The dust has settled, and Saturday night’s Strikeforce event in Portland provided many thrilling moments in a card rife with storylines and murky title pictures. A long vacant championship was finally decided, and two battle tested veterans exhibited the ramifications that could come from a decade of constant sacrifice. From Jason High‘s quick submission win to Luke Rockhold‘s successful title defense, here is an in-depth look at some of the winners and losers coming out of Saturday night’s event.
Jason High – Do you remember how long it was between Jason High’s fights? 42 weeks (296 days to be exact.) On Saturday, High brought Nate Moore to the mat and quickly defeated him in 26 seconds. For every one second High fought that night, he spent eleven days without one. You cannot ask for a better comeback than that. High has now won seven in a row, and should see a definite step up in competition next, perhaps even in the title picture.
Patrick Healy – Hometown hero Pat Healy stepped into the cage and won Saturday night, however, he wasn’t without his detractors. Despite beating 2 time (and current DEEP lightweight) world champion Mizuto Hirota, many expressed their disbelief at the end that Healy went to a decision, and was having trouble with elements of Hirota’s fight game. Healy himself admitted the fight was tough as he thought, and then expressed a bit of frustration at the post-fight press conference about having to sell his opponent to everybody that believed Hirota would be nothing but a tuneup fight, which he knew wasn’t. Brought into Strikeforce in a gatekeeper’s role, Healy has now won six of his seven Strikeforce fights in a time where he has arguably been the fight-night underdog in all of them (with the exception of perhaps this Hirota bout.) With this win, Healy has to be considered the next contender for the Lightweight title, and anything less than a fight with Gilbert Melendez is probably a poor choice on Strikeforce’s part.
Justin Wilcox – Sometimes, even when you lose, you win. Coming into his fight with Jorge Masvidal, Wilcox had a rough latter half of 2011, with an eyepoke no contest, and a very quick knockout loss. On Saturday, Wilcox had to be considered a huge underdog to Masvidal, and he came out swinging, taking the American Top Team Lightweight to his limits. Masvidal seemed surprised by Wilcox’s tenacity, and when the split decision came in his favor, he was met with a shower of boos. Even in defeat, Wilcox looked impressive and proved he’s back, and a potential force once again at lightweight.
Nate Marquardt and Tyron Woodley – What a difference a year makes. On July 14th, 2011, Marquardt was out of work, looking his next opportunity after a much publicized release from the UFC. After a further publicized series of difficulties with BAMMA, Marquardt found himself with an opportunity to join Strikeforce and compete for the Welterweight Championship, one he grabbed by the horns. For Woodley, that date saw him two weeks away from the biggest fight of his career to date – Paul Daley, all the while attempting to create a branch gym of American Top Team in his native St. Louis. Woodley cruised through Daley, and then defeated Jordan Mein to set himself up for a match with Marqardt. In what could be a fight of the year candidate, Marquardt and Woodley beat each other from pillar to post, with both scoring numerous near victories. Woodley’s standup was impeccable, and Marquardt looked like he hadn’t missed a beat either. Following a near-defeat in the third round, Marquardt was able to land an elbow which rattled Woodley in the fourth, and a couple more shots resulted in a walk-off knockout for Marquardt. Both men proved they were deserving of the opportunity, and despite the loss, Woodley’s inches-from-victory defeat and humble attitude afterward have proven that this once “rising” star has completed his ascent, and should remain on radars for years to come. In Marquardt, Strikeforce has a longtime veteran ready to help steer the proverbial ship, and with the division set to grow, this could be the next division to make waves in the next few months.
Roger Gracie – The last time we saw Roger Gracie, he was stiffened unconscious by the right hand of Muhammed Lawal last September. After nearly a year away, he announced a drop to middleweight, and came out in dominant fashion against Keith Jardine, in a bout that showed all aspects of his ground and striking games. After a slight scare at the weigh-ins (he came in a half pound over, however, was on-weight after he stripped down,) Gracie looked comfortable on fight night, neutralizing Keith Jardine’s awkward fight style and nearly finishing the fight in the first two rounds. He won by decision and gave a subtle nod to the rest of the middleweight division that he was on-scene, ready for his spot in the title picture.
Ronaldo Souza – How does somebody not even on the card win? Simple – Get called out by the current champion at the post-fight press conference. When asked about who was next on his horizon, Middleweight Champion Luke Rockhold declared Jacare was his hopeful next choice, declaring the two had “unfinished business.” Only one problem for Rockhold – Souza must get through Derek Brunson on August 18th, who is reeling after a controversial loss to Kendall Grove in June.
Strikeforce Fans – Despite a card which featured seven of nine decisions, the Portland Strikeforce card proved to the crowd, and those watching that the promotion was raring to go, on a card chock full of exciting fights with all sorts of title ramifications. Scott Coker agreed that Strikeforce still had a lot to give, as he announced that we should all keep eyes out on the promotion immediately afterward, as they are set to announce many more signings within in the next two weeks.
Jason High – Even when Jason High wins, Jason High loses. Following his crafty untelevised win over Nate Moore, High excitedly jumped to the top of the cage and proclaimed his return to the filming cameras ringside. Sadly, only the few hundred fans, and few dozen media in attendance saw the fight. All of the SHOExtreme prelims went the distance, and Strikeforce has rarely, if ever shown preliminary fights on their main card. Perhaps the policy of the latter should change, or Strikeforce should think about cutting, editing and releasing the fight as a bonus on their website since it is so short. The exclamation mark on High’s comeback wasn’t as poignant through the use of social media and website reviews as it would be without the visual proof of it.
Robbie Lawler – Robbie Lawler’s rise and fall from MMA glory is somewhat stunning. A once heralded heir to the throne, Lawler’s brutal fast hitting style was jaw-dropping when he was gathering steam in his early twenties. Lawler turned 30 on March 7th, and looked well past his age on Saturday, where it seemed like he was very much on the defensive for the majority of the fight, and allowed Lorenz Larkin to throw at will. Lawler’s still got lots of fight left in him, and can still stand and throw with relative ease, but with a 3-5 record in Strikeforce, and four losses in his last five fights, it will be tough to get back into the title picture with fighters like Ronaldo Souza and Tim Kennedy (both of whom he has lost to,) and up and comers like Larkin, Brunson and Lumumba Sayers standing in his way. Lawler is still arguably a Strikeforce draw, however, and may end up settling into a gatekeeper role.
Keith Jardine – On December 30th, 2006, Keith Jardine defeated Forrest Griffin by TKO in a wild comeback fight that nearly sent Jardine’s stock into orbit, and sent Griffin into visible anguish and disbelief. Since that night, Jardine has fought eleven more times under Zuffa’s watch, and has gone 2-8-1, with five of those losses coming by way of TKO and both wins coming by split decision. The once promising Jardine’s career seemingly began its spiral with a shocking KO loss at the hands of Houston Alexander immediately after the Griffin fight. Jardine remains popular with fans who will come to see him fight, as Saturday indicated, however, much like Lawler, he too may be out of contending for a title as long as he is with Strikeforce. Jardine was taken down at will by Gracie, and though he arguably won the third round, it was too little, too late. Jardine’s rise up the middleweight division may be in flux, as at least two fighters above him the division (Brunson and Kennedy) are his teammates, and those fights may not come as easily as a result. If Lawler reverts to a gatekeeper role from here on out, where does that leave Jardine?
Portland Media – MMA media coming from out of town had valid travel-related excuses not to be at Thursday’s pre-fight press conference, but what was Portland’s excuse? Only a small handful of reporters were there hyping an event that brought lots of fans from out of town pumping tourist dollars into their local economy. Granted, the city wasn’t exactly awash with Strikeforce marketing the days leading into the fight, but it would’ve been a nice gesture on the city’s part to help build a summertime event at their major sporting arena.
In any event, the momentum carried forth from this card continues south to San Diego, California, where Strikeforce will hold its next event on August 18th. In addition to the fights discussed above, the main event pits Ronda Rousey against Sarah Kaufman for the women’s bantamweight title, and perhaps a possible #1 contender bout when Julie Kedzie makes her long-awaited return to the cage against Miesha Tate.