By MATT BOONE
MMANEWS.COM Staff Writer
Well, it's Sunday, April 18th and the Strikeforce: Nashville live event on CBS has come and gone. As an overview, the show was an event that featured three title fights that on paper seemed like a die-hard fight fans dream line-up. In the end, the show has to be considered a giant let down. It's a great example of why a show that looks good on paper won't always deliver as such because looking back at the show now that it's done, on paper, it may sound like a good show. You could say Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal put himself on the map and provided a shocking upset victory over a highly regarded champion in Gegard Mousasi. You could say that Gilbert Melendez dominated what some could argue as the number one Lightweight fighter in the world, Shinya Aoki, after last week's B.J. Penn vs. Frankie Edgar fight shuffled things at the top of the 155 pound MMA rankings. You could say Jake Shields, a guy who should realistically be fighting (and dominating) at Welterweight proved he is a legitimate Middleweight champion by defeating the last ever PRIDE 185 pound and 205 pound champion – Dan Henderson. You could say the show ended with a bang too, as like it or not, the post-fight brawl between Jason “Mayhem” Miller and the Cesar Gracie camp was an exciting spectacle. There's no question it was bad for the sport and Strikeforce in particular on a network TV station like CBS. But that aside – it was exciting. When you saw the brawl at the end of the show (which you can view in its' entirety here), if you had a house full of friends watching the fight, you can't tell me that all of you went crazy during those fireworks. With all of that being said, the show was boring. It sucked. It was three title fights, all of which went the full five-round distance, and none of which could be called an exciting fight as a whole.
The decision to make the show a three-fight event, all being title fights, was a risky one. On one hand, all of the fights mean something. If they're all for a title, all the fights feature top talent. But it also leaves open the door for exactly what happened. Every fight went the full time allotted, and none of the fights were entertaining. It leaves a bad taste in the viewers mouth. In that sense, the post-fight brawl to end the show could almost be considered a good thing. Now I'm well aware that a statement like that leaves me open for tens of thousands of MMA forum marks to blast me for putting over something that's “bad for the sport.” That quote is used over and over again when MMA fans describe something they feel takes the sport backwards. Here's the thing – it's pretty safe to say that the sport is here to say. It's not going anywhere. A brawl like that obviously isn't good. It could and will generate negative publicity in the media that is covering the event. But the real question is: what is worse for the sport? Is a brawl like that worse for the sport than a two hour live event on CBS that sucked and will (based on overnight numbers) draw embarassingly low ratings? Which do you feel decreases the chance of CBS getting behind the sport and trying their best to get it over as a mainstay on their network? CBS carries NFL football games and brawls like that happen on the field all the time. A similar instance, albeit different as it didn't go as far, occured recently in boxing and is about to result in the biggest pay-per view buyrate of the year for that sport. Floyd Mayweather and “Sugar” Shane Mosley meet in the ring in May and will undoubtedly set the standard in 2010 for the numbers of buys for a boxing PPV and all of that is based around Mosley interupting Mayweather's post-fight interview, an incident that caused some pushing and shoving and yelling from everyone standing by.
Ratings and buyrates determine success. Strikeforce needs ratings more than anything right now. They have a great roster of talent. You could argue Fedor Emelianenko as the best fighter in the sport pound for pound and certainly the best Heavyweight in the sport. You could argue Gilbert Melendez as the best Lightweight in the sport right now. The list goes on and on. But having the best fighters does not translate to the best business. Personalities sell, not skills. Skills help, but Brock Lesnar will out-draw Shane Carwin on pay-per view everytime they headline on different shows. It's not because Lesnar is a better fighter than Carwin, which he may be, rather it's because Lesnar is a stronger personality.
I don't condone what happened after the Shields-Henderson fight, it was certainly a new level of violence shown in a post-fight brawl. It was completely unnecessary. However, it's without question the one thing that any casual fan who doesn't religiously watch the sport will remember if you ask them a month from now about the Strikeforce show that happened on CBS in April. You can take that and turn it into money. Jason Miller vs. Nick Diaz or Jason Miller vs. Jake Shields II are now fights that have a story behind them. Fights you can build up to both the die-hard and the casual fan. Diaz and Shields are champions. Miller is a respected fighter. Put either of those matches together and die-hard fans will want to see it for that reason. In the past, zero out of those three names were big enough stars or personalities for the casual fans to care about. You could argue Miller is a star due to the Bully Beatdown show on MTV, and he's certainly a personality, but to a casual fan, you need an equally popular opponent for a match to matter. With what happened in the cage on Saturday night in Nashville, to the casual fan who saw the show, both of those matches “matter” now. If you put together a Mayhem vs. Diaz or Mayhem vs. Shields fight, there is a ready-made story. There is a reason people would turn the TV on to see the fight. Mayhem Miller got beat-down by some bullies. What better story than the host of “Bully Beatdown” getting a shot at a World title against a bully who beat him down?!
I know there's a lot of heat on Mayhem for stealing the spotlight, so some may see him as the bully. Which do you consider a bully: the guy who tried stealing the spotlight a little or the guy who without warning found himself in a twenty-on-one street fight? You'd lose count trying to keep up with how many times someone has interupted a post-fight interview, or challenged a guy who just earned a hard-fought decision before he got the chance to thank “my corner and god for giving me the strength.” So while Mayhem may have been in the wrong for jumping in on Shields' interview, the Cesar Gracie camp were more in the wrong for reacting the way the did. That's one person's opinion. What's even better about this, is that if anyone else disagrees, it just makes them on the opposite side of the fence. Either way, the fight between Mayhem and Shields or Diaz would be one where everyone has an opinion. It's a fight where you feel strongly one way or the other. If you feel Mayhem was in the wrong, you'll enjoy watching Shields or Diaz beat him down for his disrespect. If you feel Mayhem was bullied and ganged up on, you'll enjoy watching him beat the crap out of Shields or Diaz now that he's got them in the cage one-on-one. That's business!
All in all the Strikeforce show was not a good show this past Saturday night. It did, however, open up the door for some excitement in the future – that is of course if Strikeforce has a future depending on how the CBS executives react. Hopefully in their eyes MMA won't be held to a different standard. Hopefully just because some hot-heads couldn't keep their cool in a moment of disarray the sport isn't viewed as a bunch of thugs and unprofessional bar-room brawlers who aren't seen as legitimate athletes. Because clearly that is not the case. America has been educated for nearly 20 years now as to exactly why these guys are athletes, and not only that, but maybe the best athletes in the world. But just like any other sport, many of which CBS carries and broadcasts regularly, it is a sport where the athletes are human beings as well. Sometimes human beings make mistakes. Sometimes human beings lose their cool. In this situation, if everyone involved is smart enough, they can take what was a negative and turn it into a positive by putting together a fight that everyone who watched CBS last night will want to see. If they don't, it's a giant missed opportunity. Strikeforce and CBS can only market a show as worthy of viewing because “this guy is one of the best in the world” so many times. Eventually they'll have to deliver a story or a match that turns out to be “one of the best in the world.” The antics we saw closing the show on Saturday could set the stage for both a story and a match that could be one of the best in the world, or at least one that the fans believe has the potential to be.
In closing, let me just clarify two points real quick. First, I do not condone the actions that took place in the cage between Miller and the Ceser Gracie camp on Saturday night. I just feel when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. I feel that as boring as that show came off, lemonade might be exactly what they need. Finally, the hypothetical situation spoken of above with Miller vs. Diaz “or Shields” was just to be politically correct. Shields vs. anyone isn't the answer to ratings and business. He's an amazing fighter who finds a way to win against anyone he's put in with. He's just not exciting. That's just a cold, hard fact. Diaz is exciting. So going with the situation written about in this article, for it to not have the same outcome of being boring and bad for business, you might want to lean towards Miller vs. Diaz.