Breaking down the big Strikeforce fights
The constant discussion and debate surrounding Strikeforce’s potentially epic Heavyweight Grand Prix has left the company’s debut show for 2011 languishing in the shadows.
Despite a pair of championship bouts and the return of Herschel Walker to the cage, Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg has received very little attention, and there is no one to blame but the promoters themselves.
With their ambitious experiment in the big boy division still more than a month away, Scott Coker and company could have been promoting the return of champions Nick Diaz and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Instead, they’ve been clarifying the rules and regulations of their upcoming pseudo-tournament, allowing a four-fight main card that deserves attention to fall almost entirely off the grid.
How do you let an event featuring two of your five champions become an afterthought?
As per usual, the preliminary portion of this event is made up of bouts between uninspiring local fighters and Strikeforce undercard fixtures; I’m looking at you, Ron Keslar! While the organization has done well to develop fighters like Ovince St. Preux and Tyron Woodley over the last year, more energy needs to be invested into building the ranks and rounding out their events with more fighters who have the potential to become assets to the organization, instead of recycling guys like Nate Moore and Nathan Coy through every other show.
Onto the main card match-ups.
Trevor Prangley (23-6-1) vs. Roger Gracie (3-0-0)
This is one of the more intriguing fights that will take place in the next few months, whether people recognize that or not.
Gracie is as talented a grappler as their is on the planet today; he ranks alongside the likes of Marcelo Garcia, Xande Ribeiro and rival Robert Drysdale as one of the very best BJJ players in the world. But this is an MMA fight, and as we saw in his long-awaited Strikeforce debut, even one of the greatest grapplers in the world can struggle inside the cage.
Though he was eventually able to force Kevin Randleman to submit, it was far from easy and that doesn’t bode well for Gracie. The former UFC champion is well beyond his expiry date and showed that Roger has few other options when his grappling gets neutralized.
Prangley is the type of fighter who could give even the most well-rounded and experienced opponent fits, so he should certainly do the same to Gracie here. While not an elite ADCC champion, Prangley is a solid grappler himself and has the all-around abilities to make life miserable for Gracie inside the cage.
Outside of his quick submission loss to Tim Kennedy at Strikeforce: Los Angeles, Prangley has only suffered a single loss in the last four-plus years, and that came to current SRC middleweight champion Jorge Santiago. Light heavyweight is a much better divisional fit for the South African, and he gets a fairly high-profile chance to prove that here.
Herschel Walker (1-0-0) vs. Scott Carson (4-1-0)
I’m not going to try and break this fight down in terms of what each man brings to the cage; it would be an exercise in futility and has nothing to do with why this fight is on the main card anyway.
What I will do is offer a round of applause of Walker, a 48-year-old specimen who has done nothing but bring positive attention to the sport since embarking on his journey to the cage just over a year ago. He is one of the greatest athletes of our time and a well-respected, well-spoken, willing ambassador for this sport, and if you don’t think he should be afforded an opportunity to test himself against another man inside the cage, feel free to tell him so yourself.
For Carson, this is his Chad Griggs momemnt; a chance to square off with a high-profile, not-so-skilled opponent on the big stage with nothing to lose.
While Griggs hasn’t exactly been flooded with endorsement deals and big name fights since beating Bobby Lashley, the win did earn him a place in an alternate bout for the upcoming HWGP, something that wouldn’t have been on the table had he not made the best of his opportunity against a big name opponent.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (13-2-0) vs. Robbie Lawler (18-6-0)
Souza returns to the cage for the first time since claiming the middleweight championship last summer, and is handed a dangerous, but not daunting challenge in the former of the heavy-handed Lawler.
Though his stand-up has improved a great deal in recent years, there is only one place Souza should want to contest this fight and that is on the canvas. He is an elite grappler with suffocating top control and an array of finishes at his disposal. If “Jacare” was able to make quick work of Matt Lindland on the ground last year, he should be able to find similar success on the ground in this one.
Lawler too wasted little time inside the cage with Lindland, knocking out the former Olympic silver medalist in his most recent outing to earn this opportunity. Always a threat with his lethal hands, Lawler has solid defensive wrestling and won’t make it easy for Souza to bring the fight to the floor, but the question is whether he has enough tools to sway things in his favor if the fight goes into the championship rounds.
Over the last few years, Lawler has become more and more of a home run hitter inside the cage, needing a big knockout in order to earn a victory. When he is unable to connect, he’s been unable to win, as evidenced by his bouts with Renato Sobral and Jake Shields to name two. Souza will certainly be out to avoid a power shot from the HIT Squad stalwart, so it will be up to Lawler to expand his game if he wants to walk away the new middleweight champion.
Nick Diaz (23-7-0) vs. Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos (18-13-0)
Ah the lack of depth and talent in the Strikeforce welterweight division, how I loathe thee. The company that let a perfectly capable Jay Hieron rot on the sidelines and take his talents to Bellator now puts their welterweight champion in against a man with exactly one fight at the 170-pound limit.
As violent and powerful as Cyborg may be, he has no business being in the cage opposite Diaz, the best 170-pound fighter competing outside of the UFC today. While the welterweight champion is prone to trying to trade shots with more powerful opponents from time-to-time, Diaz is the far superior technician in the striking department and easily trumps Cyborg in the grappling department as well, which should make for a relatively uneventful victory for the Cesar Gracie student from Stockton.
Yes, Cyborg has ability to level Diaz with a single strike, and showed in his welterweight debut against Marius Zaromskis that he’s refined his once-wild approach; once he had Zaromskis on the ropes, Cyborg used precise, measured shots to seal the deal. That being said, you’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of hopeful Diaz haters who think the champion is in any real danger here. He’s rattled off eight-straight wins against more well-rounded and talented opposition, and should be able to keep Cyborg at bay with his long jab.
Diaz is running out of option in the welterweight division, with only Paul Daley and Tyron Woodley standing as reasonable options if he emerges victorious here. With Jake Shields long gone from the middleweight ranks, perhaps we’ll see Diaz put on a couple more pounds and set his sights on bigger challenges later on in the year.