
In contrast to Walker, I'd say Lashley underwhelmed against an embarrassingly out-of-shape Wes Sims.
Still, the sheer physical magnetism of another former professional wrestler and the unblemished record will conspire to make Lashley an ongoing phenomenon. He's a far freakin' cry from Brock Lesnar at this point, but that's no great condemnation.
If you saw the striking exhibition the Dutch fighter almost completed, you know this dude will draw a crowd.
Even though Lawler caught him to shut off the lights, Manhoef is a savage striker, and those always put bottoms in seats.
Toss in respectable names and genuine up-and-comers like Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem, Middleweight Champion Jake Shields, Muhammad Lawal, and Scott Smith, and you've got a strong nucleus from which to expand.
Not to mention the Last Emperor. Fedor Emelianenko, considered by many to be the best and most terrifying fighter on the planet, makes for a nice little avenue of expansion as well as emergency plan.
Nope, Strikeforce's cupboard isn't bare by any means.
It's probably not going to be producing the world's best MMA combatants too frequently. Nor can it compete with the obscene depth and overall superiority of the UFC.
But it doesn't need to as long as it keeps the fans cheering.
And Strikeforce appears to have the tools to do just that.
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