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First Blood

by admin November 24, 2009

First Blood

by admin November 17, 2009

First Blood

by admin November 10, 2009

First Blood

by admin November 3, 2009

With Strikeforce’s recent deal with CBS and Showtime, the promotion has grown and acquired a fair amount of talent. With this influx of talent, the title pictures for each division have become a lot more interesting.

In the heavyweight division, the current champion is Alistair Overeem. After winning the inaugural belt in 2007, Overeem has not defended his belt once due to a lack of challengers and injuries. But that’s in the past. With the recent appearances of Fedor Emelianenko, Brett Rogers, Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Silva, Overeem will have his hands full. The most likely course of events is a match-up between Emelianenko and Werdum to either fight for the number one contender slot or for an interim title due to Overeem’s absence.

In the light heavyweight division, things became interesting earlier than the other divisions when Bobby Southworth, the then champion, lost his belt to Renato “Babalu” Sobral, who has been in and out of the top-ten list for a while. When Sobral then lost his belt to up and comer Gegard Mousasi, things got even better.
Recently, Mousasi fought for Strikeforce in a non-title bout against Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. The fight was originally scheduled under the Dream banner as part of the Super Hulk Grand Prix tournament, until Mousasi was injured.
The light heavyweight division is among Strikeforce’s weaker divisions, but their next event will feature a bout between Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal and Mike Whitehead, which is sure to generate a challenger for the belt.
Moving down to the middleweight division, things have gotten even livelier. Due to Cung Le’s Hollywood commitments, he recently vacated his title, which saw Jake Shields battle it out with Jason Miller for the belt. Shields won the bout by decision after five rounds, and is feeling comfortable in his new division &- this being only his second fight at 185lbs.

As for the list of challengers, the pool is fairly deep. Strikeforce has recently acquired Ronaldo Souza, who will be making his debut on Dec. 19 against Matt Lindland. Also on the card will be Scott Smith and Robbie Lawler, who slugged it out on two separate occasions for the now defunct EliteXC middleweight title. But this time, they won’t be fighting each other. Lawler’s opponent is currently unknown and Smith will be facing Le! That’s right, just after his title was taken from him; the Kung-Fu fighter has decided to return to MMA during a gap in his filming schedules. With all of these middleweights on tap for fights in the near future, you can be sure that the crowd will thin out into a clear title picture &- either a challenger, based on an exciting and dominant performance, or a defacto tournament.

The welterweight division has been a lonely place for Strikeforce; as they have never had a champion. When Shields signed up with the promotion, most fans saw him as an obvious choice to challenge for the vacant belt, but alas, Shields decided to test the waters at 185lbs and being the champion, hasn’t looked back. Shields has stated his desire to fight for the title, but only once a champion is already established. So who are the viable contenders to start the history of the Strikeforce welterweight world championship?

In a recent attempt to establish a kingpin at 170lbs, many names were shuffled in and out. Nick Diaz was the obvious choice but he failed to be cleared by the California State Athletic Commission. Beyond him was Joe Riggs and Jay Hieron, the last champion of the IFL. Riggs soon fell out of the picture and Hieron was left with the Ultimate Fighter cast-off Jesse Taylor in a one-sided affair. Now, set for Jan. 30, the Hieron and Diaz bout is back on, but any title implication has yet to be announced.
With the recent signing of Dream’s welterweight champion Marius Zaromskis, and the recent success of up-and-coming Tyron Woodley, it seems Shields will have to wait in line.

As for the lightweight championship, it seems to be an ongoing dialogue between Josh Thomson and Gilbert Melendez. Melendez was once the champion, but lost his belt to his friend and sometimes-training partner Thomson. With few challengers, the two were set to meet again until Thomson broke his ankle in training and was forced out of action for over a year. Melendez then fought for an interim title against Rodrigo Damm and has since defended it against Mitsuhiro Ishida. Now, after over a year-long wait, the Melendez and Thomson rematch is set to take place at Strikeforce: Evolution.
Beyond these two fighters, a recent bout between Jorge Gurgel and Mike Aina saw Aina win by a controversial split-decision, determined the first challenger after the title unification. And beyond this, Takanori Gomi recently left Japan to strike a deal with the UFC, but has indicated that if negotiations fall through &- which is not unlikely &- then he will seek a contract with Strikeforce and will be an obvious contender.
As for the featherweight and bantamweight divisions, Strikeforce has made few attempts acquire top talent and the emergence of a belt in either division won’t happen for sometime.

All that leaves us with is the Women’s Lightweight championship, currently held by Christiane Santos, who is rumoured to be facing Marloes Coenen for her first defence. After her quick dispatch of Gina Carano for the vacant title, it is doubtful that she will be the next challenger and beyond her, the most likely candidate is Kerry Vera &- the wife of UFC fighter Brandon Vera &- who recently defeated Kim Couture &- the wife of UFC fighter Randy Couture, a match that was somewhat of a parody of UFC 105, which saw their husbands fight in the main event only six days prior.

With the growing interest of Strikeforce, the talent pools will only continue to grow. In fact, Dan Henderson, the former middle and light heavyweight champion of now defunct Pride has been in negotiations with the promotion after completing his stint with the UFC and could be seen in both divisions’ title pictures. But for now the lists are already long enough.

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Last Saturday night in Manchester, England, 10 men entered the octagon for the main card of UFC 105, where splashes were made in the welterweight, middleweight and light heavyweight divisions.

In a matchup to determine the number one contender for Georges St. Pierre’s welterweight belt, Mike “Quick” Swick and Dan “The Outlaw” Hardy came out guns blazing for a fifteen minute waltz. Despite Swick’s fast pace and ability to stuff a takedown, there was not enough in the American Kickboxing Academy fighter to defeat the Outlaw. Other than some stunning counters in the late second and third stanzas, Hardy was the one who was doing all the damage, managing to tag Swick in all three rounds leaving him wobbling on chicken legs.
To criticize Hardy, he never managed to finish the fight after smelling blood in all three rounds when he shook Swick flush on the jaw with left hooks. Nevertheless, UFC president Dana White insisted that Hardy has earned a title shot as soon as spring 2010.

In the middleweight division, Canadian Denis Kang welcomed Michael Bisping back after a brutal knockout at the (right) hand of Dan Henderson.
The first round was an even match &- Kang won the exchanges standing up and Bisping, surprisingly, showed a formidable ground game off of his back, attempting several submissions.
Kang’s black belt stood in the way of Bisping finishing Kang on the ground and the fight went into the second, where Bisping set the pace and finished the fight via TKO early in the round.
With another fight in the win column, Bisping is back into the mix as a viable contender for Anderson Silva’s middleweight crown, amongst the likes of Nate Marquardt, Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort with Demian Meia and Yushin Okami somewhere in the periphery (and Dan Henderson, pending his contract negotiations with other promotions such as Strikeforce).

In the main event, Randy Couture returned to the light heavyweight division and took on a game Brandon Vera. In the minds of most people watching, the matchup could have gone either way on the score cards and ended up being in favour of Couture.
The implications of this fight, I would argue, have better things to say for Vera than Couture. Couture was expected to come in and dominate the much younger Vera from start to finish, grinding out a victory with clinches and dirty boxing. But it never seemed to be enough, with the referee stopping the clinches against the cage as they continued to lead to stalemate positions. When playing the kickboxing game Vera was the winner, devastating Couture more than once with high kicks to his head and liver. Though he was able to send Couture to the mat in pain, Vera was unable to finish. In the end, Vera proved a tougher test than most expected and Couture didn’t make a large enough statement in the division to get a quick run at the title.
Also on the main card were the two winners of the Ultimate Fighter season nine &-the British Ross Pearson and James Wilks. While both demonstrated the ability to fight amongst the UFC vets, only Pearson came out victorious &- Wilks lost in the third round via TKO by Matt Brown.

Pearson fought Jackson Submissions fighter Aaron Riley and dominated from the opening bell. The fight ended early with Riley having a deep cut above his eye in the second round, although Pearson had already proven that Riley wouldn’t have made much of a difference if he were able to continue. Next up for the United Kingdom with the UFC is a tentative Ultimate Fight Night come 2010 in Belfast, Ireland and maybe even a hometown crowd for Hardy when he challenges St. Pierre for the belt &- he’ll need the support.

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With a 59-pound weight range, one would assume that heavyweight is the largest division&- no pun intended. But alas, it is perhaps the smallest and usually least intriguing weight class in the sport of mixed martial arts.
With the recent performances of the Ultimate Fighter’s current cast, the division’s unpopularity is not surprising. What the fighters make up for with heavy hands they seem to lose in cardio, making the fight slow and sluggish.

As well, the list of viable contenders for any heavyweight belt adds up to a rather small pond. Just look at Cain Velasquez’s career in the UFC; while he is a talented and entertaining fighter, he has barely broken out of the amateurs. Yes, he has proved himself a formidable opponent, with dominating victories over Cheick Congo and Ben Rothwell, but he is seven fights deep and already considered the top talent of the division. In fact, he is now waiting in line to fight a champion who holds five professional fights.

As for other organizations, their heavyweight talent pools are even smaller, promotions World Victory Roads, Strikeforce and Dream have to share the remaining tadpoles. The list of heavyweight fighters is so small that outside of the UFC, only Strikeforce has a heavyweight champion, Alistair Overeem &- who also happens to be the inaugural heavyweight champion. Since earning the belt in 2007, he has not made a single title defence, instead having to spread his marketability across promotions in Japan and the Netherlands.

The skill levels of competing heavyweights seem to differ as much as their weight. Last Saturday’s main event at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers, the opening round saw the best heavyweight and pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Fedor Emelianenko, square off against a game, yet all-things-considered far less adept fighter, Brett Rogers. The shallow depth of the heavyweight talent pool became painfully obvious when after a failed armbar attempt by Emelianenko, a scrambling Rogers straddled him, sticking his rear end in his face not knowing which way was up.

Now what does this all add up to? What can possibly be done? An interesting solution would be a re-division of weight classes.
Dividing up the weight class (206 &- 265 lbs.) seems backward, if the goal is livening up heavy fighters, since it would group the already small talent pool into even smaller subcategories, but consider this: with strict weight limitations placed on heavyweight fighters, they would be forced to endure a gruelling aspect of all combat sports that has thus far left them alone &- the weight cut.

Forcing the fighters to watch their weight and therefore control their diet and increase their cardiovascular training would surely increase the athleticism in fighters over 205 pounds.
This is already seen as a positive impact on large-framed fighters; case in point being the heavyweight champion and challenger of the UFC. Both Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin have to cut weight in order to make the 265 pound weight-limit. Even though they enter the cage weighing around 280 pounds each, they manage to move around like lightweights. This is because they are forced into the same rigorous training schedules of all other fighters who have the added stress of having to make weight.
The increased athleticism associated with heavyweight fighters would stave off the bar-room brawlers who consider their bouncing resume as a call to the MMA big leagues, and those who are in it for the love of the game would reinvent themselves as quick and durable, not just heavy and hard-hitting.

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Usually, top ten lists will be a compilation of the best in a weight class, or perhaps the best pound-for-pound fighters. Here I would like to offer a list of who I consider to be the top ten prospects in Mixed Martial Arts, regardless of weight class. While some may seem more veterans than prospects, their inclusion is based on their rising value and recognition.

10. Rory MacDonald (9-0) &- This Canadian native is set to make his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut at Ultimate Fight Night 20. This will be his first fight outside of Canada and only his third fight in the welterweight division. Previously a lightweight, MacDonald’s last fight in the division won him the King of the Cage lightweight crown. At the young age of 20, he is presumably making room for a growing frame.

9. Dan Lauzon (12-2) &- Now 21, Lauzon is the youngest fighter to ever enter the octagon when he was only 18-years old. Although he was fed to the wolves, fighting the very experienced Spencer Fisher, Lauzon has since made a comeback and is riding an eight fight win streak. Lauzon is set to return to the UFC at UFC 108. Interestingly, he will be fighting on the same card as his older brother Joe Lauzon, who is set to face off with Canadian Sam Stout.

8. Evan Dunham (9-0) &- Appearing more timid than fierce with an nonthreatening physical presence, Dunham has a lot of UFC lightweight fighters on high alert after overcoming the odds against Per Eklund and Marcus Aurelio. He is next set to fight The Ultimate Fighter season nine winner Efrain Escudaro, who is undefeated as well. Coming off of a first round TKO win over Cole Miller, Dunham will have his hands full, but after proving many wrong with his two previous bouts, I won’t be cringing.

7. Tim Kennedy (11-2) &- Although Kennedy is by no means a spring chicken, he only seems to be getting recognition since he landed in Strikeforce. His only two losses have come from Scott Smith (his first fight) and Jason Miller (whom he earlier dispatched), which leads one to wonder why he hasn’t been noticed before. His latest fight headlined the Strikeforce Challengers series, and he defeated Zak Cummings with a North/South choke, which means Kennedy is certainly on the up-and-up with the promotion and is surely to be seen on a main event card soon enough.

6. Joe Soto (8-0) &- After handing Wilson Reis his first loss en route to winning Bellator Fighting Champions inaugural featherweight tournament at the tender age of 22, Soto has made a mark in the featherweight division. With an undefeated record, Soto will await the winner of Bellator’s second season’s featherweight tournament winner to defend his belt whilst taking fights in other organizations, such as Palace Fighting Championships (and hopefully Dream).

5. Anthony Johnson (8-2) &- With stunning knockouts over Chad Reiner, Tommy Speer, Kevin Burns, Luigi Firoavanti, and Yoshiyuki Yoshida, Johnson has become a perennial highly energetic knockout artist in the welterweight division of the UFC. Although, don’t be surprised if he moves up in weight as he has twice failed to make the 171 pound weight limit by more than five pounds. Walking around normally at 220 pounds, his still-growing frame may force him into the middleweight division. But before this happens, he will continue his quest for the belt with a tentative match-up with Josh Koscheck at UFC 106.

4. Blagoi Ivanov (2-0) &- This Bulgarian Sambo fighter is perhaps best known as the man who beat Fedor Emelianenko and go on to win the 2008 World Sambo Championships. Recently transferring over from sambo, he is eager to rematch Fedor in an MMA contest but he will probably have to wait some time. He can keep his patience intact since he is rumoured to soon face Fedor’s brother, Aleksander Emelianenko.

3. Joe Warren (2-1) &- Despite a recent first round loss via armbar to Bibiano Fernandes, Warren has proved himself a formidable opponent, dispatching both Chase Beebe and Norifumi Yamamoto in the Dream featherweight tournament &- both previous champions in respectable organizations (WEC and K-1 Hero’s). Entering the MMA world at 32 years of age, Warren was previously a Greco-Roman wrestler, having won gold medals in both the FILA World Wrestling Championships and Pan American Games.

2. John “Bones” Jones (9-0) &- Headlining The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights live finale with Matt Hamill in December, 22 year-old Jones has become a force to be reckoned with in the light heavyweight division. An electric fighter, Jones is one of few fighters you will see execute both a suplex and spinning elbow strike successfully in the same round. It is this all-or-nothing attitude he brings to the cage which has caused his stock to rise so rapidly.

1. Frankie Edgar (10-1) &- While he has been in the UFC lightweight stable since 2007, tallying only a single loss to undefeated contender Gray Maynard, people are only beginning to notice the talent and skill of Edgar. Following his lone loss, Edgar has dispatched both Hermes Franca and Sean Sherk, a previous challenger and champion respectively within the promotion. Scheduled to next fight Matt Veach it appears he has yet to impress UFC matchmaker Joe Silva. In fact, both Sherdog and MMAWeekly place Edgar ahead of current number one contender Diego Sanchez in their lightweight rankings. Let me put it bluntly: Edgar deserves a title shot.

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