Herschel Walker | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
With the weekend behind us, and the promotion’s uber-awesome heavyweight grand prix looming Feb. 12, we take a look at five storylines that emerged from Saturday’s Strikeforce “Diaz vs. Cyborg” card in San Jose, Calif.
Diaz + Daley=Dynamite
After watching Nick Diaz conduct yet another hard-nosed, grind-em-down win, you can’t help but admire the Strikeforce welterweight champ. And when Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos took him down, that decision has to rank right up there with Operation Barbarossa in terms of bad tactical decisions.
Diaz’s high-volume striking style is deceptive, largely because of the price it exerts on opponents, even when he’s not hitting them with much more than arm punches and half-power shots. It’s the psychology of constantly forcing them to work, never giving foes a break, and eventually making them give. Despite a ground game that makes him effective against anyone except for world-class wrestlers who can hold him down and play for a decision, Diaz’s willingness to stand, and literally force people to prove they can’t knock his block off, is fan-friendly and attitude-heavy.
That’s why a match with Paul Daley is fascinating, because Diaz’s style plays suicidally into Daley’s strengths. Paul’s takedown defense is fairly decent, as he gave Jake Shields a lot of trouble before finally getting planted and submitted, and Diaz’s takedowns are probably the weakest part of his game.
Daley’s massive power and explosive striking are definitely better than “Cyborg,” who is the first Diaz opponent I’ve ever seen use low kicks effective on Nick, knocking him out of his rhythm in spots and making the Stockton, Calif., native’s jab far less effective.
But what makes Diaz Diaz is that he’s been fighting this way for a long time, and outside of a stoppage defeat early in his career against Jeremy Jackson, nobody’s come remotely close to separating him from his consciousness (the cut loss to K.J. Noons was exactly that -- Diaz would have fought until his head popped out, and probably after that).
He may possess the single best chin in the sport, in terms of absorbing a huge shot and showing little reaction whatsoever. Daley will certainly oblige him, and the two should also be very entertaining in the prefight trash talk, as well. Daley may be the ultimate acid test of Diaz’s chin, but at the end of the day, he always seems to find a way to break the other guy, and nobody seems able to break him.
Paging Gegard Mousasi
After Roger Gracie’s masterpiece submission over Trevor Prangley, yours truly peeped the Strikeforce 205-pound division. It’s talent-laden, with Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante-Dan Henderson battling for the belt in March; Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal is eminently gifted with a huge upside, and Gracie is clearly an emerging talent. Former Olympian Rhadi Ferguson is just 3-0, but has big-time potential as well.
But the split between the division’s top tier, experienced talent is largely Henderson and Feijao, followed by very inexperienced fighters in Gracie, Ferguson and Lawal, who between them have fifteen fights. Ovince St. Preux has shown some special ability as well.
Gegard Mousasi is an amazingly talented guy, and since his exciting five-round loss to Lawal last April, has fought twice in Japan’s Dream promotion, winning both. It’d be nice to see Strikeforce get him back in action on its cards here, because he’s a seasoned veteran that is a joy to watch. And they can use the top-tier talent.
The challenge with talented, yet inexperienced fighters is new situations often defeat them even when they’re the more gifted guy. Witness Lawal’s title-losing defeat to “Feijao,” where “King Mo” simply ran out of gas when the implacable Cavalcante wouldn’t break. A year from now, that’s a fight Lawal wins, going away.
It wouldn’t surprise me if either Ferguson or Gracie have similar experiences in their next few fights, because that’s part of the game -- which is precisely why Strikeforce needs veterans like Mousasi. Those guys are probably the future of the division, but until then, you need savvy veterans to supply consistent performances so you don’t have to carry main-event bouts with the risk of it ending because a talented -- but green -- fighter hits a speedbump.
What’s Next for Walker?
After seeing Herschel Walker’s win over Scott Carson, it reminds me of the classic quote someone -- perhaps the inimitable Bert Randolph Sugar -- uttered in 1990, when James “Buster” Douglas, a 42-1 underdog, stunned Mike Tyson to win the heavyweight title.
At the time, a comebacking George Foreman was still trying to convince the skeptical public that he deserved a shot at the title, and was dispatching a series of hapless foes in the process.
“What this means is that, now, instead of fighting 5-foot-10 tomato cans, George Foreman will be knocking out 6-foot-4 tomato cans.”
Translation: Walker can probably progress at a slow rate for a fight or two more, but at some point, they’ve got to ratchet it up a little. I was going to complain about what seemed a quick stoppage, if it weren’t for the fact that Carson seemed as relieved as anyone that it was over. At least get someone who’ll complain about that, if not possess a gas tank for longer than two minutes.
The challenges are many, not the least of which is Walker’s size. At 6 feet and 220 pounds, he’s a smallish heavyweight. That also carries the corollary of being able to find out of shape guys, unlike weight classes where a fighter at least has to train down to a proscribed poundage.
To Strikeforce’s credit, they haven’t billed Walker as a main attraction (the doomed prescription of the EliteXC/Kevin Ferguson model). But after the Carson bout, which bordered on embarrassing if for no other reason than Carson hit the wall right when the fight looked competitive, was a reminder that you can only play with fire for so long.
Freak show attractions are like hopping on a pogo stick on an icy sidewalk -- it’s pretty entertaining until it goes south, at which point everyone involved sees something they’d rather not. I’m not saying Walker should be thrown in against a Top-50 heavyweight in his next couple fights -- but put him in against live ones. If I wanted to see stuff like this, I’d still be watching boxing undercards.