If you didn't know better, you'd think Lashley had been impressive so far in his MMA career. Since becoming a pro fighter a year and a half ago, he's 5-0, with four first-round stoppages.
But if you actually saw Lashley's fights, you know better: Lashley's first three opponents -- Joshua Franklin, Jason Guida and Mike Cook -- have a combined pro record of 28-29. His last two opponents -- Bob Sapp and Wes Sims -- are a couple of past-their-prime veterans who just wanted to cash a paycheck, lose without getting hurt, and go home.
To put it another way, Lashley has fought exactly one guy who even remotely tested him, and that guy was Guida, who is 18-21 in his career, was out of shape when he fought Lashley, took the fight on short notice, and is a natural light heavyweight fighting at heavyweight.
Now Lashley will fight Sparks, who like Lashley has a 5-0 record. I don't know how they did it, but in finding Sparks Strikeforce managed to find a 5-0 fighter whose 5-0 record is even less impressive than Lashley's. Sparks has four wins over guys with career 0-1 records, and one win against a guy with a career 29-41 record. The guys Sparks has been fighting make Jason Guida look like Fedor Emelianenko.
So Sparks is an incredibly soft 5-0, and yet he's still got a slim chance of giving Lashley a test. That represents a little bit of progress.
But it doesn't represent much progress, and it's a real shame that the heavyweight who would make the most sense as an opponent for Lashley -- Shane Del Rosario -- is getting the runaround while Lashley declines to fight him. Del Rosario is a talented fighter who could do real damage to a prospect like Lashley, and so Lashley is staying away. But Strikeforce can't protect Lashley forever. Eventually Lashley is going to have to fight real opponents, and Sparks is a step toward that, albeit a baby step.