Strikeforce: ‘Lawler vs. Shields’ is set to go down this Saturday, June 6 from the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri, live on Showtime starting at 10p.m. ET.
Remember: MMAmania.com will provide LIVE updates with blow-by-blow, round-by-round commentary of the main card action on fight night, which is slated to air at 10 p.m. ET.
To get us pumped for the festivities, MMAmania.com Editor and Senior Writer Jesse Holland (that’s me) will break down the main event matches and take a closer look at the intricacies of each contest.
Strikeforce has put together a solid show featuring a couple of fighters we just saw back in April -- but in this case a repeat performance isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Anyone who's been following Strikeforce -- especially in the wake of the ProElite acquisitions can tell you there is some serious talent at work here.
One of the big stories coming into June 6 is of course the late addition of former UFC heavyweight champion Andre Arlovski to the main card as he takes on the menacing Brett "The Grim" Rogers. Does "The Pitbull" still have the Emelianenko loss on his mind or has he moved on?
And what about Jake Shields moving up in weight? Can he handle the streaking Robbie Lawler? And if Lawler and Diaz both win, is a blockbuster rematch inevitable? There is definitely a lot of ground to cover.
I’ve also included the current betting lines for each fight so that you can get a feel for what the money has to say about the chances of each combatant.
Now, enough with the formalities … let’s get cracking:
182 lbs. (Catchweight): "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler (16-4) vs. Jake Shields (22-4-1)
Backgrounds: Both competitors have been out of action since their former employer ProElite went out of business last November. Shields defeated talented British striker Paul "Semtex" Daley on the final event for the promotion last October. The victory was the first title defense for the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. He captured the vacant title with a first round submission win over Nick "The Goat" Thompson a little more than two months earlier on the July 26 EliteXC: "Unfinished Business" card. For Lawler, it’s been a little longer since he last saw action, finishing off Scott Smith in the second round of their rematch on the "Unfinished Business" card in July 2008. The two engaged in one of the best fights in the short history of the organization in their first encounter in May, but the fight was ruled a no contest because of an inadvertent eye poke, which led to the rematch. The win over Smith was the fifth in a row for "Ruthless" — sans the dreaded no contest — and he wasn’t fighting any bums either. That list included Frank Trigg, Joey Villasenor and Murilo "Ninja" Rua. Not to mention earlier career victories over Niko Vitale (twice), Chris Lytle and others.
Dumbass predicts: There was a time when most UFC fans thought of Robbie Lawler only in the context of his faceplant against Nick Diaz at UFC 47 back in 2004. No more. After spending some time away from Zuffa and putting on two terrific performances against Scott Smith for Elite XC, "Ruthless" finds himself headlining a Strikeforce card against another guy that many of today's fans hear a lot about but in actuality have seen little of. For me, this is going to be the deciding factor regarding Jake Shields' true ability. He's definitely got the grappling chops and has big wins over guys like Josh Thompson and Carlos Condit. Having said that, it must also be noted that nearly fifty-percent of Shields' wins have come by way of decision and aside from Thompson, many of the bigger names he's faced have gone the distance. That makes me wonder if he will be able to submit Lawler (even though Mayhem did it in ICON Sport) and if he can't, can he survive the remainder of the fight against a guy who hasn't gone to a decision in six years? Lawler's size shouldn't be that much of a factor, considering Shields also has a win over the very big and strong Yushin Okami back in 2006 for Rumble on the Rock, but my gut tells me that with five straight (T)KO wins, this is Robbie's time. I expect Shields' gas tank to fail him at some point in the third and Lawler will capitalize with a technical knockout.
Betting lines (as of June 5):
Lawler: -125 ((Bet Now))
Shields: -105 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Lawler via TKO
180 lbs. (Catchweight): Nick Diaz (19-7) vs. Scott "Hands of Steel" Smith (17-5)
Backgrounds: Former UFC fighters Nick Diaz Scott Smith are coming off perhaps the biggest wins of their careers on April 11. Diaz stopped promotion pillar Frank Shamrock via second round TKO in the main event of "Shamrock vs. Diaz" in the first Strikeforce event since putting its new ProElite acquisitions to work. "Hands of Steel" lived up to his nickname earlier this month by knocking out the hard hitting Benji Radach with a little over a minute remaining in their three round slugfest. Smith was battered and bloodied, but refused to back down and stunned "Razor" — and the rest of the crowd with his thrilling come-from-behind win. Now the two biggest winners from April 11 will meet for a chance to crown themselves the King of St. Louis — and perhaps San Jose — now that Strikeforce elder statesman Frank Shamrock has dropped two straight.
Dumbass predicts: I would not have expected to see these two guys again so quickly after April 11, but after the performances they gave us in San Jose I'm certainly glad they're back -- and I expect more of the same from each fighter. Both Diaz and Smith have to be coming into this fight very confident following their sensational wins, and that translates into a very entertaining fight for the fans. What's interesting about this fight is that Diaz could probably end it early if he made use of those stellar jiu-jitsu skills, but we all know that's not what he's about. Diaz is there to fight and his rat-tat-tat style is tailored perfectly for Smith. "Hands of Steel" also has a heart of steel and will put up a good fight (and is by no means is a pushover), but Diaz lands a ridiculous amount of strikes per round and should cruise to a unanimous decision. It's hard to count Smith out after his miraculous comeback against Radach last April, but the wily Diaz is a craftier opponent who is relentless and nearly impossible to finish.
Betting lines (as of June 5):
Diaz: -400 ((Bet Now))
Smith: +250 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Diaz via unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski (15-6) vs. Brett "The Grim" Rogers (9-0)
Backgrounds: Andrei Arlovski has been working with famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach over the past year or so to help him improve his striking. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see more of it against Fedor Emelianenko at Affliction: "Day of Reckoning" back on January 24. "The Pitbull" was winning the stand up exchanges before attempting a fly knee, which the champion countered with a quick right that put Arlovski down for the count midway through the opening frame. Prior to the loss, Arlovski was seen devouring IFL veteran Roy "Big Country" Nelson at Elite XC: "Heat" on October 4 of 2008. After losing back-to-back fights in the UFC against Tim Sylvia, Arlovski went on to win five of six with four technical knockouts. "The Grimm" has stormed through the first nine men he's faced rather easily, finishing each of them with strikes. In fact, only once — in his most recent victory over Ron "Abongo" Humphrey on April 11 — has the knockout artist faced an opponent who has survived beyond the first round.
Dumbass predicts: Like Nick Diaz, Andrei Arlovski could probably win this fight in the first round via submission if he really wanted to. He's a formidable grappler and his experience on the big stage puts him far ahead of Rogers in the grand scheme of things. He may be one of the best strikers in the heavyweight division regardless of promotion and he looks better and better in each fight. Even in his knockout loss to Emelianenko, one had to admire his performance. So why am I picking against him? Well folks, Brett Rogers has two choices in life: Succeed in mixed martial arts or go back to Sam's Club and change tires for a living. I never pick against a man in that scenario. And Rogers is gangster. Not the "Hey I tilt my hat to the side and have a complex handshake" kind of gangster -- the real deal. I was about four feet from him at the Elite XC 'Primetime' post-fight presser when he stood up -- in front of his boss, his peers and the media -- and told Kimbo Slice he tapped out to the elbows of James Thompson. Rogers wants to be the top guy. He wants to be the most feared heavyweight. If he isn't, he'll end up back in Minneapolis checking tire pressure. No way am I picking against that.
Betting lines (as of June 5):
Arlovski: -500 ((Bet Now))
Rogers: +300 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Rogers via KO
170 lbs.: Phil "New York Bad Ass" Baroni (13-10) vs. Joe "Diesel" Riggs (29-10)
Backgrounds: Former UFC welterweight Joe Riggs was originally penciled in to face Jake Shields during the promotion’s debut on the premium cable network on April 11 in San Jose, but the Strikeforce match makers decided to scrap the bout in order to free Shields up for a superfight with Robbie Lawler in the main event instead. "Diesel" wasn’t too pleased with the decision either, because he felt like he had a decent shot at handing the former EliteXC champion his first loss in nearly four and a half years. Who knows, perhaps a win in St. Louis will move the veteran fighter closer to a match with his desired opponent, but for now he’ll have to settle with taking out his frustration on Baroni instead. The "New York Bad Ass" hit a bit of a dry spell, losing five of seven bouts from September of 2005 through May of 2008, but he bounced back to close out 2008 with three straight wins over Scott Jansen (KO), Ron Verdadero (TKO), and Olaf Alfonso (decision) after dropping down to compete as a welterweight in the 170 pound division. He’s kicked up his training a few notches as well and has been working with guys like Jake Shields, Josh Thomson and others in preparation for Riggs.
Dumbass predicts: Joe Riggs has a TKO win over UFC referee Herb Dean back in 2003. I say that because I'm trying to find something positive about his career and it's proved to be challenging. No question he's a tough guy who's endured some real hardship inside and outside the cage, but for a guy with almost 40 fights under his belt you can pretty much get the sense of where things are going. For Riggs, it looks like nowhere. He's too inconsistent, and aside from a razor thin decision over Nick Diaz in 2006, doesn't have that one big win over a 'name' that indicates he can hang with the big dogs -- however the fact that in 39 fights he's only been to three decisions is pretty impressive. Baroni hasn't been much better, but unlike "Diesel," I think he's turned the corner. He has a new conditioning program and has managed to put together three straight wins. He also has a genuine loathing for Riggs leading up to this fight as extra motivation. "The New York Bad Ass" still acts like a cartoon character but it looks like he's taking his career seriously and I expect him to come out like a maniac and pummel Riggs en route to a first round stoppage.
Betting lines (as of June 5):
Baroni: -110 ((Bet Now))
Riggs: -120 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Baroni via TKO
205 lbs.: Kevin "The Monster" Randleman (17-12) vs. Mike Whitehead (23-7)
Backgrounds: Kevin Randleman last competed on the second Sengoku card in May 2008, pulling out a unanimous decision victory over Ryo Kawamura. The fight was Randleman’s first MMA bout since 2006 — a submission loss to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at Pride 32: "The Real Deal." The two-time NCAA Division I Wrestling Champion from Ohio State University defeated Pete Williams at UFC 23 in 1999 to capture the vacant heavyweight title, but is perhaps best known for consistently fighting the cream of the crop during his tenure in PRIDE. Whitehead was eliminated from the The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 2 show by current UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans. He got a second chance at UFC stardom at UFC 57, but got outworked by fellow TUF 2 contestant Keith Jardine. Instead of going away, Whitehead turned it up a notch — or five — by unleashing hell in smaller promotions, going 14-1 including a 4-0 run in the IFL (and a decision win over Krzysztof Soszynski) before the team-based promotion closed its doors. In fact, his only loss during that span was a unanimous decision to current Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Renato "Babalu" Sobral back at Affliction: "Banned" last July.
Dumbass predicts: Kevin Randleman knows how to talk it up. Watching him sell a fight is a thing of beauty because he looks fearsome and has the vernacular down pat. Unfortunately his record betrays that facade. Despite the wrestling talent and experience in the big show, "The Monster" is just 3-7 in his last ten fights and has been very underwhelming in his career. In fact, if you take away the flash knockout over Cro Cop from Pride in 2005, what is there to say? He's the guy that dropped Fedor on his head -- and decisioned Fatih Kocamis and Ryo Kawamura. That, coupled with the fact that he's only fought once in three years has me favor Whitehead in this contest. Yes, he looked flat on TUF 2, but he's been red hot as of late and actually beat some decent competition. The important thing is that he's been fighting consistently and winning -- and I have to believe his confidence is high (something that has hurt him in the past). Randleman will get a few takedowns in the first after he is unleashed, but Whitehead will survive and outwork him in rounds two and three.
Betting lines (as of June 5):
Randleman: -115 ((Bet Now))
Whitehead: -115 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Whitehead via unanimous decision
That’s a wrap, folks.
Remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and our coverage of Strikeforce: "Lawler vs. Shields."
What do you think? Now it’s your turn … let us have it in the comments section and share your thoughts and picks for Saturday’s event.