What was supposed to be a triumphant beginning to a new year for Strikeforce, was sabotaged in Miami by the two fighters the organization carefully manufactured as their biggest draws—Herschel Walker and Bobby Lashley.
Unfortunately due to the business aspect of the sport, fight promotions occasionally stumble on opportunities to milk an athlete’s previous successes to make their desired transition into mixed martial arts as profitable as possible.
With a sport like mixed martial arts that has integrity naturally wrapped around the double helix of its DNA, the practice of protecting the records of your prospects or “stars,” by spoon-feeding them less-than-competitive “opponents," has the potential to corrode the relationship between fan and promotion.
This less-than-honorable practice, when executed poorly, i.e. Strikeforce: Miami, can threaten the sacred bond between the fans and the sport. Just think of boxing, a sport on its deathbed due to these types of maneuvers by unruly promoters in order to “protect” their conveyor belt investments. How else can competitors, in a combative sport like boxing, have barely tarnished records like 70-1, 48-0, etc.?
It is possible for a promotion to strike middle-ground with the fans, just look at UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. About the only people thrilled by the WWE superstar’s crossover to the octagon were his pro-wrestling fans.
Given some time, MMA constituents started warming up to the behemoth after getting tastes of his dedication and dominance over thoroughbred opponents, credible guys who had legitimate careers in the sport.
UFC’s All Access on Lesnar allowed people to peek into his grueling training regimen and his humble lifestyle—not to mention his high protein and high carbohydrate diet, the precursor to his bout with diverticulitis. Eat your roughage Brock!
Even after the episode, the skepticism was still very evident in some. Does a fighter with the physique of Brock, Lashley, or Walker deserve respect? No, physicality aside, each “green” man has to prove himself against formidable opponents and express a desire to gradually evolve as a fighter, if they want to be perceived as a genuine mixed martial artist.
It wasn’t until after Brock’s debut against Frank Mir that cynics began their conversion into believers in the NCAA All-American’s rightful spot in MMA. After each dominant performance over respected opponents, an avenged loss at UFC 100, nobody could deny Brock’s credibility.
There lies the painful difference between the UFC’s and Strikeforce’s approach to “easing” their prospects into legitimacy. Even the casual fan can differentiate between Randy Couture, Frank Mir, Heath Herring and Wes Sims, Greg Nagy, Bob Sapp.
Last night’s presentation of Herschel Walker’s debut against Greg Nagy and Bobby Lashley’s road to contention through Wes Sims, was nothing short of a local Tough Man competition—a very tendentious affair to say the least.
Strikeforce began its Miami card with the heavily anticipated match between Lashley and Sims. What was more shocking than the controversial first-round stoppage, that proved nothing sufficient about Lashley’s abilities as a fighter, was Wes Sims’ body.
Granted Sims took the fight on short notice, but how long has it been since the taping of last season’s Ultimate Fighter? Was it a mad dash to the nearest quad-stack whopper establishment after the cameras were shut down? The UFC veteran’s midsection looked like it hadn’t seen a sit-up since his face-stomping days against Frank Mir at UFC 43.
Sims’ dough-boy appearance wasn’t the only appalling part of the Lashley extravaganza—nervous officiating led to an embarrassing early stoppage. Sure, Sims was out-matched from the beginning, but the fight was meant as an opportunity for Lashley to gain some much-needed experience.
There is no doubt the TNA wrestling superstar had Sims earning his $30,000 paycheck (that’s a lot of whoppers) in that first round, but was Sims able to continue? Yes. The referee, remembering pre-fight meeting bullet points, did his part to preserve the status of one of Strikeforce's biggest draws and ended the fight as soon as a Lashley victory presented itself.
Now with Lashley’s fighting potential still unclear, let’s examine NFL legend, Herschel Walker’s debut against Greg Nagy—an opponent whose career consists of one TKO win and one submission loss.
Viewers must have been confused about which fight they were watching and what fight the commentators were describing. I’m no expert at pronouncing Greg Nagy’s last name, but as someone with experience in speaking English, my native tongue, I was dumbfounded once all three commentators (even talented Mauro Ranallo) collectively decided on different variations of the word “Nudge.”
Commentator Frank Shamrock needs to return to the cage as quickly as possible. His verbal hard-on for Walker’s rudimentary performance, against a guy with a total of two fights—impressive for a 47-year-old but not amazing—was unbearable at times.
As humorous as it was listening to the fight’s obscurities, it was barely a consolation prize for fans who endured the boring engagement between Walker and Nagy for 15 long minutes. Where did Strikeforce find Greg Nagy? I could have better tested Walker’s MMA abilities while writing this article than Nagy—who possesses the most awkward fighting stance in the sport.
The most redeeming quality about this fight, a three-round lay-and-pray-fest, was Herschel Walker’s in-ring comments after securing a decision victory.
“This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Walker said; a testament to the sport’s exclusiveness coming from an athlete who has competed in the Olympics, won the Heisman trophy, and broke many NFL records.
He also added that his future in the sport would be determined by whether or not his training partners at American Kickboxing Academy feel he should continue—the most honest moment during the fight.
By no fault of the fighters, the Strikeforce hype machine let down MMA fans by allowing the Lashley/Walker media frenzy to overshadow the far superior fights on the card that included the true warriors of the promotion—Diaz, Lawlor, and Cris Cyborg.
If Strikeforce has any intentions of competing with the UFC as a legitimate promotion, the company brass needs to recalibrate their desire to put on quality fights. The basic rule of thumb never changes—put on solid events with respectable fights and the ratings will come.