Photo by: Esther Lin / SHOWTIME
Strikeforce is done. Let's look back at its finer moments and its biggest black eye.
The original plan for this article was to list the Top 5 Strikeforce moments first and then highlight the now defunct mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion's worst moment in its relatively brief history.
However, after watching Tarec Saffiedine beat the odds and take out Nate Marquardt last night (Jan. 12, 2013) at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Okla., on Showtime (watch all the video highlights here). It served as the final fight for Strikeforce, making me realize that it was best to not end this piece on a downbeat note.
No other appropriate pageantry comes to mind at the moment, so let's just get to the list of Top 5 Strikeforce moments as it sails into the sunset as another promotion gobbled up and hobbled by Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Here we go.
Strikeforce's Worst Moment -- Strikeforce: "Nashville," April 2010
There are, unfortunately, many choices when trying to pick the single worst moment in Strikeforce history, from the crushingly disappointing heavyweight grand prix to the endless string of misfortune that has heralded the promotion’s end.
One, however, stands above the rest as a near-perfect storm of awfulness -- Strikeforce: "Nashville."
On paper, this event had it all: three title fights on free television, the Strikeforce debuts of Dan Henderson and Shinya Aoki, a great showcase for light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi against an untested Muhammed Lawal. All in all, it was the sort of event that had hardcore fans drooling ... this much talent on a free card bordered on ridiculous.
Everything was set for MMA to have a breakout night on one of the biggest networks around. And then everything went wrong right off the bat.
Mousasi had no answer for Lawal’s wrestling, but the latter gassed too quickly to mount any offense from top position, leading to an excruciatingly dull fight whose only highlight was Mousasi getting a point deducted for an illegal fifth-round upkick. Aoki couldn’t get a takedown on Melendez, who was content to do a bit of damage when the former pulled guard and then pull out when things got too hairy.
Things finally started to look up in the opening minutes of the main event, as Henderson unloaded about three Bispings’ worth of knockout shots to Jake Shields’ head. In a turn of events that undoubtedly left Dana White beaming and Scott Coker reaching for a flask, however, Strikeforce’s star attraction gassed by the end of the first, leaving him at the mercy of 20 minutes of some of the most pathetic ground-and-pound the sport has ever seen.
And then, of course, we have the brawl. Just as it looked like things couldn’t possibly get any worse, Gus Johnson decided to tell the 2.9 million people watching, many of whom experiencing the sport for the first time, that "sometimes these things happen in MMA."
CBS has yet to show another MMA event. Unfortunately, Johnson has called several more.
Strikeforce's Top 5 Best Moments
Crazy brawls, incredible comebacks and instant finishes have their places, of course, but nothing compares to a bout between two aggressive, technically skilled, and evenly-matched fighters. During Strikeforce’s nearly seven-year-long journey in MMA, this strikes me as the standard-bearer not just for the women’s divisions, but for the organization as a whole.
Frankly, there wasn’t a boring moment in this fight. Kedzie rocked Tate in the opening seconds with a head kick and dealt some serious damage in the resulting flurry. She spent the rest of the round neutralizing Tate’s wrestling and doling out consistent punishment with her hands, only to nearly find herself caught in a triangle in the waning seconds.
Tate turned things around in the second round, getting Kedzie to the floor and constantly attacking with submissions. A rear-naked choke looked seconds away from ending it, only for Kedzie to miraculously spin out and survive the round.
Even going into the third, Kedzie starting finding success with her leg kicks on a tiring Tate, and as soon as "Cupcake" started responding to her feints by dipping to the left, nearly took the former champ’s head off with a beautiful head kick. For the first time in the fight, she willingly engaged Tate on the ground, following her into her guard as she fell and looking to finish with punches. Then she remembered why she’d been letting Miesha up every time they hit the ground when Tate locked up an armbar, securing the tap with less than two seconds to go.
This wasn’t great for a women’s fight. This was, objectively, a fantastic MMA scrap.
Well done, ladies.
But, like I said, crazy brawls have their place, too.
Unable or unwilling to exploit Paul Daley’s notoriously-poor ground game, Nick Diaz waded in and traded hands at a frenetic pace with the British striker, only to get dropped to his knees thirty seconds in. Daley fired away as hard as he could, but was eventually forced to let Diaz back up.
Abandoning all semblance of strategy, Daley continued hurling enormous hooks as Diaz pressed forward, turning the tables with a series of hard shots to the head and body that forced Daley, who once bragged after former foe Jorge Masvidal’s wrestle-heavy performance against him that "Semtex turns strikers into wrestlers," to shoot for a takedown.
The two returned to their feet shortly thereafter, Daley’s refusal to tighten up his punches costing him badly until Diaz, overeager, left his hands just a bit too low while punishing Daley against the fence and caught a monster left hook to the temple. "Semtex" threw everything and the kitchen sink at the resilient Stocktonite, but in true Diaz fashion, Nick survived, thumped Daley repeatedly in the body until he fell over, and pounded him out with seconds left in the round.
Never let it be said that I refuse to give credit where it’s due.
I knew next to nothing about MMA when I watched this event -- I didn’t know who Nick Diaz was, only that Marius Zaromskis was awesome and had just head kicked a bunch of people in a row. I didn’t know who Robbie Lawler was, either, only that Manhoef was a badass of incredible proportions.
One of Sherdog’s writers, previewing this fight, compared standing with Manhoef to sticking a fork in a light socket and all but pleaded with Lawler not to go through with his plan to strike with the Dutch destroyer.
I wasn’t privy to the nuances of leg kicks at that point, but even I was awed by the femur-destroying savagery of Manhoef’s kicks. It seemed like all Lawler could do was circle and cringe while Manhoef sent his lead leg on repeated 90 degree arcs.
Manhoef knocking him out was an inevitability, not a question. Lawler looked too scared to even throw a punch. Then "No Mercy" moved in for the kill and Lawler knocked him out with the only two punches he threw the whole fight.
It’s been almost three years and I’ve gone from a complete MMA neophyte to, well, me, but this one still blows me away.
What a knockout.
It’s sad, seeing Smith the way he is now. It’s the eventual fate of everyone for whom grit and resilience is the backbone of their style, but that doesn’t make it any less sad.
Seeing Smith, a pure brawler, survive the kind of punishment the average man would need two stunt doubles to take and come back to beat Le, a cinematic technician with a tidal wave of hype behind him, was a pure example of what combat sports offer that no other pastimes do: The chance for blood and guts to overcome everything.
There’s something wonderful about that.
I hate this fight.
To this day, I will never watch it a second time. I watched it on what was already a horrible night for personal reasons. This amplified that and I’m reminded of that hurt every time I see a clip of it.
The enduring image, the one that refuses to leave my head, is how Emelianenko tapped: once. It wasn’t a frantic plea for escape, it wasn’t a begrudging acceptance of defeat, it was a simple, professional acknowledgement that he had been bested.
Emelianenko losing isn’t what struck me as so awful, it was the fact that people would doubt, forget, or refuse to acknowledge what he had already accomplished. New fans would only see him as this fat guy who got submitted in a minute by some random Brazilian. That’s what bothers me most when I see guys like Mirko Filipovic, Norifumi Yamamoto and Takanori Gomi losing on the big stage in the twilight of their careers.
Maybe I picked this as No. 1 not because of its significance, but because that doubt, forgetfulness, and refusal will follow Strikeforce. People will look back and see a failed promotion, one that had to cancel two shows in a row.
Strikeforce was a good promotion. It gave us good fights, it did more for women’s MMA than perhaps any other organization, and it did its damnedest to give us the fights we wanted.
Don’t let that fade away.