Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Diaz –Dysfunctional Cyborg

By Nicholas Bailey (nbailey@mmaratings.net)

Some events are remarkable because of the implications for the division. Some events are remarkable because they are going to feature bitter fueds or sure-fire explosive fights. Finally, some events are remarkable just because you have no idea how the fight is going to turn out and you are curious to see it. Such is Shamrock vs. Diaz, featuring a “who would have thought it” match between one-time great Frank Shamrock and perpetual antagonist Nick Diaz. These two never had a feud before, but true to each of their personalities, this fight has become a bitter and personal one, so an electrified arena is expected, as well as a very tough fight.

Unfortunately Cris Cyborg’s scheduled mauling of an undersized Japanese opponent has been called off due to Cyborg’s inability to even approximate the contracted weight and opponent Hitomi Akano’s desire not to be mauled even worse than what she had signed up for. This is a big step forward for MMA as a sporting pursuit, but fans will likely end up poorly served in the short term, as none of the preliminary bouts really merits a bump to the main card. EDIT: FIGHT IS BACK ON

Nick Diaz (+160) vs. Frank Shamrock (-200)

Shamrock’s knees are shot. In his fight with Le, Shamrock showed very poor mobility, getting picked apart at range without ever effectively moving in, essentially just being a target for Le to unload strikes upon. He had basically no effective offense except for that one big shot. The danger for Diaz is that he won’t stay on the outside like Le did, even with his reach advantage. Diaz prefers to exchange at a much closer distance, and constantly walks his opponent down, so Shamrock will just have to wait and throw the counter right.

Diaz’s greatest weakness is also his greatest strength. The guy fights on emotion, and while that means his intensity is unmatched, it also means he often pursues foolhardy tactics and throws away opportunities. Despite his horrible technique of roboticly bending over at the waist and trying to grab his opponent’s hips, he could likely execute takedowns on the noodle-legged Shamrock, but he won’t until he gets busted up on the feet. Diaz gets hit way too much on the feet, being busted up badly by Mike Aina, KJ Noons, and even Thomas Denny. In all of those fights, and most others, he endlessly walks into counter right hands in order to continue landing his punch combinations. Shamrock doesn’t have a lot left, but he does have power and a chin, and he’ll put Diaz on his heels and split his face open if Diaz tries to stand right in front of him and overwhelm him with volume. If Diaz will work a trip, he could probably submit, or at least dominate, a Frank Shamrock with dysfunctional legs.

The greatest unknown for this fight is Diaz at 180lbs. He’s traditionally struggled mightily making the lower weights, so he will not be giving up as much size to Shamrock as many think. He didn’t look flabby at the weigh in, and in fact looked to have a size advantage on Shamrock. Diaz has looked lethargic to a fault in recent years, moving slowly and being far too loose on the ground, allowing opponents to escape too easily and return to a standup fight, even from dominant positions. Perhaps this is just a fault of Diaz’s style, but it’s also possible that the weight cuts and restricted diets robbed him of power and speed. It will certainly be interesting to see how he uses the extra muscle. If he can put an extra 20lbs behind his punches, he could hurt Shamrock in the standup.

Unless Diaz comes out and diligently works for takedowns, can muscle Frank a bit, and can hold dominant positions, I think he’s going to lose this fight. He’s going to walk into Shamrock’s power and get knocked around. The over-inflated reptuation and ego of Frank Shamrock will remain intact, and Diaz will have yet another reason to be angry at the world. Frank Shamrock by TKO round 2.

I really want to bet against both fighters here, because they’ve both looked so poor. It would really be easy to go against Shamrock, who I think is totally shot and surviving entirely based on judicious matchmaking, but Diaz is going to literally walk into his greatest strength, so I can’t do it.

Gilbert Melendez (-345) vs. Rodrigo Damm (+275)

Melendez is very similar to a Tyson Griffin; he’s an action fighter that is more of an all-rounder than a specialist, and one who lacks the offensive power to put away high-level fighters. Melendez is very aggressive, coming straight at his opponent and just getting after it, whether that means trading haymakers, working for takedowns that are more hustle than technique, or attacking with a flurry of ground and pound. He relies primarily on just overwhelming opponents in order to finish, and higher level fighters simply will not take enough punishment from those sorts of attacks to be stopped. Like Tyson, Melendez also frequently allows his opponents to get dangerous positions, but then is able to extricate himself.

Against Damm, that habit could be particularly problematic. Damm is a good wrestler, perhaps good enough to reliably dominate with takedowns as Ishida did, and certainly good enough to make Melendez regret giving up a dominant position. Furthermore, Damm is an even better grappler, so he could seriously threaten even someone as submission-savvy as Melendez. Damm also has a compact and competent standup game, although he’ll be hard-pressed to overcome the aggressive ruggedness of Melendez and win on the feet.

As previously noted, Melendez has a tough time finishing off his opponents, and this is a five-round fight, so Damm will certainly get chances that he could exploit. Don’t be surprised if he takes advantage of them, but the reasonable expectation is a competitive bout with Melendez wearing Rodrigo down by the final rounds and either taking a clear-cut decision or getting an exhaustion/accumulated punishment stoppage. Gilbert Melendez by decision.

With Damm at +275, you have to take the underdog here, since Melendez will give him too many chances to run away with the fight. The problem with being an all-around fighter like this that relies most on hustle than anything else is that specialists can threaten you in a variety of ways.

Benji Radach (-155) vs. Scott Smith (+125)

Radach is coming off an absolute brawl of a slopfest with Ninja Rua, where he mercilessly hammered the elder Rua to a pretty brutal stoppage, and Smith is coming off what feels like an endless series of fights with Robbie Lawler, with a brief stopover to KO Terry Martin with a single punch. Both of these guys have big power, although Radach’s borders on freakish. Smith has a better chin, as Radach has been finished several times and rocked badly even by the weak-punching Ninja. Both of them have technically sound striking as well, with Smith adopting a more traditional boxing style, with some surprisingly good headkicks mixed in, and Radach throwing for the KO in the manner one often expects from MMA fighters. This fight has action written all over it.

Smith can take this one, either countering Radach’s aggression and taking advantage of his more open style, or simply surprising him with a headkick. Either way, Smith’s chin may grant him a momentary reprieve, but Radach’s almost unnatural power is more than enough to put anyone to sleep for good, so the momentum of this fight could change in seconds. Smith can take Benji’s punches better than Benji can take Smiths. Scott Smith by KO round 1.

Smith has been available as high as +135. This fight is much closer to a coin flip, so there’s value there, although the huge variability means you shouldn’t make too much of a play here. Just put a bit on Smith and pray to Danny Lefever.

Hitomi Akano (+325)vs. Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos (-550)

Cyborg missed weight badly, and she already had an enormous amount of size on Akano, who looks downright chubby at 143, nevermind the 152 Cyborg apparently wants to fight at. The fight was cancelled, which is going to create a bit of a headache for Strikeforce, but I think is a very good and brave thing for Akano to do. There’s no excuse for missing weight by that amount with three months of lead time, and it’s good that someone has finally stepped up and not been bullied into taking the fight, especially in women’s MMA, where so many women are fighting well above their natural weight anyway, as Akano was at 145.

Edit: in the words of Ted DiBiase, “everybody has a price”. Concessions have been made, and the fight is back on, even though Cyborg hit the scales at 158 at some time last night. I certainly can’t blame Akano for trying to make bank, and it sounds like she’s extracted some promises from strikeforce for public humiliation of Cyborg on the broadcast as well as fights for Akano’s gym-mates.

Which is good because Akano may not be able to take another fight. She could fight at 125 with a professional weight cut, and is pretty tubby at 143. Cyborg, of course, is carved out of solid muscle and greatly overmatches Akano in striking skill and power, which could have very ugly results. Akano has real judo skills, and if she can throw Cyborg, she has a big advantage in ground technique. I think that Akano’s chances on the ground are overestimated, since Cyborg is definitely not a total neophyte, and has learned to use her enormous strength advantage to successfully defend and dominate on the ground.

It would have been good to see Akano really send a message as well as avoid a beating, but that’s just the hard reality of the fight game. Cyborg by TKO round 2.

Ron “Abongo” Humphrey (+350) vs. Brett Rogers (-500)

Two huge guys, both of whom want to slug it out. Rogers has 20lbs on Humphrey, but that doesn’t really matter when you’re both over 230lbs. He also has a good bit of reach, standing 7 inches taller than Humphrey, which is much more relevant. While both of these guys have gaudy undefeated records, we still need to see quite a bit from them before we can make real judgements.

Abongo comes from the laughably ridiculous “Iron Ring” promotion, where I believe he received MMA tutelage under noted coach Lil Jon. He is one of those fighters that can throw strikes well, but doesn’t have striking skills. That is, he can hit a bag or opponent with a well-executed kick or punch, but his movement, defense, and combinations are poor. He does seem to have good power, especially in his headkick, which is very fast and he times well. When put on his heels, he flops around horribly and tries to lean out of the way of punches. Against the 7-inch reach advantage of Rogers, leaning away is just going to put Abongo’s chin right on the end of Roger’s punches.

Rogers is a very big guy and hits hard and generally strikes well, making fewer of the mistakes Abongo does. It remains to be seen what kind of cardio or chin he has, so, while you should expect him to take advantage of Abongo’s defensive liabilities, don’t be surprised if the second round finds Rogers wheezing or if an Abongo headkick starches him completely. Brett Rogers by KO round one.

With Humphrey available at up to +360, I think he’s well worth a flier, as is almost any heavyweight with punching power at those odds. Either one of these guys could easily put the other to sleep, so there’s value in an extreme underdog.

My Plays:

1u on Smith at +135 to win 1.35u
1u on Damm at +2.75 to win 2.75u
.5u on Abongo at +360 to win 1.8u

What Do You Think of This Fight/Event?