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Falling Action: Best, Worst of Strikeforce: Houston

You can learn a lot about what a fighter is made of by the way he loses. Take "King" Mo Lawal and Bobby Lashley, for instance. Both suffered TKO losses at Strikeforce: Houston, but both showed us something completely different about their respective characters in the process.

Lawal absorbed some brutal knees and punches from a heavy-hitting Brazilian, and he was still scrambling for a desperate takedown right up until the end. When "Big" John McCarthy finally stopped the fight, Lawal pitched face first onto the mat, completely spent after trying everything he could to claw his way back from the brink of unconsciousness.

Lashley, on the other hand, looked like he didn't even want to get up and walk to his corner after winning the first round. The cut under his eye clearly rattled him, and a few minutes later he was so exhausted he could barely lift his arms or defend himself.

The difference might be less striking if there was more of an experience gap between Lawal and Lashley. On paper, they're only two fights apart. In reality, since one has been testing himself against tough opponents and the other has had a relatively easy climb, they're worlds apart in their MMA development. It's hard not to think that this fact didn't play a major factor in terms of how they lost on Saturday, as well as how they'll come back from it.

On to the winners and losers from Strikeforce: Houston.

Biggest Winner: Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante
He proved his doubters wrong and brought yet another championship belt to Ed Soares' stable of Brazilian world-beaters. Even if he couldn't stuff Lawal's takedowns every time, he did an excellent job of quickly getting to his feet and seizing every opportunity to do damage with his striking. Any man who hits as hard as Feijao does is trouble if you can't keep him down and/or stay out of his range, both of which Lawal struggled with against him. Now let's see if he can successfully defend that belt at least once. Its previous owners have had some trouble with that part.

Biggest Loser: Bobby Lashley
Lashley's loss hurts the most not just because he was a huge favorite, but more because of the way he lost. Granted, he caught a bad break with the officiating, but he gassed out all on his own. Lashley was said to have been treated for dehydration at the hospital after the fight, but why is a guy who doesn't have to cut weight dehydrated? Of everybody on the card, the two heavyweights who are well under the 265-pound limit should have the least trouble with that. As long as they're being smart and doing the right things to prepare themselves, anyway.

Most Surprising: Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza
Who would have guessed that one of the best jiu-jitsu fighters in all of MMA would go five rounds for a title without even attempting a single submission? Certainly not me, and probably not Tim Kennedy either. Souza's stand-up has improved vastly in the past couple years, which is just scary when you think about how good his ground game already is. Suddenly Strikeforce's middleweight division is its deepest, most interesting weight class. Let's just hope they do something worthwhile with it, and soon.

Least Likable: K.J. Noons
He floored Gurgel with a late punch and finished him off in the second round with a knee/kick that was at least in the neighborhood of his downed opponent's face, so already he's on shaky ground. His somewhat contradictory post-fight explanations, which ranged from 'I didn't do anything wrong' to 'I don't remember' to 'It was the heat of the moment,' haven't helped his case any. Maybe he somehow failed to notice the crowd booing through his post-fight remarks, but those of us who couldn't even make out what he was saying over the din of the angry fans sure got the message.

Most Impressive in Defeat: Tim Kennedy
Title fights don't get much tougher to call than that one. Several of those rounds were probably decided more by vague impressions than actual striking stats. It definitely didn't help Kennedy's case any that he spent so much of the fight looking like he was waiting for Jacare to shoot in on him. In the end that just makes you appear tentative. Still, Kennedy gave as good as he got and scored the only two takedowns of the fight. Either way that one went on the judges' scorecards, someone was bound to go home unhappy.

Least Impressive in Victory: Chad Griggs
The history books will show that he pulled off an amazing upset in Houston on Saturday. But as anybody who saw the fight knows, that was more a case of Lashley losing than Griggs winning. Don't get me wrong, he did what he had to do. He stayed in the fight, made Lashley work, and he opened up the cut on Lashley's face that began to sap some of the big man's confidence. But without a fortuitous referee stand-up and an exhausted opponent, Griggs probably wouldn't be flying so high right now. A win's a win, though. He might as well enjoy it.

Worst Mental Mistakes: (tie) "King" Mo Lawal and Jorge Gurgel
They both allowed themselves to get sucked into striking exchanges that favored their opponents' strengths rather than their own, and they both paid the price. For Gurgel, that's become so routine as to be hardly worth mentioning. For Lawal, it's a new feeling. It's a natural response for a fighter to want to throw back hard when he takes a good shot. He's been stung, and he wants to prove that he can do some stinging of his own. The trouble is that this only gets you into deeper trouble against a superior striker, and then when you've finally been rocked enough to realize that you need to get it to the mat, it's too late. Lawal learned that the hard way. Gurgel? He hasn't seemed interested in learning from his defeats in quite a while.

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