Previewing tonight’s Strikeforce show in Columbus
Once again, Strikeforce has managed to overshadow their own show, as this weekend’s event boasting a pair of championship bouts has become the secondary story about the organization in the MMA media this week.
With the booking of a new April event to supplant the delayed Heavyweight Grand Prix, this card has fallen off the radar a little; while some of that comes as a result of the two UFC cards that preceded it, the San Jose-based organization could have done a better job putting this event front and center; nothing would have been lost by delaying the confirmation of Diaz vs. Daley until Monday.
This card also has an eerily similar feel to last year’s event in Nashville, as title challenger Dan Henderson is being put forward as the star of the show, while light heavyweight champ Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante is left to be the defending champion battling “The Legend,” as the event trailer has taken to calling Henderson.
I never intend to pen these pieces with a negative tone, but the truth is that Strikeforce keeps leaving good decisions on the table and moving forward in questionable directions; promoting challenger over champion, replacing an injured Miesha Tate with a complete unknown in a title bout, and stealing this show’s thunder with the announcement of an even bigger card just a month later are all things that detract from what should be an entertaining night of fights.
Billy Evangelista (11-0-0, 1 NC) vs. Jorge Masvidal (20-6-0)
As a fan, I love this match-up, because it could produce fireworks and sets one of these two youngsters up to make a run in the lightweight division later in 2011.
As a critic, I wonder why the organization would pair one of their best young talents (Evangelista) with a very dangerous newcomer (Masvidal), instead of showcasing each on their own.
Evangelista has worked his way into a big event, main card position after earning his stripes on the Challengers series, boasting wins over Jorge Gurgel and Waachim Spiritwolf, and looks to keep his unbeaten streak intact against the once-highly-touted Masvidal.
A product of American Top Team, Masvidal is best known for falling victim to Toby Imada’s mounted, inverted triangle choke during Bellator’s initial lightweight tournament. He’s a tremendous talent, but often seems to lack the focus to take the next step. While many applaud his willingness to fight anyone, anywhere, Masvidal might be better served picking a division and sticking with it, instead of bouncing between lightweight and welterweight.
The winner takes a quick step up the ladder in the relatively deep and competitive lightweight division. They won’t be in line for the a title shot, but a meeting with a grizzled vet like Pat Healy would make sense moving forward.
Tim Kennedy (12-3-0) vs. Melvin Manhoef (24-8-1)
Finally, Kennedy is back in the cage.
After going five hard rounds with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza for the vacant middleweight belt last August, the decorated soldier was forced to sit on the sidelines, itching for a fight. He’s had three different men listed against him here at one point or another, finally ending up on Manhoef, but regardless of the changes, Kennedy is ready to get right back into the title mix.
Kennedy is a very well-rounded fighter and will look to employ those diverse stills against the more singularly-talented Manhoef. While he’s not opposed to throwing hands, expect to see the 31-year-old utilize his superior grappling and submission skills here.
First Jason “Mayhem” Miller was slotted opposite Kennedy, then Luke Rockhold. In ending up at Dutch kickboxer Manhoef, Strikeforce is recycling a relatively well-known fighter riding a two fight losing streak who has the power (literally and figuratively) to swing a fight with one punch.
Last time we saw him the United States, Manhoef was brutalizing Robbie Lawler‘s legs before catching a bomb with his chin and going down for the count. He followed it up with a loss in Japan, and is 2-4 over his last six fights; Manhoef is also 0-2 on U.S. soil if you’re into superstitions and trends.
While he could certainly catch Kennedy and earn another knockout win to his lengthy highlight reel, the greater likelihood is that Manhoef gets exposed as the one-dimensional fighter that he is, and Kennedy stakes his claim to a bigger fight in the future.
Marloes Coenen (18-4-0) vs. Liz Carmouche (5-0-0)
I mean no disrespect to the participants – or female fighters overall – but this is precisely why Dana White is so opposed to having female fighters in the UFC in the near future.
There is an incredible lack of depth in the welterweight ranks, as the late injury to Miesha Tate has forced Strikeforce to turn to Carmouche, a fighter who has yet to compete on the big stage in a title fight. Those things should not happen; while it’s not the organization’s fault, it showcases the trouble of trying to push a belt and a division that just doesn’t have the depth of talent to maintain any kind of consistency and sustained fight schedule.
Additionally, the inclusion of Carmouche here highlights how ridiculous the decision to place Jan Finney in a 145-pound title fight opposite Cris Cyborg was last year. In her last bout, fought at 135-pounds, Carmouche got the best of the now 8-9 Finney by way of third round TKO.
What makes it worse is that I give her little to no chance of beating the far more seasoned, far more skilled Coenen here. The Dutch champion is one of few female fighters in the sport today deserving of a co-main event slot on a card like this, but she should be facing competent challengers, not last minute call-ups.
I know you can’t prepare for injuries, but had more time been invested in actually cultivating the division – instead of simply rolling out title fights every couple of months – than a more suitable replacement would have been ready and able to step in for Tate, and give Coenen a legitimate test in this one.
Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante (10-2-0) vs. Dan Henderson (26-8-0)
It really bothers me that Strikeforce is once again putting Henderson ahead of the champion he’ll challenge in the promotion of this bout. Beyond being a little disrespectful of the champ, it makes no real sense to me; Henderson is a known commodity, so why not build up the guy he’s fighting (and could beat), instead of leaving him as a secondary thought and running the risk of having another Jake Shields situation?
“Feijao” was a rising prospect after earning a trio of first-round wins during the brief run of EliteXC, but he was knocked out by Mike Kyle in his Strikeforce debut, halting his momentum.
He rebounded with a pair of wins that showcased his striking, and claimed the light heavyweight title from Mo Lawal back in August by stuffing takedowns and landing with his hands. That will be the same gameplan here, though working with the talented fighters who make up the Black House group will surely have helped his overall game develop.
Personally, I feel like Henderson has hit his “Rich Franklin” stage; that is, he’s going to beat middle-of-the-pack contenders like “Babalu” all day, but against the upper-crust, he might just be winding down too much to compete.
The former Pride two-division champion turns 41 this summer and is certainly in the twilight of his career, despite what he might tell you. His wrestling is still strong enough that he could dominate opponents on the canvas, and fighting in the light heavyweight division is the right place for him, but against younger, stronger, faster opposition, “Dangerous Dan” might not be so dangerous anymore.