Welcome to another Heavy MMA roundtable. The topic at hand for this edition, Strikeforce: Nashville. An amazing THREE titles are up for grabs Saturday night on CBS. First up, Gilbert Melendez battles Shinya Aoki for the lightweight strap, in what might be one of the best matches of the year. Next, “King” Mo Lawal challenges Gegard Mousasi for the light heavyweight belt. And finally, Jake Shields looks to defend his title against MMA legend Dan Henderson. Sprinkle a little Jason “Mayhem” Miller in there and you’ve got yourself one heck of a card.
Once again, we’ve got all the answers to the real issues surrounding this stellar event. Your panel:
Nate Lawson: Feature Columnist Heavy MMA
Ryan Loco: Heavy MMA Contributor and host of The Loco Life
Jeremy Botter: Lead Writer Heavy MMA
Matt Brown: Sr. Editor Heavy MMA
1. What do you think of this Strikeforce card as a whole? We all know it will be compared to a typical UFC card.
Botter: It’s just about the best card Strikeforce can put on without their two major drawing cards in Fedor and Gina Carano. The fights should be excellent, but I don’t know if that’s going to translate into a wide viewership. Dan Henderson being on the card is a no brainer, but it will be interesting to see how much of his popularity he retained since last summer’s UFC 100 event.
Lawson: I find this Strikeforce card very intriguing. Between the three title fights, people will be able watch a legend, several rising stars, and a handful of big names in the sport compete for free on CBS. Sounds like a very solid lineup to me.
Loco: Well, given the way that the past UFC cards have been, I am really looking forward to this card. I know that Melendez and Aoki can’t have a bad fight, King Mo will never disappoint, and that there is always a chance for fireworks with Dan Henderson’s right hand involved. Toss in the fact that Mayhem will make it to TV, and you got a fan in me. Had we compared this to a WEC, might be a different story. WEC is killing it right now.
Brown: I think it’s probably the best trifecta of MMA matches on a single card in recent memory – on paper at least. Strikeforce doesn’t have big cards often, but when they do, they do it right. Will it do monster numbers? That remains to be seen as five of the six fighters on the main card have little to no “name value” to the casual fan. But to anyone who knows MMA, the main card is about as good as you can possibly ask for out of an organization.
2. Of the three title fights on the card (Melendez vs. Aoki, Mousasi vs. Lawal, Shields vs. Henderson), which one are you the most excited to see?
Botter: I’m torn between Mousasi vs. Lawal and Melendez vs. Aoki. If I had to pick one, I’d say Aoki/Melendez, simply because I want to see how Aoki handles somebody with a well-rounded game.
Lawson: I am far and away most excited for the Mousasi-Lawal light heavyweight championship. Lawal’s skills are as dynamic as his personality, and Mousasi has climbed into the highest level of the division. Of all the title fights, this is the toughest one to call – making it the match up I’m anticipating the most.
Loco: I’m most excited for King Mo vs. Mousasi. I’ve been hyping Mo up since before the man even had a single MMA fight. I’ve called him the “future” and the future is about to be now. Plus, he’s gonna make me look like a genius.
Brown: Each fight is very interesting in its own way, but to answer the question without selling out, I’ll go with Mo vs. Mousasi. Will mo be able to take Gegard down and handle up? Will Mousasi dominate on the feet and expose some weaknesses in the rising star? I think we’ll find out a lot about how good each of these fighters truly are at this stage in their careers.
3. With BJ Penn’s recent loss to Frankie Edgar, do you consider Gilbert Melendez vs. Shinya Aoki the battle for the number one lightweight in the world?
Botter: It is, but only for Aoki. A Melendez win would probably move him near the top five in the world, but it’s not going to make him an automatic #1. But if Aoki wins, I don’t think there’s any question that he should be considered for the top spot.
Lawson: Penn may have lost to Edgar at UFC 112, but I still would pick him over Melendez and Aoki without much thought at all. The winner will certainly jump up into one of the top three spots in the division, but I have a hard time giving either one the top ranking.
Loco: I can’t give them that title just yet. I don’t think anyone can touch BJ when he is 100%, but the problem is, we can’t always guarantee you are getting BJ at 100%. I think in a rematch BJ gets his belt back, and once again cements himself as #1, at least in my eyes. And my vote counts for like triple.
Brown: I already think Aoki is the best lightweight on the planet, so I suppose this fight could lay the debate to rest for a while. For Gilbert, this could be the fight that truly makes him a household name and earns him the respect he rightfully deserves. Could I say he’s the best lightweight in the world? A convincing win and he’s certainly in the discussion.
4. Not that any of us gamble (wink, wink), but if you had to lay a grand on one of the underdogs (Shields at +325, Lawal at +190, Aoki at +135) which do you think provides the most value?
Botter: I think Lawal at +190 is the best value. He’s got deadly hands and a world-class wrestling game, which gives him more than enough tools to pull off the big upset. Aoki at +135 is intriguing as well.
Lawson: At +135, Aoki isn’t a very intriguing pick. At +325, picking Shields could lead to a big payday, but who wants to bet against Henderson? “King Mo” provides the most value to the betting man and has a very legitimate shot at taking the light heavyweight belt, making him the only one I’d put a grand on.
Loco: Gambling wise, this is a tough one. But since it’s not my money and I want the sure win, I’m taking King Mo. If I had 2,000 to blow, then I’d lay a G on Mo and a G on Shields, because you never know. You neeeeeever know. He could pull another Shields v Mayhem and lay on Dan to death. I think Dan will be too big for him, so that’s why I’m hesitant to spend the dough. So….can I get that 1,000?
Brown: If I’m playing with house money, I’m gonna lay it on Jake Shields. Sure, he’s an underdog to Dan Henderson. But he’s no 3 to 1 underdog. I mean, other than Dan’s KO of the Century over Mike Bisping, he hasn’t really set the world on fire the past couple of years. He lost back to back fights to Rampage and Anderson Silva, beat a very green Rousimar Palhares via decision, and then beat Rich Franklin via split decision in a fight I personally thought he lost. Dan’s a great fighter, but he is 39 years old. Just sayin.
5. There is little doubt that “King” Mo Lawal (6-0) is one of the most promising light heavyweights in the business. However, he’s fighting a guy in Gegard Mousasi that has over 30 career fights. Did Scott Coker and Strikeforce move him along too quickly?
Botter: I mean, what else could they do? Lawal wanted the fight, he talks well enough to sell just about anything, and they really don’t have many other options in the light heavyweight division until Dan Henderson inevitably moves up.
Lawson: Coker and company really did not have much of a choice on this one, in my opinion. While I do believe “King Mo” could have used a few more fights at least, the division is simply short on contenders. Lawal is the only 205-pounder that could potentially challenge the champ at this point.
Loco: I don’t think Strikeforce really has a choice. Strikeforce isn’t guaranteed to last, and you can’t put a bona fide superstar and hype machine like Mo on the backburner. Chances are, it could be too late. They are making the right move. Once he gets that strap around his waist, Coker is gonna look like a genius.
Brown: Given the sheer lack of light heavyweights in the organization, the fight makes sense. In a perfect world, I’m sure Scott Coker and company would have loved to have gotten a little more mileage out of Mo before throwing him to a certified killer. Mo’s a showman, so even if he does come up on the short end in this one, his star may be brighter than ever after fighting in prime time on CBS.
6. Speaking of Mousasi, he’s 28-2-1 and just 24 years old. He has winds over Hector Lombard, Denis Kang, Melvin Manhoef, Babalu Sobral, Mark Hunt, and Thierry Sokoudjou. Where does he fall on your rankings of top light heavyweights and how far off of your pound for pound list is he?
Botter: He’s a solid top five in my book as far as light heavyweights go. I’ve been incredibly impressed by his talent and poise and ability to finish. I’ve also got him in my pound for pound rankings, but near the bottom of the top ten. I suspect he’ll climb higher and higher with every passing fight.
Lawson: In terms of light heavyweights, Mousasi is certainly up there. While I wouldn’t throw him into the top three, the four or five spot seems appropriate. However, he isn’t breaking into my pound for pound list anytime soon, at least not until he fights anyone truly noteworthy. Sadly, “King Mo” is not one of those guys.
Loco: He’s fantastic and I would love to see him in the UFC. He’s a definite top five 205’er, and if Anderson gets cut by the UFC and wants to step up in weight, I’d love to see those two guys go at it (won’t be for any belt though, since Mo will have it). Or perhaps Mousasi is so ashamed after losing to Mo that he goes to the UFC! The possibilities are endless. The landscape of MMA as we know it pretty much rests on Mo’s shoulders.
Brown: I’d slot Mousasi at spot number 3 in the light heavyweight rankings, behind Lyoto Machida and Shogun Rua. I honestly think I’d take him over Rampage, Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin and Randy Couture. The wild card in there is Jon Jones because I’m still not sure where he fits in right now…but he’s gotta be up there. As for pound for pound, he’s not in my top ten, but beating up on King Mo pretty good would make a solid case for inclusion.
7. Jake Shields has long been considered one of the best welterweights in the world and has shown no drop off at middleweight. Dan Henderson has been at the top of both the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions for years. Is this fight getting the kind of buzz and publicity it deserves? On paper, has there been a better title fight in all of MMA in 2010?
Botter: This is easily the best title fight in 2010, but that’s not really saying much, is it? The most exciting title fight this year was the Shane Carwin/Frank Mir fight, and that was an interim bout that lasted all of three minutes. And let’s not even discuss the middleweight title fight from UFC 112. I think the Hendo/Shields fight has been getting good publicity, but I don’t think it has much buzz — mostly because hardly anyone believes Jake has a chance to last very long against Dan.
Lawson: I think this is the best championship match up of 2010 thus far. Considering Shields’ rise in the sport, along with the history behind Dan Henderson, I am disappointed this fight is not getting some incredible hype. It is a humongous bout for Strikeforce, yet they have fallen quite short in terms of promoting this bout.
Loco: Neither of these fine gentleman is a draw, sadly. Brock Lesnar vs a fire hydrant would probably get more buzz. Sad to say, but it’s the truth. Am I excited? Yes. Would I pay for it? Nope…I’d make Hooters do that for me. Plus I’d get wings to go along with it. I’m more excited for Shogun vs. Machida 2 and Lesnar vs Carwin in regards to title fights. Heck, even Anderson vs. Sonnen has got me fired up. PS. King Mo is the future.
Brown: I think this fight is slipping a little under the radar because it was sandwiched between two major Zuffa events. No matter how it turned out, UFC 112 was supposed to be a huge show with two titles on the line and a legend vs. legend fight. Then next weekend you have WEC’s first pay per view and Urijah Faber vs. Jose Also (I’m already nominating this one for fight of the year). Had this fight fallen on a weekend where fans had gone a couple weeks without an event, I think it’d be all over everything. That being said, I think it’s the best title fight of the year and folks will be talking about this fight and this entire fight card well into next week.
Gilbert Melendez vs. Shinya Aoki
Botter: Much like the main event, Aoki’s only real chance here is to get Gilbert to the ground as quickly as possible. If that happens, he’s going to have a strong edge over Melendez. But I don’t believe he has a strong enough wrestling game to do it, and he’s going to be a fish out of water everywhere else. Gilbert Melendez by decision
Lawson: Melendez via TKO in Round 2
Loco: Melendez via decision
Brown: As I said earlier, I think Shinya Aoki is probably the best lightweight in the world today. While it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Gilbert pull this out, I’m going with Aoki via submission in round 1
Gegard Mousasi vs. King Mo Lawal
Botter: Mousasi is incredibly talented. He’s one of the best in the world when he’s on top of his game. That being said, I think Mo has way too much power in his hands for Mousasi to handle, and he’s got the wrestling to dictate where the fight goes. I see this being a pretty quick knockout, and I’m taking the upset. King Mo d. Gegard Mousasi by TKO, round 1
Lawson: Mousasi via Submission in Round 2
Loco: King Mo via TKO in Round 2
Brown: I love King Mo. He’s actually one of my favorite personalities in MMA. But I think at this point their careers, Mousasi might be just a tad more advanced. If this was a year from now and Mo had 3 or 4 more fights, I’d go with Mo. But since it’s happening on Saturday, I’ll reluctantly say Mousasi via decision
Jake Shields vs. Dan Henderson
Botter: Jake has just one chance in this fight – he has to get it to the ground early and go for a submission. The longer he stands, the more trouble he’s going to be in. I’m just not sure he can take Dan down the way he’ll need to. Dan Henderson by TKO, round 2
Lawson: Henderson via KO in Round 3
Loco: Henderson via KO in Round 3
Brown: Everyone knows that Dan Henderson is much much much better on his feet than Jake Shields. And unfortunately for Jake Shields, that means his only chance is to work a takedown and submit Henderson. Well, Henderson is an Olympic caliber wrestler, so that seems fairly unlikely. Shields makes it through the first round, but ends up on the bad end of one of those rights in the second. Henderson via KO in Round 2