MMA Hangover: 9 Talking Points for Strikeforce: Miami

By Michael Ford

After the latest offering by Strikeforce and Showtime this past Saturday night, there are quite a few things that should be talked about.

1. Nick Diaz belongs at Welterweight – Since Diaz left the UFC, we’ve seen glimpses of greatness, but we’ve also seen him show up listless and all-too-willing to take punishment. However, on this night, with a title on the line, and against a high-quality striker, we saw Nick elevate his game, and win a highly entertaining stand-up war. Sure his wrestling still needs improvement, but at this weight class, and outside of the UFC, he will largely be facing guys that he can destroy on the feet, or tool on the ground. Jay Hieron will likely be his toughest test whenever it happens, but let’s all hope that Karo Parisyan can get his personal demons in order, and head to Strikeforce by the end of the year.

2. The Cesar Gracie “Scrap Pack” OWNS Strikeforce – The trio of Nick Diaz, Jake Shields, and Gilbert Melendez are all champions. While multiple champions from the same camp has happened before, the age and close-knit nature of this group makes it especially intriguing. Unfortunately, despite the fighters shouting out their teammates in post-fight interviews, this camp isn’t as well known as American Top Team, American Kickboxing Academy, or Xtreme Couture. In addition, Strikeforce hasn’t seen fit to market “The Scrap Pack” as a unit, which is somewhat of an oversight, as it not only explains Jake Shields reluctance to fight at his natural weight of 170, but it offers opportunities for each fighter to cross-promote the fights of his teammate. Especially in the case of the less-than-charismatic Jake Shields, having outspoken fighters like Nick and Nate Diaz talk trash on Jake’s behalf can only help raise Jake’s profile. And given Nick’s unpredictability on live mics, an interview with “close friend and teammate Jake Shields” can articulate more technical aspects of an upcoming fight, while still offering zealous advocacy of his teammate’s position. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the team’s name is very pro wrestling-esque, and probably marketable like DX, the Filthy Animals, the NWO, and other factions that have proved to draw ratings and interest from the masses.

3. Strikeforce needs depth – Despite getting definitively stopped, I’d like to see more of Marloes Coenan, Marius Zaromskis, and especially Melvin Manhoef. All demonstrated their strengths, and should get the opportunity to climb the ranks and get eventual rematches. Problem is, the promotion will be scrambling to find title contenders, and will likely see these fighters as afterthoughts, which is unfortunate.

The Women’s 145-pound division especially could use a fight on every card to get named female fighters into the rotation, so that their names ring bells in the ears of everyone that isn’t the deepest of deep hardcore fans. 145 pounds is actually not where the best women fight, so a Tara La Rosa would be best suited stepping up to 135 rather than 145. It has been suggested that Strikeforce recruit from sports like boxing, kickboxing, and judo, but if they do, that would all require that these prospects get a lot of experience before getting thrown against the Cyborg. The Challenger Series could help with that, as could these unaired prelim fights.

However the welterweight division, to the extent that it now has Nick Diaz as its champion, also needs to fill its ranks with potential contenders. Mach Sakurai vs. Diaz is a fight best staged in Japan, under the DREAM banner, as Sakurai likely has no cache with American fans, while Jay Hieron has earned his shot, but beyond him, the divisional cupboard is almost bare. They need to go on a bit of a signing spree, or they need to shore up a working relationship with Bellator Fighting Championships, whose Second Season Tournaments are shaping up to be veritable Stateside Grand Prixs. The UFC names won’t be there, but if they commit themselves to giving the up-and-comers more exposure, they won’t need to rush prospects like Tyron Woodley into the title picture.

4. Showtime needs to invest in better highlight packages – I watched the fights with a casual fan who was somewhat familiar with the Strikeforce names, and tried as best as I could to sell their opponents, newcomers to the company, as valuable additions to the roster. However, that’s not really supposed to be my job, it’s the job of the promoter. Network to network, Showtime can’t be afraid to work something out with HDNet, the company that airs M1 Challenge, DREAM and Sengoku, and who has IFL and Affliction footage under its control as well. A fighter like Melvin Manhoef is probably good for a 2-minute highlight reel of knockouts. Marius Zaromskis has been recently pasting folks with his high kick; time should have been devoted to showing fans just how dangerous he is. And Marloes Coenan, despite having fought for Strikeforce before, and having a fight that could be easily digestible as a promo, had her fight chopped up, while they preferred to have her talk to the camera in between glamour shots. If Strikeforce is going to be plucking guys from outside promotions and putting them in relevant fights, they had better secure footage from their home promotions, and putting together promotional packages that make them seem like quality acquisitions and not cans.

And this problem isn’t restricted to promoting fighters *before* they fight. Regardless of your opinion of Strikeforce’s approach to preliminary fights, we can all agree that clipping together a highlight reel of finishes from earlier in the evening, or putting together a highlight package for the best or most relevant fight on the undercard, would be a good thing. This would help to familiarize fans with more fighters, as well as whet their appetites for future fights.

5. Strikeforce’s Middleweight Division is a shark tank – They may not have as many Top 10 fighters as the UFC (by my count, Lawler, Shields, and Henderson are the only ones that regularly call Strikeforce home) but they certainly have a lot of guys that are able to put together entertaining fights that you don’t want to miss. Scott Smith epitomizes the “the fight can end at any time” mindset, while we saw glimpses of why so many people wanted Melvin Manhoef fighting here. Add in personalities like Mayhem Miller and ambassadors for the sport like Cung Le and Tim Kennedy, and it’s pretty hard to go wrong booking 185.

6. Bobby Lashley needs to fight every other card – I think that much of the criticism of Lashley is unwarranted. He doesn’t have time to take a bad loss and rebuild his credibility, and he definitely has holes in his game that need tightening, but many fans would have him jump headlong into the deep end, rather than take fights he should win, while developing his skillset. However, the appropriate venue for that development is the Strikeforce Challenger Series, not the Championship cards, or worse, Saturday Night Fights on CBS. I’m hoping that the rumors of him fighting Brett Rogers next are false, and he’ll be headlining a steady stream of Challengers cards until the end of the year.

7. Hershel Walker is a freak of nature – Too bad he’s 47. The guy has been a godsend for Strikeforce, bringing loads of free publicity, and being a willing ambassador for the sport with the macho-but-skeptical NFL crowd. He fought better than a lot of debuting fighters, and did his best to make it as entertaining as he could, without degenerating into sloppy slugfests or what my more casual fan buddies would not so gingerly refer to as “ground-humping.” And on the mic, he was all class. I hope that he can fight two or three more times before settling into a role as Strikeforce television personality.

8. Showtime needs to manage its timeslot better – This isn’t the first time that a card has ended early, but because of the number of first round finishes, it’s the one that felt the most like the ratio of fight time to filler time was way off. I like that they go around giving screen time to fighters, but they need to use the interview time to hype fights that are signed or likely to occur, rather than ask open-ended questions about “what’s next,” when generic answers will likely be all we get. Dan Henderson and Jake Shields is happening in April, and Erin Toughill is the next contender for Cyborg’s title. Wouldn’t time be better served introducing fans to Toughill, and having her offer her words of caution to whichever fighter prevailed between Cyborg and Coenan?

Another thing that could fill broadcast time in productive ways are highlight packages for fights that happened earlier on the telecasts, for relevant divisions that are impacted by the fights happening on the night’s telecast, and for fighters who will be debuting soon. While Alistair Overeem doesn’t qualify as a debut, highlight packages for the Heavyweight Champion could have been aired during the last few cards, in order to build anticipation for his stateside return.

Furthermore, Strikeforce needs to start using Swing Bouts. It was fairly obvious that the fights were going to end before 12:30 am. The Hieron-Riggs fight could have been slotted either between the two title fights, or just after. Since that fight wasn’t scheduled to be aired anyway, if it ended up getting bumped from the telecast, nothing would be harmed, because the good folks at EA Sports could have streamed the fight. However, the best case scenario allows Riggs and Hieron to have their fight, and have Nick Diaz look on either from ringside or backstage on a monitor, with the casual fan understanding that the winner will likely face the new champion next.

9. I hate internet streams – Despite the fact that I advocate streaming swing bouts that don’t make it to the broadcast, last night’s EA Sports stream was a debacle. It probably took 45 minutes to see the full 15-minute decision, and an otherwise uneventful fight seemed more tedious and interminable. This wasn’t fair to either of the fight’s participants, nor to fans, whose anticipation for the card waned every time the image buffered. Not a good showing for Showtime and EA Sports, who now need to restore their credibility with the VERY unforgiving hardcore online MMA community. These are the people who provide the grassroots support and promotion for upcoming Strikeforce offerings, and last night, they really turned that audience against them. Let’s hope that Scott Coker and Mike Aframowitz will be working doubletime to restore the goodwill they have lost.

Rate Strikforce: Miami.

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