10 Things We Learned: Strikeforce Houston

Photo by Esther Lin/Showtime

Down with the King

Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante ended “King Mo” Lawal’s reign, delivering on the promise that was seemingly washed away when he failed to prepare and lost to Mike Kyle last year.

Always viewed as a dangerous striker, “Feijao” backed up the description, catching Lawal with power early in the third round. He credited the loss to Kyle with helping him refocuses and take his preparation more seriously, and it showed, as he handed the previously unbeaten champion the first loss of his career.

Increased Possibilities

The changing of the guard at the top of the 205-pound division will actually allow Strikeforce greater movement in matchmaking. Unlike Lawal who had expressed no interest in fighting friend and occasional training partner Renato “Babalu” Sobral, “Feijao” has no such allegiances.

As much as Mike Kyle wouldn’t be a title contender anywhere else, he holds a win over the new champ and a rematch is an easy pairing. Others like Dan Henderson and Gegard Mousasi could be considered as well.

Lawal is still a charismatic option on any future event, and being bumped back in the pecking order makes it easier to utilize him against the middle tier talent the division holds. While no one will probably officially agree, this result works out well for the San Jose-based outfit.

A Loss Can Just be a Loss

All that Muhammed Lawal did on Saturday night was something every other fighter in the history of this sport has done: he lost. No one has made it through their career undefeated and no one probably ever will, so why do MMA fans and media feel the need to qualify the defeat in some way?

One side wanted to trumpet his falling as a sign of how overrated the former champion had been all along, while others immediately sang his praises in defeat, predicting that this would be the ultimate learning tool for one of the strongest students of the game there is today.

It was just a loss; a poor strategic decision to abandon his wrestling and exchange with a better striker. Most of the sport’s greats have done it at least once in their career and no one knows how the hyper-confident Lawal will respond, which is why searching for a way to qualify the situation is completely pointless.

“King Mo” got beat. It happens to everyone. Let’s leave it at that.

Alligator Evolution

Darwin would be proud. Ronaldo Souza, whose nickname “Jacare” means alligator in Portuguese, is becoming a case study in MMA evolution.

Always known as one of the best ground technicians in the sport, the highly-decorated Brazilian jiu jitsu player has shown great improvements in his striking over the last year, culminating in his claiming the vacant Strikeforce middleweight crown on Saturday. He beat Tim Kennedy to the punch and connected with more force more often than his opponent, earning him the unanimous decision in their hotly-contested battle.

There were no signs of fatigue either, as had previously been seen in his bout with Joey Villasenor. “Jacare” is as talented a fighter as there is in the middleweight division, and if he continues his evolution, he could hold onto the belt for quite some time.

That’s Why They Nixed the Tournament

“Jacare” and Kennedy went five entertaining rounds on Saturday night, delivering the kind of action you hope to see in every championship. It was a close contest that needed all five rounds, and showed that despite the departure of Jake Shields, the 185-pound division is still Strikeforce’s best.

Had that been an opening round match in the much-discussed middleweight tournament, I fear we’d be looking at a letdown the rest of the way.

Strikeforce made the right call in rethinking the eight-man tournament idea; too many variables at play that can’t be controlled. Now they have a worthy champion who earned the belt in a hard-fought contest against a marketable, entertaining opponent, with enough depth to still put together a four-man fight-off to determine the first challenger to the new champion.

Late Shots and Flagrant Fouls

There has been a great deal of discussion about a couple of blows delivered by KJ Noons in his drubbing of Jorge Gurgel: a late hook that essentially ended the fight at the close of the first round, and a seemingly illegal knee that came at the actual end of the fight.

Instead of picking an angle on whether Noons was or wasn’t trying to fight dirty, I’d rather talk about the spirited reaction these blows have earned in the media. More specifically, how KJ Noons is now the poster child for dirty fighting when we see situations like this all the time without throwing the offenders under the bus.

For the foreseeable future, these two blows will be part of the narrative leading up to any Noons encounter, his cleanliness being called into question. If that is the approach that is going to be taken, it needs to be taken with every fighter who has landed a knee to a downed opponent, and there are some who have done it on multiple occasions.

If we’re going to start calling fighters onto the line to defend their actions, shouldn’t we (1) hold every fighter to the same standards and more importantly (2) do the same to ourselves first? Noons screwed up, but he’s not the first and he certainly won’t be the last.

When Jorge Gurgel is Out of Work…

All the people who complain about grappling matches and boring wrestlers need to send the man an envelope with a couple dollars inside each month. Yet again, the BJJ black belt eschewed his experience on the ground in favor of getting in a slugfest, this time choosing to do so with a much-more talented striker.

Gurgel has put entertaining the masses ahead of earning the victory on more than one occasion, and it has already cost him his place in the UFC. He’s now lost back-to-back bouts in Strikeforce following the same pattern, and it will eventually lead to the same fate as before.

When that happens, all the fans and critics who bemoan guys like Jake Shields and Jon Fitch need to step up and petition for Gurgel to get another chance because he is apparently the type of fighter they want to see.

Reality Check Time for Bobby Lashley

Inject whatever qualifiers you want into the finish of the Bobby Lashley – Chad Griggs contest from Saturday night. Complain about the bad standup and restart by referee John Schorle, but make sure to question the commitment to the sport of the defeated Lashley while you’re at it.

The former WWE star was spent long before the second round came to a close and needed to be treated for dehydration after the fight. While still a relative novice in the sport, Lashley should have steamrolled Chad Griggs on athleticism and activity alone, but he didn’t, and that needs to be examined here too.

Nate Marquardt had questioned Lashley commitment publically in the past and it bears repeating here. Lashley made $50,000 for his bout at Strikeforce: Miami and probably pulled the same amount here. That’s five-times the salary of WEC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz. He’s earning main card dollars, calling out the top names in the division and can’t answer the bell after two rounds with a full-time fireman who hadn’t fought in over a year?

Lashley needs to make a serious commitment to being an MMA fighter or take his act on the regional circuit. It’s insulting to the hundreds of guys who are willing to put in the work to watch him earn top dollar and important media coverage when he won’t do the same.

Lashley vs. Bautista

If Strikeforce makes this fight and puts it on the main card of one of their upcoming shows, I’m done with the company.

This is MMA, not the WWE.

That said expect to see it go down on CBS sometime this fall. You’ll have to fill me in on the results. I won’t be watching.

Cormier Rolls, Galvao Guts One Out

Daniel Cormier did as expected, making quick work of Jason Riley en route to his fifth career win and the third in a three week stretch. With the lack of depth in the heavyweight division, the two-time Olympian is certainly an intriguing addition to the roster and one who should be watched.

Andre Galvao has been a far-more heralded prospect than Cormier, but thus far has failed to deliver on the hype. He managed to score a win over Jorge “Macaco” Patino on Saturday, but it was only after the veteran Brazilian dominated Galvao early. While he earns points for the comeback, Galvao has now delivered back-to-back uninspiring performances under the Strikeforce banner.

With the lack of depth in the organization, there is a chance for fighters like Cormier and Galvao to shoot into higher profile positions fairly quickly. While Cormier is showing he welcomes the opportunity, Galvao hasn’t as of yet and is at risk of getting lost in the shuffle once again.

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