Score one for Strikeforce. Finally.
In a weekend where America’s underdog MMA promotion and its big dog competition staged head-to-head shows on opposing cable companies – one premium, one basic – Strikeforce began Saturday night obviously sporting the better card on paper. For once, the chalk held up.
While every live fight on the UFC’s “TUF 12” finale card went the distance during its SpikeTV broadcast, Strikeforce got back-to-back-to-back-to-back T/KOs (that’s four in a row) during its “Henderson vs. Babalu” card, airing on Showtime. I have no idea how to even begin to calculate the statistical chances of this happening, but it sure worked out for Strikeforce. And damn it, it’s about time that company had a spot of good luck.
Dan Henderson’s first-round TKO victory over Babalu Sobral in the main event will certainly make waves inside the organization. After dropping his promotional debut to Jake Shields back in April, Hendo announced plans to compete at 205-pounds for a bit and his win over Sobral will likely ticket him for a title fight against champ Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante. Strikeforce has to justify paying Henderson so much, after all, and you can bet it’d rather have a well known Pride and UFC vet holding the belt than a Brazilian guy nobody has ever heard of before.
Henderson’s win aside, the evening’s most memorable performances clearly came from Robbie Lawler and Paul Daley. The two notorious knockout artists were matched up with opponents who are each becoming notorious for getting knocked out – Matt Lindland for Lawler and Scott Smith for Daley. Normally in MMA – and especially in a promotion as recently snake bit as Strikeforce — this would be a surefire way to invoke Murphy’s Law, have both fights end in boring decisions or no contests to due to freak eye pokes. Not this time.
Landland, the 40-year-old former Olmypic wrestler with a proven track record of struggling against left-handed strikers, came out of his corner looking to trade punches with Lawler. Big mistake. It took the 28-year-old HIT Squad product just 50 seconds to find a home for a right uppercut, right hook combo that knocked Lindland out cold. The next few minutes were a bit dicey, as it took the ringside docs some time to bring Lindland around before perching him on a stool, where he sat examining his feet with a puzzled expression on his face.
The outcome of the Daley-Smith bout was even less surprising, since each guy is known for eschewing any game plan that doesn’t involve standing and banging. Smith stormed out of the gate as game as ever, only to run into a string of left hooks from Daley that induced him into a literal face plant in the middle of the mat two minutes, nine seconds into the first. Then Daley got the mic and called out both KJ Noons and Nick Diaz. The dude is nothing if not ambitous.
Considered separately, the Lawler and Daley finishes were highlight reel gold. The fact that they came in consecutive fights – and were sandwiched between Hendo’s TKO and Antonio Silva’s ground and pound win over Mike Kyle – made them feel downright extraordinary. Certainly Strikeforce’s last event of 2010 was its best and it will be interesting to see if it can carry this momentum forward into a 2011 where CEO Scott Coker has promised that the company will put on a title fight each month until July.
Unless you’re the kind of guy who cheers for the Yankees and roots for the cops during routine traffic stops, it felt good to see Strikeforce win a one-on-one battle with a UFC show, at least in terms of entertainment value. Despite its lackluster action, the “TUF 12” finale no doubt pulled the better ratings number. That fact, more than anything, shows that while Strikeforce took this round, it’s still got a very long fight ahead of it.
Chad Dundas writes about MMA for CraveOnline, Versus.com and CagePotato.com. He lives in Missoula, MT. Follow him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/chaddundas