LOS ANGELES, CA – Showtime Senior Vice President Ken Hershman dubbed it “MMA 2.0” as the premium network and the San Jose-based Strikeforce unveiled their future plans and main lineup during a Thursday press conference to promote their April 11 event, “Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Diaz.”
The event, which will air on Showtime live from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, CA, is headlined by the self-proclaimed “Legend,” Frank Shamrock vs. Stockton, Calif. bad boy Nick Diaz. Keeping in tune with Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker’s M.O. of promoting fights based on local grudges and rivalries, the pairing sets Diaz up to avenge the March 2006 loss of his mentor, Cesar Gracie.
Shamrock knocked Gracie out in 21 seconds in the main event of Strikeforce’s debut MMA show, which, at the time, set a record for the largest MMA attendance in North America (18,265). It also pits Stockton and San Jose against each other in something of a “Battle of Northern California.”
“We’re starting over again. I can’t tell you how excited I am. . . I feel invigorated and refreshed,” Hershman commented. “Just in the few short months that we’ve been dealing with them, everything has come together perfectly for April 11.”
“Today is a great day for the MMA industry, and today is a great day for Strikeforce,” said Coker. “I really feel that at this point there is no better company in the world to do this than our company. We are built for this, we are suited for this, and we’re going to get the job done.”
As both Shamrock and Diaz were introduced to the press for photos, neither was at a loss for visual communication. Diaz, moving towards Shamrock for the traditional fighter pose, motioned for a handshake, only to raise his hand up at the last moment and salute Shamrock with a middle finger. Shamrock smiled at the gesture, returning the sentiment by grabbing his crotch towards Diaz. The visual exchange popped the crowd, which seemed to be anxious for fireworks.
Perhaps sensing the winds of fan sentiment painting Diaz as the rebellious anti-hero, Shamrock shifted into straight-man mode, criticizing Diaz’ behavior and demeanor as being a poor representation of mixed martial arts. For his part, Shamrock painted himself as the modest martial artist, announcing “I apologize to my fans in advance. You’re not going to see any more antics from me. No more sleeper moves, no more crazy-looking stuff. I’m just going to smash people and make a few dollars, and put my girl through college.”
Complementing the marquee grudge match will be a championship bout for the Strikeforce lightweight title, as champion Josh “The Punk” Thomson and Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez meet in a rematch from June 2008. In their previous bout, Thomson controlled Melendez at will in a five-round war that saw “The Punk” walk away with the belt. Quite unlike the showmanship and antics that color the main event, Thomson and Melendez share a strong mutual respect for each other, due in no small part to their previous years together as training partners.
“I think the first fight was something where we showcased all of our skills,” Thomson began. “I think the second fight is going to be something where we’ve tweaked it and we’re going to showcase our new skills . . . Both people have a lot to prove. . . Gilbert, I’ve said this 100 times in every interview, is somebody I admire, I look up to.”
“I’m really actually dreading this fight,” joked Thomson.
Melendez was all business as he discussed the match saying, “My goal this fight is to show everybody that I’m better than my last fight. . . Josh fought great, but I just want to walk in, I want to look across and I want to let him know that he’s gonna have the toughest fight of his life. I’m gonna prove to everyone that I’m a real warrior and I think I’m gonna be the champ again.”
In total, ten matches are scheduled for the night, with five matches expected to air that night on Showtime. Besides Shamrock-Diaz and Thomson-Melendez, Showtime viewers will see Scott “Hands of Steel” Smith vs. Benji “Razor” Radach and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos vs. Hitomi “Girlfight Monster” Akano. A fifth match had yet to be solidified, but Coker commented that he was circling a match for Brett “The Grim” Rogers to fill out the card.
Looking towards Strikeforce’s May event, Coker also announced the main event of Jake Shields, moving up in weight to fight “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler in the 185 lbs. division. Ironically enough, both Lawler and Shields were reigning EliteXC champions when ProElite, Inc. closed its doors in October of last year, with Lawler its middleweight kingpin and Shields wearing its welterweight crown. Both men were part of the 42 different EliteXC fighter contracts that Strikeforce acquired from ProElite, Inc. last month.
“I’m super happy to be a part of this. I think some really big things are going to happen with this. With all the new fighters he’s signed, the TV deals. . . I think Strikeforce is going to be the next big show. I’m glad to be a part of it,” Shields commented.
Hershman also confirmed a revised announce team for Strikeforce events, reuniting several familiar faces (and voices) from EliteXC and ShoXC. CBS and Showtime play-by-play veteran Gus Johnson leads a team that includes EliteXC/ShoXC commentator Mauro Ranallo, “The Fight Professor” Stephen Quadros, Frank Shamrock, and decorated MMA veteran “The Croatian Sensation,” Pat Miletich. For April 11, the team will consist of Johnson, Ranallo, and Miletich, who has done commentary on Fox Sports Net and HDNet.
When asked about the status of two of the larger stars included in Strikeforce’s purchase of EliteXC fighter contracts, Kimbo Slice and Gina Carano, Coker summarized that talks with the respective fighters’ managers were ongoing and that he hoped to solidify deals imminently.
Also on hand to show support for the upcoming Strikeforce event was Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Renato “Babalu” Sobral and Strikeforce middleweight champion Cung Le.
Editor’s Note: Diaz/Shamrock photo courtesy of Esther Lin of AllElbows.com.