Let’s start with the fights. I’ll be honest upfront: I enjoyed all of them. The first piece of negativity that arose during the event was that all the fights were boring. I’d disagree based entirely on my own personal views on what makes good mixed martial arts matches, but in terms of actual objectivity and the ultimate purpose of the event, I’d have to agree.
See, one of the primary reasons that mixed martial arts is supposedly “the fastest growing sport in the world” is because of The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale. It was hyped particularly well, what with a main event featuring then-incredibly popular Ken Shamrock, who was still well known from his pro wrestling days, and UFC rising star Rich Franklin, but the real show stealer was the bout right before that, which featured TUF 1 finalists Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar.
Fifteen minutes of two men trying to kill each other with their bare hands. And it showed. Their faces were busted up and covered in blood, their bodies covered with sweat, and the crowd was going wild! The event drew an incredibly large audience and mixed martial arts was never the same again. Heck, a lot of people say that if the Griffin vs. Bonnar fight didn’t go the way it did, the UFC most probably would have tanked that year or the next. If that’s true, then I, for one, am surely grateful it didn’t happen.
A lot of people have looked at that legendary TUF 1 bout many times over and a lot of them have said that, objectively in terms of pure martial arts techniques and tactics, both fighters did pretty horribly. They basically just came out like primitives and beat the hell out of each other. But in terms of pure entertainment? It was pure gold. You could almost see Dana White and the Fertittas diving and rolling around Scrooge McDuck’s money bin after the event.
This was not so for the Strikeforce: Nashville bouts. Not one of the championship events came even close to being as entertaining to the average spectator, which Strikeforce was trying to reach via CBS. These are viewers who are not at all knowledgeable in mixed martial arts and couldn’t care less about techniques and tactics. They just wanted to see three good looking fights. In short, the perfect audience for the Griffin – Bonnar match.
All the Strikeforce: Nashville fighters were playing it safe to a certain degree since belts were on the line, meaning that they were defensive a lot of the time. In their lightweight championship bout, Shinya Aoki kept going to the ground every chance he got since that’s where his jiu jitsu game would shine. Current champ Gilbert Melendez didn’t want to do anything with that, and although he would engage with flying fists from time to time, the referee would simply stand Aoki up. This would occur several times a round for five five – minute championship rounds. Twenty-five minutes of guys going to the mat and standing up over and over and over, with very little action in between.
Now, again, I’d like to reiterate that I personally enjoyed all the matches, thought they were good, and that all the fighters did their best and shone brightly for it. But that’s not what the core audience that Strikeforce was tapping saw. They repetitive referee stand ups for close to half an hour without anything really entertaining happening to break it up. No amount of crab walking can save that sort of viewpoint.
Then there’s the light heavyweight championship between current champ Gegard Mousasi and fast – talking challenger Muhammed Lawal. This was the first fight of the evening and was sure to have audiences in their seats. After all, Lawal talked up quite a storm in the pre – fight hype and has an incredibly entertaining personality. If he fought as good as he talked, then the fight would be a sure thing. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Lawal controlled almost the entire fight with his amazing wrestling ability and sheer athleticism, neutralizing Mousasi’s stand-up game the entire time.
More knowledgeable fans like myself can view this bout as a great wrestling showcase and fighter athleticism. If Lawal could have finished Mousasi quickly while he was controlling him on the ground with face – breaking punches and the like, it would have won over the average viewer as well. Guess what? Lawal was unable to finish and gassed out. He was still much stronger than Mousasi, though, and his wrestling pedigree allowed him to take control during all of the rounds despite the lack of cardio. The result? Most viewers basically just saw two half – naked, sweaty, grown men lay on top of each other for nearly half an hour. Not a particularly good sight.
Okay, but what about the championship bout? Surely Hendo could save the day couldn’t he? Well, he sure did try. He came out and knocked current champ Jake Shields down several times with his magic right hand, but, kudos to Shields, was unable to finish him during that first round. Exciting stuff! The middleweight champ gets blown down by the grizzled veteran and staggers to his feet, unrelenting, and unwilling to back down. It’s literally what Hollywood blockbuster scripts are made out of!
Unfortunately, Hendo blew his wad during the first round and slowed down considerably during the next twenty minutes. This allowed Shields to control the rest of the match same as Lawal did for the rest of the match. To Hendo’s credit, though, he still tried his best and was at least not finished, but going up against a younger fighter with a full gas tank kinda takes its toll. So, sans that great opening round, the viewers basically the same thing during the main event.
And as if all of that wasn’t enough, we have the infamous brawl that occurred during Shields’ post – fight interview. Jason Miller, of Bully Beatdown fame, somehow manages to enter the cage along with the officials, interrupts the interview and asks for a rematch straight to Shields’ face. Shields, still high from the emotions of his fight, shoves Miller and a fight breaks loose, mostly consisting of Shields’ Cesar Gracie camp ganging up on Miller. Fight News has more on the matter:
Funny thing is, Bas Rutten lightheartedly comments during the April 23rd broadcast of his show, Inside MMA, that there still wasn’t any dramatic knockout! So despite the ugly nature of it all, it still failed to add to the much needed excitement of the event. He also asks how the hell Miller even got inside the ring in the first place, if what Strikeforce execs say are true, in that Miller was acting completely independently? Were there no guards or officials to prevent just anyone wandering in the cage after a fight? I find that incredibly hard to believe.
I’m actually on the side of those who think that Strikeforce did originally script Miller to go in the cage to hype a rematch with Shields to maybe salvage an overall lackluster event. Then, when it turned ugly, they denied everything and turned Miller into an easy scapegoat. If I’m right then that’s just incredibly poor planning. I mean, planning an impromptu confrontation like that post – fight with the incredibly rowdy Cesar Gracie camp? Come on.
All in all, I’d like to reiterate that, despite the overly negative sentiments of this review, I still enjoyed the event a whole lot. It’s just that I found that the other side of the argument was much more fascinating to discuss. Do I feel that the brawl at the end of the event did as much damage to the industry as many would have one believe? Again, I personally don’t think so, but we’ll see. One thing’s for sure, Strikeforce owner Scott Coker has his work cut out for him in sealing this debacle.
Credit goes to Sherdog.com for the awesome Strikeforce: Nashville fight photos!