5 Questions: Strikeforce Challengers 19

By Brian Knapp Sep 20, 2011
Lorenz Larkin (left) has won his first 11 fights, eight of them by KO or TKO. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood

A walking, talking highlight reel at 205 pounds, Lorenz Larkin will meet Nick Rossborough in the Strikeforce Challengers 19 headliner on Saturday at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. There can be no better poster boy for the Challengers series than Larkin, as it has provided the 25-year-old Californian a platform on which to grow and develop, all while building his name.

The series has also served a valuable purpose for fighters like Jason High, an established mixed martial artist with a proven pedigree looking to get his foot back in the door. The 2009 Dream welterweight grand prix finalist and UFC veteran will put his five-fight winning streak on the line in his second Strikeforce outing, as he will lock horns with Todd Moore in a featured matchup.

Here are five questions and answers worth considering ahead of the event, which airs on Showtime at 11 p.m. ET/PT:

Question: Is Lorenz Larkin a prospect, an underrated contender or a mid-card fighter who will not get much better in the coming years?
Answer: Larkin looks like the real deal, as any fighter who can dominate in one particular phase of the game -- be it striking, wrestling or grappling -- will more often than not enter the cage with a significant advantage against someone who cannot. Larkin has proven to be a potent standup stylist in his two Strikeforce appearances, the first of which resulted in a second-round technical knockout against Scott Lighty, a durable kickboxer who trains with former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell. The real unknowns with Larkin remain his conditioning, his ability to avoid takedowns and his submission defense. In his last outing, he had difficulty staying upright against Gian Villante, and had the former Ring of Combat champion not faded down the stretch, it seems a forgone conclusion that Larkin would have spent even more time on his back. He will need to improve those areas of his game, especially if he stays at 205 pounds, a division populated by stout, experienced wrestlers who have made a living off of neutralizing strikers.

Ryan Couture File Photo

Like his father, Couture got a late start.
Question: Will Ryan Couture make a serious career out of fighting or is he somewhat doomed to remain in his father’s shadow?
Answer: No matter what Ryan Couture accomplishes in the cage, he will always be in his father’s shadow. Few men have meant more to the sport than Randy Couture, a five-time UFC champion, hall of famer and one of MMA’s most beloved ambassadors. Still, the younger Couture has taken the correct approach with his own career. Having kept a relatively low profile, he has steered clear of building a reputation on the back of his father’s accomplishments. His style helps to distance him from comparisons to “The Natural,” as well. The 29-year-old Couture works from a submissions base, far different than the grinding Greco-Roman clinch attack his father employed. However, one has to be skeptical about how success he can achieve. As he nears 30, his late start in the sport works against him, and he has not yet shown the kind of explosive finishing skills one hopes to see out of a fighter his age. Because of his last name, he will never have trouble finding fights as long as he wants them, but making a serious career out of MMA is
a different animal altogether.

Question: Is Jason High ready for a return to the UFC after five straight wins?
Answer: Many are of the opinion that High got a raw deal from the UFC the first time around. There is no shame in losing to Charlie Brenneman, as he did in his only Octagon appearance. High may be rather one-dimensional, but his wrestling skills, athleticism and motor make him a tough out at 170 pounds. He has impressed during his five-fight streak, defeating a pair of high-level prospects -- Jordan Mein and Quinn Mulhern -- and longtime Japanese standout Hayato “Mach” Sakurai along the way. Does he deserve another shot in the UFC? Well, there is more than one welterweight on the active UFC roster against whom he would be favored. High has already moved towards a return to center stage. He needs to keep posting wins, and his next assignment comes against Todd Moore, a Dream and WEC veteran fully capable of derailing his hopes.

Question: Will Lavar Johnson ever become a heavyweight contender, or will he forever be viewed as more of a sideshow?
Answer: Johnson will be eternally linked to the tragic shooting that nearly claimed his life, but it would be worse than unfair to consider him anything but a legitimate fighter because of something that happened to him away from the cage. The real questions revolve around whether or not he can progress enough to become a significant threat to those above him in the pecking order. Johnson packs a major punch on the feet, but his wrestling skills and submission defense leave a lot to be desired. Already well into his 30s, time is no longer on his side. However, he competes within the sport’s shallowest division, so he has that advantage. Johnson had a long winning streak snapped against Shane del Rosario in February; we will be able to tell a lot about his immediate future by how he responds against Shawn Jordan, a former college football player with plenty of ambition.

Question: Will more than 500 people buy tickets to see the show?
Answer: At this point, the writing is on the wall, and Zuffa LLC appears to have no serious interest in pushing the Strikeforce brand. The departure of Nick Diaz, a reigning champion no less, told us as much. The Challengers events are certainly trending downward in terms of fan interest, as they have averaged right around 500 in paid attendance since the Zuffa purchase. Perhaps a small spike can be expected with Larkin’s emergence and Couture’s presence, but there is no reason to believe there will be a marked improvement at the box office.

Mike Whitman contributed to this report.


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