Strikeforce “Nashville” this Saturday marks another potential watershed moment for the San Jose, Calif.-based promotion and its ongoing attempt to snatch a piece of the UFC’s pie.
The event, which emanates from the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., features not only the debut of prized free agent acquisition Dan Henderson but three cash money title bouts airing live on CBS. Indeed, this could serve as an historic night for the fledgling organization.
One way or another, the violence on tap will make it a memorable night for fans, as the flamboyant Shinya Aoki makes his long-awaited stateside debut in a lightweight title bout with the hyperactive Gilbert Melendez. The light heavyweight crown will also be up for grabs, as Muhammed Lawal looks to complete his improbable rise to the crown against offensive mastermind Gegard Mousasi. Rounding out the trio of title fights, middleweight champion and grappling kingpin Jake Shields will defend his belt against the aforementioned Henderson. The bout could set the stage for Henderson to make moves all over the Strikeforce weight ladder.
Strikeforce Middleweight Championship
Jake Shields vs. Dan Henderson
The Breakdown: Henderson, the UFC expatriate, will look for the middleweight strap that eluded him in the Octagon by taking out his frustrations on Shields, the incumbent Strikeforce middleweight champion. Retaining his gold and preserving a four-year-long winning streak will be the biggest test of the underdog champion’s career.
The nucleus of Shields’ game centers on grounding his opponents and working them over from top control -- a tall order against Henderson, who remains one of the division’s premier wrestlers. Shields has proven himself a solid grappler from the guard, but Henderson seems far more likely to force the champion into a brawl than a grappling match. That’s where the fight gets complicated for Shields, as his fragile chin and notoriously substandard striking make a tempting target for Henderson’s overhand right.
Even if Shields manages a takedown, he has not shown himself as an instant tapout machine against competent grapplers, and his recent bout with Jason “Mayhem” Miller exposed some serious deficiencies in his game. Shields has issues retaining his base and holding position against knowledgeable grapplers, a problem only exacerbated by his poor conditioning and history of riding out decisions against opponents he cannot easily overwhelm on the mat.
Henderson’s submission defense may not be air-tight, but he will remain in control of where this fight goes. He can stuff Shields’ takedowns and stalk him all over the cage, his right hand cocked like Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum. The does not seem like the kind of fight in which Shields would have much interest.
The Bottom Line: This will be ugly. Henderson will force Shields into standing his ground on the feet, much the same way he did with Michael Bisping at UFC 100. As soon as Shields complies, he will end up with a fist-sized impression in his face.