Strikeforce’s event Saturday in Nashville had three title fights featuring five fighters among the top 10 in their individual weight classes.
The promotion’s second event on CBS had its moments -- the opening round of Mousasi vs. Lawal, the closing seconds of Melendez’s title defense, Henderson’s knockdown of Shields and, regretfully, the “Nashville brawl” -- but there were also long segments of boredom, especially in the lopsided lightweight title fight.
From a business perspective, the result of the main event represents a core-melt accident for CEO Scott Coker. Dan Henderson, Strikeforce’s expensive new acquisition, lost a clear-cut decision to champion Jake Shields, who has completed his three-fight deal with Strikeforce and is now a free agent. The Cesar Gracie black belt, who is riding a very impressive 14-fight win streak, now has the option to walk away from Strikeforce while holding its belt or use his leverage to re-sign at significantly improved financial conditions.
Our look at the event’s main card breaks down the action in the three title fights as well as the middleweight scrap between Jason “Mayhem” Miller and Tim Stout and predicts the individual future for the eight participants.
Jason “Mayhem” Miller def. Tim Stout -- TKO (Punches) 3:09 R1
What happened: Eccentric ground-fighting specialist Miller had little trouble putting away journeyman Tim Stout. After a brief exchange standing up, “Mayhem” moved the action to the ground. Inside Stout’s guard, he landed a couple of unusually hard shots that prompted Stout to roll to his stomach. Miller smelled and drew blood and ultimately finished the fight with more punches from the gut-wrench position.
Forecast for Miller: The easy win was originally supposed to set up a rematch with former Icon Sport and EliteXC middleweight champion Robbie Lawler, whom “Mayhem” previously defeated via arm-triangle choke in their September 2006 encounter in Hawaii. Miller’s main event postfight antics may make those plans doubtful, though. Depending on how upset CBS and Strikeforce brass were with the incident, Miller could be suspended, released from the promotion or put into a high-interest grudge match with Nick Diaz.
Forecast for Stout: The 31-year-old will likely head back to regional events.
Muhammed Lawal def. Gegard Mousasi -- Decision (Unanimous)
What happened: King Mo’s strong wrestling base made the difference in his fight with young Armenian striker Mousasi, exposing the 24-year-old champion’s weaknesses in the process. Mousasi, who had reeled off 15 consecutive wins and only gone beyond the first round three times during that spell, could not get his submission game going off his back. Lawal had prepared with former ADCC champion Dean Lister for this title fight, and it showed. While it wasn’t pretty for large portions of the bout, King Mo proved that he has the heart to fight through fatigue.
Forecast for Lawal: The promotion has now put the 205-pound belt on the waist of the colorful King Mo. This appears to be a state of affairs that could continue for a while, as Strikeforce does not possess a credible challenger for the 29-year-old in what is arguably the promotion’s weakest division at the moment. Coker & Co. could continue the three-man race between Lawal, Mousasi and Renato Sobral and grant “Babalu” another crack at the title next. Further challengers may be drafted from rumored fights between Roger Gracie and Kevin Randleman as well as Rafael Cavalcante and Antwain Britt.
Forecast for Mousasi: Mousasi has been a “Ronin” as far as his training is concerned. In the last couple of years, he has swayed to and fro between his own group of people he trains with in Leiden, Holland, Fedor’s place in Stary Oskol, Russia, and most recently Gokor Chivichyan’s gym in North Hollywood, Calif. Cutting ties with M-1 means working with Fedor will be difficult in the future, which is why Mousasi’s primary concern should be finding an elite camp that will bring his wrestling and BJJ to the same level as his excellent hands. Upcoming fights in Strikeforce that make the most sense for him could come against American wrestlers Dan Henderson and Matt Lindland, possibly at a catch-weight of 195 pounds.
Gilbert Melendez def. Shinya Aoki -- Decision (Unanimous)
What happened: Melendez, whose was stumbling just two years ago following tough losses to Mitsuhiro Ishida and Josh Thomson, has arrived in the top five of his weight class on the back of a tactically disciplined performance against Japanese ace Shinya Aoki. “El Nino” completely shut the grappling master’s game down, stuffing all 18 of his takedown attempts and stifling his dangerous guard. Aoki worked hard and hung in there, but was ultimately outclassed and lucky not to be stopped due to Melendez possibly respecting him too much to fully let loose.
Forecast for Melendez: The rubber match with Thomson seems inevitable, but beyond that, Strikeforce has also lined up some other interesting potential challenges for the 28-year-old: namely, former EliteXC lightweight champion K.J. Noons and former Shooto welterweight titleholder Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro. Strikeforce’s working relationship with Dream could also produce bouts with Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez, former Dream lightweight champion Joachim Hansen and Hero’s middleweight tournament winner Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante.
Forecast for Aoki: “Tobikan Judan” tirelessly emphasized how important the Melendez fight was, not just for himself but for the whole Japanese MMA scene. Now that he has lost in such a decisive fashion, it will certainly be tough to rebound for the soon-to-be 27-year-old. But that’s what he’ll have to do, as his home promotion, Dream, has lined up a defense of his lightweight title against another powerful wrestler in former Shooto welterweight champion Tatsuya Kawajiri, possibly as early as July.
Jake Shields def. Dan Henderson -- Decision (Unanimous)
What happened: Henderson came close to ending things early with a short right hook and a series of uppercuts that knocked down the champion. Shields hung in there, however, and after surviving the scary first round, he put his stamp on the fight using his wrestling and grappling prowess. For the first time in his illustrious 14-year career, Henderson was not only taken down but mounted and pounded for four straight rounds. Behind on the scorecards entering the fourth, Henderson did not use his world-class wrestling to take down Shields, instead continuing to look for that one big fight-ending punch.
Forecast for Shields: There are two scenarios for the 31-year-old Gracie JJ fighter.
1: He re-signs with Strikeforce, does the California superfight with Frank Shamrock the promotion has been hard-selling during broadcasts and defends his title against the likes of Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Scott Smith down the line.
2: He signs with the UFC and fights against either Georges St. Pierre or Anderson Silva (or both), in a quest to cement his legacy as one of the greatest fighters of his generation.
Forecast for Henderson: Going into the fight as a heavy favorite with the bookmakers, as high as 4-1, and physically much bigger to boot, the defeat to Shields comes unexpected for the 39-year-old. Has Henderson, who has been seemingly indestructible despite countless wars in UFC and Pride, grown old overnight? Only time and the matchups Strikeforce can arrange for him will tell. Mousasi, Babalu and Shamrock, should Shields not re-sign, are the most intriguing bouts for him out there.