Mixed bag for MMA fans at Strikeforce: Dallas

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

A good rough measure of how significant – or controversial – an MMA event was from the fans’ perspective is the time gap between the main event finishing and Sherdog’s forums crashing due to high traffic. On Saturday, that time lapse could be measured in nanoseconds, as Strikeforce: Dallas veered drunkenly between the sublime and the ridiculous with no moment of sanity in between.

The main event was one of the most bizarre things to have happened in the sport for a long while – but before discussing that, it would be unfair not to run through the rest of the weirdness, and some of the brilliance, that occurred earlier on in the night.

In the opening bout of the main card, Valentijn Overeem, the elder brother of the Strikeforce heavyweight champion, gave a huge reminder of why – in spite of some impressive victories in his career – he never made it in the big time. After being taken down by resident guy-who-keeps-winning-fights-he’s-not-meant-to-win Chad Griggs, Overeem briefly threatened off his back with a keylock, but then seemed to either get bored or tired and inexplicably dropped to hold and turtled on the canvas, allowing Griggs to pound away. Overeem promptly tapped under the barrage, which was, in all honesty, pretty ineffectual. It was a pretty pathetic display from the veteran, handing Griggs the easiest win of his Strikeforce career. To Griggs’ credit, he did show a nice lateral drop to get the Dutchman to the floor, but it’s really hard to judge how much he is developing as a fighter when his opposition is this uninterested.

After that underwhelming start, things began to pick up a little as highly touted prospect Daniel Cormier overwhelmed veteran Jeff Monson en route to a lopsided decision win. With Cormier unwilling to go up against the former ADCC champ on the ground, and Monson incapable of taking the two-time Olympian down, the fight stayed on the feet, where Cormier displayed a much improved striking game, easily outscoring Monson and controlling the rhythm of the fight. Cormier does, however, still look a bit out of shape at heavyweight – it will be interesting to see if he drops to 205, as his body-type seems better suited to it. Monson, similarly, has needed to make that cut for a long time – he’s always been small and it showed itself big time here, where he was forced to stand and trade. Regardless, Cormier is a real prospect and it might be time to see how he does against stronger competition than he has faced thus far.

After this, the card hit its highpoint in the lightweight bout between Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal and K.J. Noons, two extremely quick and technical strikers with fairly limited ground games. To use an awful cliché, both of these guys come to stand and bang, and they did not disappoint. Noons opened up slightly the stronger, but Masvidal counterpunched well and began to take control, cutting Noons with a knee and knocking him down with an out-of-nowhere head kick during one of their exchanges. In the second, Masvidal got the fight to the floor and raised a haematoma on Noons’ head with elbows, but Noons kept fighting, at one point reversing his opponent on the ground and threatening with punches from above. It was more of the same in the third, both men marking up eachother’s faces in a series of exchanges before the fight ended with some stalemate jockeying for position on the ground. Masvidal, the winner by decision, will now apparently get a shot a Gilbert Melendez’s title. While he certainly showed impressive hands in outstriking Noons, one has to question how well he’ll be able to deal with the champion’s wrestling if and when their fight hits the mat.

The first of the night’s heavyweight grand prix quarter-finals was next up, with Brett Rogers taking on the returning Josh Barnett, who had, courtesy of Texas’ notoriously lax approach to sanctioning fights, got his licence back. The fight wasn’t close, though it was scarcely action packed. Barnett wasted no time in slamming Rogers to the mat, where the two of them essentially hugged each other for the rest of the round, with Rogers occasionally making futile attempts to shuck the former UFC champion off of him and Barnett doing just enough to stop the fight from being stood up. The crowd were unimpressed and booed throughout. The second round began exactly the same way until Barnett was able to secure an arm-triangle and force Rogers, who apparently seemed to have been exhausted by all that lying down, to tap out. Barnett wasted no time in reminding everyone of his public speaking skills, given a victory speech that was far, far more thrilling than what he’d pulled off in the cage. While he showed impressive top control in the fight, his next opponent, Sergei Kharitonov, is a big step up from Rogers in terms of power and striking and it will be interesting to see what happens there.

Finally, the main event of the evening, the fight everyone was pumped up for, turned out to be incredibly strange. For all the talk, all the hype, all the expectations, in spite of the fact that both of these men are consensus top-10 heavyweights, the fight went the same way as Shamrock-Severn II or Silva-Leites in that there is absolutely no way that what happened in the cage can be accurately described as a ‘fight’. Fabricio Werdum wanted to take the fight to the floor, Alistair Overeem wanted it to take place anywhere but. Overeem’s plan appeared to be to goad Werdum into standing by letting him hit him and then counter-striking, Werdum’s to fall over at every opportunity and hope that Overeem followed him to the mat. Needless to say, it didn’t really work out for either of them. Werdum spent the entire first round failing at desperate takedowns or flinging himself backwards if Overeem so much as looked at him funny, while the Dutchman scowled and shrugged more than he threw strikes. The farce would essentially continue for the rest of the fight, at one point a laughing Werdum visibly imploring Overeem to come down to the mat.

In short, it was a disaster. Hilarious for the first minute or two, but then increasingly irritating as both men refused to engage. Overeem certainly landed one or two hard strikes, but it’s impossible to tell how much damage they did as his opponent was determined to fall over no matter how hard or soft he was caught. Similarly, Overeem had no interest in going to the ground, even when Werdum did get him there he stood up fairly easily. A mis-applied kneebar attempt from the Brazilian at the bell fooled nobody – he never managed to put Overeem in danger. The Dutchman won the decision, presumably as a result of his opponent’s chronic lack of aggression throughout the fight. It was a bout that told us nothing we didn’t know about either man, and nothing good about what we already know about them. Indeed, after the result was announced, the happiest looking man around was Overeem’s next opponent, Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva. Whether or not that happiness was justified is something that will be answered in the cage.

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