The Weekly Wrap: April 11 – April 17

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By Jack Encarnacao Apr 18, 2009
The Weekly Wrap walks readers through the last seven days in MMA, recapping and putting into context the week's top story, important news and notable quotes.

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It was promoted as the beginning of a new era for Strikeforce, and by the time it was over, the tag line proved more prophetic than anyone expected.

The era of Frank Shamrock as Strikeforce’s top hand may have ended on April 11, as the charismatic veteran was trump carded in a big way by Nick Diaz, who put him away by second-round technical knockout before Shamrock’s hometown crowd in San Jose, Calif. Diaz taunted Shamrock with an open chin throughout the bout and threw hundreds of diverse punches, denying the former UFC champion any chance to get inside his trademark reach. Diaz finished Shamrock with a right hook to the ribs, which Shamrock claimed he had injured in training. Diaz squashed the extensive pre-fight trash talk by helping a bruised Shamrock to his feet and raising his hand.

With the loss, a few of the most potentially lucrative bouts at Strikeforce’s disposal were compromised. Shamrock would likely have rematched Cung Le if he had come out victorious, and the idea of a potential rematch with Tito Ortiz -- who was in attendance April 11 -- was more or less dismissed. Ortiz, who remains in talks with Strikeforce, had a faceoff with Renato “Babalu” Sobral cage-side and said he’s about six months away from returning to the competitive mixed martial arts scene. It remains unclear where Le, Strikeforce’s other big drawing card, goes from here, though Diaz seemed to call out the middleweight champion in a post-fight press conference, when he said Le was “not a complete fighter.” By week’s end, Diaz’s camp indicated he was seeking a boxing match against Roy Jones Jr. Shamrock, who earned an event-high $369,790 in disclosed pay for the fight, pledged to fight again in San Jose. Diaz made $39,950 in disclosed pay, but his camp’s Web site reported he made substantially more than that.

The main event capped a well-produced Showtime network debut for Strikeforce, which purchased the television deal as well as several fighter contracts from Pro Elite earlier this year. Every fight on the televised card ended with a finish, and by the time the two main event fighters entered the six-sided cage, a big-fight atmosphere had taken hold. The event drew 15,211 fans to the HP Pavilion for a roughly $750,000 gate. That falls shy of the promotion’s record crowd of 18,265, set in March 2006 for a card headlined by Shamrock vs. Cesar Gracie. The show did solid ratings on Showtime, attracting an average of 364,000 viewers, according to FightTicker.com. That puts it third in the most-watched MMA cards on Showtime, which first carried MMA in February 2007. The only fights to draw bigger numbers on Showtime were Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson vs. David “Tank” Abbott and Shamrock vs. Phil Baroni, which was a Strikeforce co-promotion.

Another prominent storyline at the Strikeforce show revolved around Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, who missed a 145-pound weight limit by five and a half pounds. Her opponent, Hitomi Akano, whose optimum weight hovers around 125 pounds, initially refused to face Santos. However, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker worked out a deal in which Akano and other fighters from her Japan gym will get future opportunities in the promotion. Coker told Sherdog.com that Akano’s “gym will have a much better relationship with Strikeforce than just one fighter.” In the fight, Santos battered Akano over two and a half rounds, as Akano struggled to implement her judo against the larger opponent. Gina Carano was shown at ringside in an effort to build heat for a fight with “Cyborg” -- a fight EliteXC was aiming to promote before it went out of business. Coker said the promotion will shoot for an August match between the two and that it will create a Strikeforce women’s champion.

In the night’s most electrifying showdown, Scott Smith went beyond the call of duty in defeating Benji Radach via third-round TKO in an early candidate for “Fight of the Year.” Both fighters dropped each other with trademark strikes in the first round, and Radach pulled ahead with punches and submission attempts in the second, which left Smith wobbly as he returned to his corner. Smith came out swinging in the third and landed the winning right hand before falling to the mat in celebration and exhaustion. Both middleweights received stitches afterwards. Radach told Sherdog.com he broke his hand in the first round; the injury will require surgery. Meanwhile, Smith revealed he was on crutches a week before the fight due to a knee injury.

Gilbert Melendez also made an impact at the event, as he put down Rodrigo Damm with an uncharacteristic knockout in the second round and became Strikeforce’s interim lightweight champion. Melendez told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show that he wants another fight before his originally scheduled title rematch with Josh Thomson. Melendez indicated he would welcome a rematch with the only other man to defeat him, Mitsuhiro Ishida, who has fought before for Strikeforce. An injured Thomson expects to be back in August. In other action, heavyweight Brett Rogers upped his stock with a knockout of BET “Iron Ring” notable Ron Humphrey. Rogers told Sherdog.com he has a three-fight contract with the California-based Strikeforce promotion. Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem was in attendance, and a potential bout between to the two was alluded to on the broadcast.

The UFC ran counter-programming April 11 on Spike TV. A free airing of UFC 94 “St. Pierre vs. Penn 2” from January, which included the first airing of a preliminary fight between John Howard and Chris Wilson, attracted 1.9 million viewers. That was the same amount of viewers as UFC Fight Night 18, which was headlined by Carlos Condit vs. Martin Kampmann on April 1.
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