Strikeforce: Lawler vs. Shields – This is what MMA retirement looks like

By Nicholas Bailey (nbailey@mmaratings.net)

Strikeforce shows have started following a predictable format: a surprisingly star-studded, yet often uncompetitive main card, a catchweight main event with little divisional importance but very intriguing intangibles, and a forgettable undercard.

Strikeforce has a knack for putting together very exciting televised cards, and despite featuring some severely deteriorated fighters, this event should be no different, with guaranteed action and some potential nail-biters. They might want to step up their game in terms of developing more talent on the undercards, as they are very thin on top and will quickly run out of interesting fights if they don’t seriously hunt for marketable prospects (or go bankrupt first, as most MMA organizations do before they run into that problem).

Robbie Lawler (-120) vs. Jake Shields (-110)

Shields, widely seen as the best welterweight outside of the UFC, is moving up to take on one of the best non-Zuffa middleweights in a very interesting match. Shields is seeking to give himself the best possible bargaining position in what seems like an inevitable UFC deal, and Lawler would be a fabulous victory to really build up hype (and his payday) for a UFC debut.

Lawler, of course, wants nothing to do with putting Shields over, and is likely salivating over the prospect of another impressive knockout, especially after watching Shields fight with Paul Daley. Against Daley, a very dangerous striker, Shields looked absolutely miserable on the feet (to be fair, so do most of Daley’s opponents, as he has a KO rate above 80%). There’s no doubt that if Lawler keeps the fight standing, he’s going to light Shields up and stop him quickly. Shields, once one of the most boring, control-oriented fighters in the sport, has become more aggressive and been on a tear recently, scoring more than half of his long career’s worth of stoppages in his current streak of seven in a row. Lawler has always suffered on the ground with skilled grapplers, and Shields is the most dangerous submission specialist he’s ever faced. If Shields can get on top of Lawler, the result is a foregone conclusion.

Despite the difference in weight classes, the size difference will be negligible in this fight. Shields has always been an enormous 170, and while Lawler is very strong, he is not an exceptionally large middleweight. Shields has managed to have such success despite such an extreme deficit in the standup department by developing a smothering wrestling game in addition to his submission skills, so if he isn’t flustered by strikes and put on the back foot early, he will be able to get Lawler down eventually, take his back, and choke him out.

This fight could easily go either way, as if Lawler can do damage or frustrate early takedown attempts, Shields could lose confidence and start fighting scared, knowing the power and aggression Lawler brings into the cage. Whoever can establish ring generalship will end up taking this fight. I think Lawler’s aggression will be his downfall, with Shields hitting a takedown after a few dicey moments and capitalizing on the opportunity. Either way, this fight won’t get out of round 1. Jake Shields by submission round 1.

I think this fight is too difficult to accurately handicap for betting, with the hard-to-quantify unknowns being Shield’s ability to take Lawler down, and how much either of them will fight defensively for fear of the other’s ability to stop the fight.

Andrei Arlovski (-370) vs. Brett Rogers (+300)

After making a bit of a name for himself with his dance moves and Kimbo antagonism, Rogers surprised everyone by showing that he was the rarest of all creatures–a heavyweight MMA fighter with some legitimate skills. He has physical tools, being a gargantuan man with crushing natural power, but he also throws clean combinations and keeps a cool head. After racking up a couple wins, it’s high time Rogers fought some legitimate mid-level talent.

Unfortunately he’s being rushed in against one of the world’s premiere heavyweights. Arlovski is an extremely talented fighter, can match or exceed all of Roger’s physical assets or skills, and is far more battle-tested. The fan storyline is that this fight is competitive because Arlovski’s chin can’t stand up to Rogers’ power, but the reality is that Rogers is so outclassed that it’s irresponsible for his management to put him here. If he does land that one punch and Arlovski’s hopes and dreams are crushed yet again, it will only lead to disaster for Rogers anyway, as a dance card filled with top-level talent would, for a developing fighter, result in far more losses than victories, and it’s very difficult to build one’s reputation back up after that kind of slide (unless you’re Nick Diaz).

Rogers is too slow, too heavy, and too inexperienced to not be expected to be crushed in this fight. He’s also never had to come back from any sort of adversity, so it will be interesting to see what kind of heart and chin he has. There’s always the possibility that he hits Arlovski well and finishes him off, but I’m not going to take that at less than +500. Andrei Arlovski by KO round 1.

Nick Diaz (-320) vs. Scott Smith (+260)

Fighting much closer to his natural weight, Diaz superficially looked fantastic beating up a very decrepit and very spent Frank Shamrock, rocking him with body shots, scoring takedowns at will, and simply walking through his guard. Against genetic freak of punching power Benji Radach, Scott Smith looked as he usually does: tough, powerful, a bit outclassed. The story is a bit more complex than that.

The Frank Shamrock that appeared against Nick Diaz had popsicle sticks for knees and the general problems that come with being a broken down old warhorse. Diaz’s biggest problem, closing the distance without protecting himself and endlessly walking into right hands, wasn’t a problem against such a Shamrock, as Diaz could simply walk through his punches. Diaz’s biggest weakness, his poor wrestling, was buoyed up by the fact that Shamrock probably needs a walker to stay vertical while crossing his living room. Smith, despite his own significant shortcomings, is not nearly such a tailor-made fall guy.

Smith is a poor grappler, such that Diaz could dispatch him handily with his versatile game, but he’s big, strong, and no pushover. Smith gets hit too much, brawls, and is poor defensively, but Diaz can’t capitalize on that because his skull will be crushed if they go punch-for-punch. Smith can’t keep people on the ends of his punches and lets opponents close the distance as much as they like, but Diaz walks into punches when he fights in a phonebooth.

Diaz has clear-cut ways to win this fight. He’s much better on the ground, so if he can pull guard, perfectly time his weak double-leg, or (more likely) clinch up and toss Smith or trip him, he could end this one quickly. He’s a much technically classier striker, so if he fights an intelligent fight and picks his shots, he could destroy Smith to the body and accumulate damage to his head until a stoppage presented itself. However, with Diaz’s history of always fighting the same fight, relying on his chin too much in lieu of true defense, and generally not making the best uses of his strengths or his opponent’s weaknesses, the most likely outcome is that Diaz finds out that middleweights hit a lot harder than Mike Aina and getting beat up and stopped after walking into Smith’s serious power. Scott Smith by TKO round 2.

I think setting Smith at +260 is a seriously aberrant line, so I am making a multi-unit play on it.

Phil Baroni (-105) vs. Joe Riggs (-120)

This fight is highly likely to be a real train wreck. Riggs personal problems have spilled into the ring in the form of poor performances and aggravated injuries. There’s no well-known explanation for the cliff Baroni fell off, but he has looked so incredibly poor in many of his recent fights that everyone he’s ever beaten is probably intensely embarrassed. His loss to “Ross” Hose ranks up there with Paulo Filho as one of the worst performances ever by a “name” fighter.

Baroni made his reputation, for better or worse, as a slugger with big KO power and a tiny gas tank. It’s hard to tell what kind of fighter he is now. He seems to fancy himself a ground-and-pounder in the mode of Mark Coleman, shooting for takedowns, idly chipping away, and then gassing out. Unfortunately for Baroni, he doesn’t have the takedown skills of Coleman, and even if he is able to get the fight down when he still has gas, he doesn’t have what it takes to ride through a whole fight without finishing his opponent. He still has some punching power, but even that seems diminished, and since anyone can put hands on him, even sub par fighters like Hose can knock Baroni around if they have some power.

Riggs, despite his slide into semi-obscurity, remains a legitimate challenge for anyone. He will never live up to the potential many saw early in his career, but he is well-rounded and powerful. In his most recent loss to Kazuo Misaki, he was threatening and cleanly knocked Misaki down, before the very tough Grabaka product put him away. Riggs has pretty good boxing and good power in his hands as well, and if he fights a smart fight, he can take Baroni down and beat him up with vicious ground and pound until all the gas is gone and Baroni is absolutely no threat. Even if he just exchanges with Phil, he can probably knock Baroni down and club him until the fight is stopped. Joe Riggs by TKO round 2.

This is another mis-set line, as there’s no reason to expect a competitive fight between Riggs and a Baroni that struggled for a decision over Olaf Alfonso. Baroni’s only shot is landing a big punch early and cracking Rigg’s decent but unexceptional chin. Multi-unit play on Riggs here.

Kevin Randleman (-110) vs. Mike Whitehead (-120)

Who knows how much Randleman still has in the tank? He’s been through so much and been so inactive that it’s really impossible to know. The safest guess is that a fighter that is this far removed from competitive fights, is plagued by health problems and in-ring mental lapses, and has serious holes in his game even at his peak is going to perform terribly. Whitehead will never hold a major title, but he’s a very solid fighter.

Don’t be shocked if Whitehead stops Randleman’s takedowns cold and completely embarrasses him with a keylock finish when Randleman is totally gassed. Mike Whitehead by submission round 2.

This is a high variance play because Randleman has so much athletic ability, but there’s no way that whitehead at -120 is a fair assessment of this fight. Take a couple units on Whitehead.

Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante (-370) vs. Mike Kyle (+300)

Keep a close eye on this fight, at Feijao is highly touted and could be a future elite fighter at this weight. Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante by TKO.

My plays:
2.4u on Whitehead at -120 to win 2u
3.6u on Riggs at -120 to win 3u
2u on Smith at +260 to win 5.2u

What Do You Think of This Fight/Event?