April 17, CBS’s second installment of Strike Force MMA Saturday Night Fights in Nashville Tennessee presented a mixed bag of Mixed Martial Arts entertainment that made national news in a negative highlight. First of all to recap Saturday’s MMA event, it was to be an opportunistic time slot for Strike Force to present a few of their best fighters vying for and trying to retain their championship titles. Lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez defended his title against champion Aoki of Japan’s Dream Promotion, Gegard Mousasi was defending his Light Heavyweight title against Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal and the main event featured Middleweight champion Jake Shields versus former champion and MMA legend Dan Henderson.
Lawal versus Mousasi, the first main card bout fired up the Nashville crowd. King Mo has only had seven MMA fights total including Saturday’s Strike Force event. He is a former standout collegiate wrestler for Oklahoma, but had one the bulk of his fights by KO rarely progressing beyond the second round. Mousasi has been hailed of late as one of the best light heavyweights in the world and displays very crisp Muay Thai standup. To sum up the encounter, King Mo essentially reasoned that if he could not KO Mousasi in the opening minutes of the fight he would simply rely on superior wrestling to take the crown. And so for all but a couple of minutes during the five round encounter Lawal pan caked and dragged Mousasi around the cage landing an occasional strike from the top position but chiefly controlling and confounding the champion. To Mousasi’s credit he landed some of the most accurate strikes from the guard anyone has ever witnessed—enough strikes to swell up King Mo’s face and close an eye.
Mousasi’s detractors include having zero take down defense, failing to regain his feet after hitting the mat and for whatever reason as the superior striker failing to go after Lawal with every punch and kick he’s mastered during the moments when both men were standing. It appeared that though Mousasi’s was the lauded striker entering the cage, he wanted no part of the uppercuts and overhand rights King Mo launched to start the fight in the first round. Muhammed Lawal is still a raw talent after only a few fights but this guy has tons of potential. He is an accomplished wrestler, strong as a bull and hits like a truck. Gegard Mousasi was looking for an easy title defense and could not find it Saturday. It was no surprise when King Mo’s hand was raised and the light heavyweight belt encircled his waist capping a unanimous decision.
Shinya Aoki versus Gilbert Melendez was in a word disappointing after the buildup, hype and Strike Force promotion. Aoki of Japan came in touted as the greatest thing going when it comes to Jiu Jitsu especially as it is practiced in Asia, hmm? Melendez, also a Jiu Jitsu practitioner of the Brazilian mold is a fierce fighter who barely gets more than journeyman respect perhaps to the lack of exposure in the MMA world. Saturday was Melendez’s coming out party and he shined in the spotlight.
The fight was very one sided and for five rounds excruciating. Yes you could see flashes of athleticism in the Dream champion’s movement and certainly the lion heart and toughness came with him to America but from a competitive standpoint Aoki was mismatched. Jiu Jitsu is an integral part of Mixed Martial Arts, but in a modern era will not suffice as the deciding factor in higher levels of competition. We have witnessed some of the more brilliant practitioners of Jiu Jitsu appear novice in championship fights over the past two years and Saturday was no different. Aoki, tough as nails and skilled as he may be could not throw a punch to answer Gilbert Melendez’s steady jabs much less stand and trade. Many of these fine grapplers could take a lesson from B.J. Penn, the Diaz brothers and Melendez in that if you’re going to ply your Jiu Jitsu skills in top level MMA you need another tool in the tool box of fighting be it boxing, Muay Thai or San Shou, one weapon will not do nine times out of ten especially when your opponent has some mastery of the same.
Ah, the main event featuring the talented multifaceted Jake Shields against Olympian and former Pride Champion Dan Henderson. Having only seen Shields other Strike Force CBS fight against Mayhem Miller I was a bit worried for him since his standup appeared to be the weaker of his cage skills. Hendo on the other hand besides being the most accomplished wrestler in MMA has a hammer of the god’s right hand that can KO a bull. Sure as you can say Strike Force, Henderson unleashed the pain alongside Shields head during the opening moments of the first round—curtains comes to mind and the word of choice. Maybe it was adrenaline, excitement, but Dan Henderson could not find the mark to finish the affair after dropping Shields with the thunderous right. It was impressive to see that Shields was still conscious and even more so to see him cover up and then revert to his Jiu Jitsu to last out the round after absorbing one more shot to the jaw from the ex champ.
The young champion recovered in round 2 scoring takedown moments into the action. Henderson worked a reversal on the mat putting him on Shields back and in position to sink in a rear naked choke. Shields spun a reversal turning into the challenger and gained the dangerous top mount position. For the average fighter this is normally curtains but Dan Henderson has never been KO’d and only been stopped a few times during his career. Few of Jake Shields blows from the top made it through Hendo’s guard to do significant damage. The end of round two summarized the rest of the match. Shields out wrestled and out maneuvered the former champion controlling his opponent and the fight en route to a unanimous decision. Yes, Dan Henderson had the fight in power of his right hand, but Jake Shields proved tougher and more durable than many predicted. It was surprising almost shocking that Henderson the most skilled wrestler in MMA would suffer a series of takedowns leading to his loss.
It was rumored pre-fight that Henderson has endured a back injury through training for the fight and needed every hour to ready himself for Friday’s weigh-in.
Disregarding the sundry, the fact is Shields outlasted and out worked the former champion and now must be held with esteem as one of the world’s best middleweights. However, before the congratulations could be extended and the victor had his say—enter the villain or joker. Jeremy “Mayhem” Miller seeking more TV time strode into the cage unchecked in the midst of most of the Gracie Academy contenders and pestered Shields for a rematch. Shields shoved Miller away and Gilbert Melendez barely dry from his own encounter leaped at Miller with the aid of the Diaz Brothers wrecking crew.
Cesar Gracie’s finest then proceeded to punch and kick Miller while exasperated CBS announcer Gus Johnson who very nearly got pulled into the fray tossed to a needed commercial break. It was very ironic that Mayhem Miller host of MTV’s Bully Beat down where in a skit like format he rescues the weak and feeble of America actually needed to be rescued from a gang style throttling. Back from the break apologies littered the air and with order restored Jake Shields finally made it through his interview where he hailed his opponent Dan Henderson and issued his own apology for his fight compadre’s reckless move to act on his behalf. Truthfully, not taking anything away from the skills of the Strike Force main card participants but the post fight melee was the most exciting action all night. Brawls occur in all sports, so fisticuffs between guys who make a living inflicting pain for a living does not come as an outrageous shocker. Strike Force needs to provide better training and beef up its security ala the behemoths in oversized blazers lurking about the octagon post fight at most UFC events.
It will be entirely up to CBS whether Strike Force is worthy enough to receive anymore air time but the promotion itself is in good enough shape with a cadre of world class MMA talent. Considering the lackluster five round snoozers put on by Zuffa of late the California Company should fare well in 2010 especially with the Last emperor Fedor on tap for June.
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