I’m on my way out to the airport for the day, but Strikeforce’s card definitely deserves a few words before I go. The nutshell: while it wasn’t a terrible night, it definitely wasn’t the sort of card Strikeforce needed to take buzz away from the UFC, marked by bad scheduling and a main event that saw their most marketable star take a big hit.
The evening began with some questionable planning by Strikeforce. The previously-promised Jay Heiron/Jesse Taylor fight, which Heiron won by unanimous decision, was moved off the main card. It was a worst-case scenario move in the event the three main card title fights all went the full 25, but knowing the fighters involved (especially considering the longest fight of either of the ladies’ careers was nine minutes) Strikeforce should have taken their chances. As it went, the main card didn’t last 25 minutes of fight time total as every fight went to a stoppage, three of them in the first round. Strikeforce looked silly with the scheduling; but that’s the sort of mistake that they can get away with because they’re not on pay-per-view.
Before the main event, though, fans were treated to three dominant performances. The best was the breakthrough of Gegard Mousasi, who obliterated Renato “Babalu” Sobral in the first minute of their fight. At a cheeky 24 years old, Mousasi used explosive strikes to knock out Babalu and take Strikeforce’s Light Heavyweight Championship. Mousasi was supposed to fight for Afflication on his birthday, but was slotted into this fight instead and is going to create some serious buzz in the light heavyweight rankings. Keep in mind Mousasi’s won a DREAM Grand Prix already and is involved in their Super Hulk tournament where he draws Rameau Sokoudjou next at the end of October. The other fights saw Gilbert Melendez hold onto his interim Lightweight Title with two and a half one-sided rounds against Mitsuhiro Ishida before he finished with strikes; and Fabricio Werdum exploiting Mike Kyle’s utter lack of a ground game before returning to his feet and sinking a guillotine choke less than 90 seconds in.
Everybody was here for Gina Carano and Cris “Cyborg” Santos, and unsurprisingly the lady formerly known as “Crush” enjoyed a huge advantage in fan support. But nobody was ever going to mistake Carano for Tinker Bell; she needed more than applause to beat the Cyborg and last night she simply didn’t have it.
While Carano didn’t get completely dominated, Santos outstruck her by a significant margin and controlled the positioning and tempo of the fight throughout the first round. Brought to the ground with 20 seconds left in the fight, Carano was only able to survive 19 of them. Turtled up, ref Josh Rosenthal was forced to stop the fight, disappointing fans who thought she should have been save by the bell. The rules are clear, however, and without Carano defending herself he made the right call there.
The semi-controversial finish and the fact that Carano was mildly competitive bodes well for a rematch, but they’re definitely going to have to toss a few winnable fights Carano’s way to build her star back up again. Right now, it’s clear that Santos is the better fighter and there’s no reason to believe a return match would end differently.
On balance, I thought it was at least as entertaining a card as UFC 101, even if the level of talent was much lower. The problem, though, is that Strikeforce is playing from behind, so they really need to be putting on shows that surpass UFC because of the power of Zuffa’s brand. This wasn’t the sort of show that made anybody sit up and go “hey, those Strikeforce guys (and girls), I could really get behind them.” Putting only four live fights on TV didn’t help either. The Fedor signing and collapse of Affliction really laid down the gauntlet; it’s UFC vs. Strikeforce now, Round One, whether Scott Coker wants to deal with those expectations or not.
For now, Strikeforce can claim a new star in Mousasi and make the legitimate boast that they’ve got the best women’s mixed martial artist in the world. Behind the scenes, though, they’d better be working hard, because now they’ve got to build their most recognizable star back up, market enough new talent to make people tune in for Cyborg’s next fight… and of course, there’s the little matter of educating America about a certain 230-pound Russian they just got under the banner.
No rest for the weary, Strikeforce.