On Saturday night, Strikeforce embarks upon its first major event since the Zuffa purchase, and there are no shortage of questions, predictions and observations to mull over as we wait to see what we're in for. Without further delay...I. If Nick Diaz wins, he could be the solution to the UFC's GSP problem.
And by problem, I mean the good kind, the kind that comes when you have a champion who is too dominant, and for whom there are never enough credible challengers. Not to look past Jake Shields (okay, I'm kind of looking past Jake Shields), but Diaz has the skills and the personality (in his own way) to make the welterweight division look like it still has a mountain or two left for the champ to climb -- if he's not already set on blowing up to middleweight and challenging Anderson Silva, which sounds like a bad deal from the start. But first, Diaz has to get past Paul Daley. Then he has to 'play the game' to Dana White's satisfaction, which mostly means refraining from non-sanctioned combat on live TV or in hospital hallways. It doesn't sound so difficult when you phrase it like that, and yet... II. Oh yeah, there's a second title fight on this card.
You can decide for yourself why Gilbert Melendez vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri isn't getting as much hype as you'd expect for a lightweight title fight. Is it being overshadowed by Diaz-Daley? Is it just a little weird for Melendez to defend his belt against a guy who so recently lost to the last person Melendez defended the belt against? Is the whole thing simply flying under the radar? I think I'll go with d) all of the above. This actually has the potential to be a more exciting fight to watch than Melendez-Aoki was, but I doubt it will be any more competitive.
III. One look at the main event and it's a wonder they didn't just dub this card 'Strikeforce: Problem Child.'
Both Diaz and Daley seem to vacillate between being grateful for the opportunity Strikeforce has given them while also feeling a certain irrepressible anger toward the organization. Diaz can barely get through an interview without complaining about his pay and/or the frequency of his fights. Daley seems to think Strikeforce is stacking the deck against him somehow by giving him a title shot on Showtime. Between the two of them, it's one big semi-coherent complain-a-thon. Until, that is, the fight starts. No matter what people say about these two outside the cage -- and, let's be honest, it's often ugly and accurate -- once inside they both bring it. Regardless of who's champ when the dust clears, Strikeforce/Zuffa will still have a bit of a loose cannon to deal with.
IV. Keith Jardine is trading on the only assets he has left: a recognizable name and a willingness to take almost any fight.
At 35 years old and with more losses than wins in the last couple of years, his career is a line that plummets ever downward with only the occasional insignificant spike. But while the flesh may be older and slower, his decision to take a fight against Gegard Mousasi on extremely short notice proves that the spirit is still willing. Then again, at what point does that willing spirit become his biggest liability? And what happens after that?
V. Tatsuya Kawajiri said he didn't do any specific training for the cage to get ready for this fight, and why should he?
It's not as if the cage has ever proved to be a difficult adjustment for MMA fighters coming from the Japanese ring scene. Nope. Not ever.VI. Gegard Mousasi has almost nothing to gain on Saturday night in San Diego but a paycheck and a free trip to Sea World.
Even if he knocks out Keith Jardine with his first punch, people will still be more likely to chalk it up to Jardine's decline than to Mousasi's skill. If Mousasi wins via late stoppage or decision or – just throwing out ideas here – gets himself beaten somehow, then his stock will really drop. You could argue that, after the injury to Mike Kyle, he should be glad just to get a fight. But let's face facts: Mousasi is in a difficult situation here. Anything less than total dominance will be a disappointment.
VII. It's nice to see Lyle "Fancy Pants" Beerbohm finally getting a push, but am I the only one who's having trouble understanding the relationship between cause and effect here?
In February he loses the first fight of his career in a close decision against Pat Healy on a Challengers card. Then two months later he gets offered the highest profile fight of his career against Shinya Aoki on a mainstream Strikeforce card. It's a little too ironic that after racking up wins and treading water for the last couple years, it's a loss that finally boosted him up the ladder. If he'd known it would work like this, he might have saved himself some time and gotten beaten sooner.
VIII. Remember when Shinya Aoki was the arm-snapping, tights-wearing anti-hero of Japanese MMA?
Don't look now, but the Aoki hype train has dropped off a cliff in the year between his first North American bout and his second. That's how quickly fortunes can change in this business. And all it took was one decision loss and one bad choice on New Year's Eve. We've all been there. At least, the second part.IX. 'Business as usual' is anything but, and we all know it.
Now that Zuffa owns Strikeforce, things are going to change. In some cases, they already have. That's not all bad news, and if it means Strikeforce can finally start a weigh-in or a press conference on time, so much the better. But can we at least stop pretending that everything is exactly the same as it was? Zuffa is gradually going to remake certain parts of Strikeforce in its own image, which is to be expected. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at least as interested in seeing what the new Zuffa-crafted product looks and feels like as I am in the fights themselves.