Lyle Beerbohm Not Afraid of Shinya Aoki's Ground Game

In a way, Lyle Beerbohm is relieved. For nearly four years he walked around with an unblemished professional record, and the more fights he won the more people wanted to talk about it. It became a recurring question in interviews, and the pressure only grew.

After all, it wasn't like he could become more perfect with each successive win. Being undefeated meant Beerbohm always had a little more to lose than to gain. That is, until he lost a unanimous decision to Pat Healy in the main event of a Strikeforce Challengers show in February, and then suddenly it was like a weight had been lifted.

"I think my friends and family took it worse than I did," said Beerbohm. "I know how it is in MMA. I know how easy it is to get caught and to get knocked out or submitted. I knew it was probably a matter of time. But my friends and family, they don't know as much about MMA so they couldn't believe I lost."

That's not to say that Beerbohm (16-1) necessarily feels like he lost that fight, however. Even after going back and watching the video, he still thinks he was the one pushing the pace and controlling the action for the majority of the fifteen minutes he spent in the cage with Healy.

Still, he didn't get his hand raised in the end, so he has to live with that loss on his record. But as it turns out, that's not as hard for him to swallow as you might expect.

"I don't really care about the loss that much," said Beerbohm. "I had four years where I'd never lost a fight, and all my amateurs before that, and that's a lot of pressure that's building and building on you. So to get out there and lose a fight, it's not that big a deal because I know I'm going to come out as a much better fighter as a result."

It helps that, at least in terms of his standing within the organization, Beerbohm doesn't appear to have suffered much due to the loss. A little less than two months after dropping the first fight of his career, he's being featured on the main card of Saturday night's Diaz vs. Daley event against Shinya Aoki (26-5, 1 NC), who fought for the Strikeforce lightweight title in an unsuccessful effort almost exactly one year ago.

Aoki is still well known and widely respected among MMA fans for his years of dominance on the Japanese scene. If a chance to make his name off the grappling phenom is the penance for his own defeat, then Beerbohm will gladly take it, whatever the motivating force behind it may be.

"They called me and asked if I wanted to fight Aoki, and I didn't ask a whole lot of questions," he said. "I said sure. That's a good fight for me."

Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez beat Aoki by avoiding takedowns and using the cage to his advantage. That's one way to do it, Beerbohm said. But after an honest assessment of his own skills, he's decided he needs to find another route.

"I don't think my sprawl-and-brawl is up to par," said Beerbohm. "In MMA, if someone really wants a takedown and they commit to it, I think they usually get it. Unless, I guess, you have some super good sprawl-and-brawl, like Gilbert Melendez did. He really shut him down. But I'm not that type of fighter. I definitely have to be aware of his tricky submissions, but I have to kind of fight him a little bit different. I don't want to be on my back with him, so I have to push the pace and either get on top of him or beat him up against the cage."

In previous fights Beerbohm has relied on his own takedown skills to shut down an opponent's striking game. Given Aoki's proficiency off his back, not many people have been eager to shoot a double-leg on him in recent years. But, if Beerbohm is to be believed, he might be the exception.

"I like to go to the ground, and he's one of the best grapplers in the world at lightweight. I think it should be an exciting fight, and I'm not afraid to go to the ground with him. I'm really not. He might think that no one wants to go there with him, but we'll see what happens when we get there."

Perhaps the best tool at Beerbohm's disposal? New rules, thanks to his new employers.

While it may still be the Strikeforce name on the mats, it's a Zuffa operation these days, meaning that elbows to the head of a grounded opponent are now legal. That's good news for a guy like Beerbohm, who expects that at some point he'll end up in Aoki's dangerous guard and in need of all the weapons he can find in his first fight under the Zuffa banner.

"I think it's better for me. I like to use elbows, and now I can. I go out there and I don't care who I'm fighting, I'm there to win and finish. So I think [the Zuffa purchase] will be good for me. ...Any time the UFC is behind something, it gets big. Having the UFC back Strikeforce can only lead to good things, in my opinion."

Just how much a part of those big things Beerbohm will end up being, however, is still undecided. He might not have to worry about protecting his perfect record anymore, but against a submissions specialist like Aoki, it's his joints and his neck he'll need to watch out for.

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