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.
Nick Diaz, Robbie Lawler and, perhaps surprisingly, Herschel Walker, put forward the most talked-about performances on the first Strikeforce card of 2010, a Jan. 30 bill from Sunrise, Fla., that drew the third-highest television rating in the three-year history of MMA on Showtime.
Coming out of the event, however, the winners’ futures were varying levels of unclear.
Diaz pitched a virtual shutout against the surging Dream welterweight champion Marius Zaromskis, showing poise and putting forth a diverse, exacting boxing attack that leveled the Lithuanian in the first. It was an electrifying performance from the unpredictable and rambling Stockton native, as Diaz recovered from an early right body knee-left hook combination that put him on the mat to lap past Zaromskis. Diaz dug knees into his thigh in the clinch and scored with a right baby hook to the temple as a staggered Zaromskis attempted a punch. Diaz became the first Strikeforce welterweight champion and earned $100,000 disclosed pay for the performance, tied with Lawler for the highest payday of the night.
The title fight closed Strikeforce “Miami” before 7,010 spectators at the BankAtlantic Center, which broke down to 4,927 paid and 2,083 comped. Ticket sales netted a $301,426 gate compared to the $559,000 drawn at the last major MMA card in the building, the final EliteXC event on Oct. 4, 2008, which was expected to be headlined by Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson vs. Ken Shamrock and also featured Gina Carano.
The attendance numbers, however, don’t tell the story in an age where Strikeforce’s viability is firmly hitched to drawing high television ratings. The Jan. 30 card drew an average of 517,000 viewers over the course of the three-hour broadcast on Showtime, which happened to be offering a free promotional weekend for Direct TV customers. The number was a big bump from the 341,000 for December’s “Evolution” card, and third highest on Showtime after the 576,000 drawn in August for the record-setting Carano vs. Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos title fight and the 522,000 drawn for the Feb. 2008 Kimbo Slice vs. David "Tank" Abbott match.
Santos got co-main event billing in her first title defense, and showed solid conditioning in shutting down most of the fits of offense from veteran Marloes Coenen for the third-round stoppage. Santos mostly bullied the Dutch fighter around the cage; Coenen only managed a few one-off strikes, but showed great resilience in taking hits.
But the bulk of mainstream attention -- besides the $50,000 fine levied on NFL coach Rex Ryan for flipping the bird in the stands during the event -- was on Herschel Walker’s win over fellow MMA novice Greg Nagy via third-round stoppage.
The 47-year-old, who was called “one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century” on the broadcast -- let the kicks fly from a curiously stiff standing position, and showed solid wrestling and mount-taking ability. Walker at first glance appeared dull around the edges -- he was preoccupied with pinning Nagy’s arms down from the mount instead of raining down bombs -- but drew almost universal praise for his debut in the cage.
Walker, who donated his rumored six-figure purse to charity, said all the right things post-fight, criticizing his performance and saying he would leave the decision about whether he fights again to his trainers at American Kickboxing Academy. By week’s end he was discussing a return in April, when Strikeforce has an event planned for CBS.
Robbie Lawler absorbed a vicious slate of leg kicks from Dutch kickboxing dynamo Melvin Manhoef before putting Manhoef to sleep in an early frontrunner for “Knockout of the Year.” Lawler threw a total of only seven strikes in the course of the fight, but they were the two that mattered most in the fight. Lawler waited for Manhoef to close in and drop his hands before uncorking an overhand right that put Manhoef down and a perfectly-timed left hook on the ground for the clean KO.
The performances piqued interest in the future of the winners, but there wasn’t a clear future path for any of them.
For Diaz, most looked to Jay Hieron following his win over Joe Riggs on the Jan. 30 preliminary card. It was the last fight on Hieron’s contract, and the likelihood of him facing Diaz next may have been reflected in Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker floating Dream fighter Hayato Sakurai as Diaz’s next potential opponent. Diaz seemed cold to both opponents in post-fight interviews, saying he’d like face “somebody important” to motivate him, particularly someone who had television exposure for their last fight. He said he wants to fight Georges St. Pierre; UFC President Dana White said later in the week that Diaz’s out-of-the-cage exploits would prevent him from bringing him back to the Octagon.
Lawler, who’s said to be eyeing a UFC return, was non-committal when asked about re-matching Jake Shields after his win. Lawler was a bit disgruntled when Strikeforce cancelled his planned Dec. 19 fight after opponent Trevor Prangley fell through. Erin Toughill was floated for Cyborg, though Strikeforce also plans an eight-woman tournament at 145 pounds that will play out over two summer events to decide a No. 1 contender.
For former pro wrestling star Bobby Lashley, a huge step up seemed in the works. Following an underwhelming first-round stoppage over Wes Sims, Lashley was talked about as the next fight for Brett Rogers and even challenging Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem, who Coker said is expected back in May. Lashley told Sherdog.com that, despite his stated plan of slowly building to stiffer competition, “everybody’s pushing me to get bigger and better fighters.” Negotiations for Lashley’s Jan. 30 fight featured a revolving door of opponents, as several fighters were disagreeable for several reasons.
Strikeforce was hardly the only television destination for MMA fans on Jan. 30.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship countered in the form of an airing of the UFC 107 pay-per-view fights on Spike TV. The fights, which reportedly drew a higher pay-per-view buyrate than expected, also had a great showing on free television, drawing a 1.64 rating and 2.2 million viewers on Spike TV, which is available in about five times more homes than Showtime.
The numbers were higher than some live UFC Fight Nights on Spike (the Jan. 11 event did 1.7 million viewers) and were the second-highest number for a pay-per-view replay on the station, trailing the UFC 91 replay (Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Couture). The UFC 107 fights drew the highest rating on all of cable that night among Males 18-34, and saw peak viewership for the Frank Mir vs. Cheick Kongo fight, according to a report from Yahoo Sports.