San Jose, Calif. — When Showtime Sports Vice President Ken Hershman declared their new partnership with San Jose-based promotion Strikeforce as “MMA 2.0,” he probably didn’t realize that that theme would play out on the main event of their first show together. Nick Diaz, 25, finished the self-professed “Legend” of MMA, Frank Shamrock by TKO due to strikes at 3:57 in the second round.
The match headlined a fight card that also included the crowning of an “Interim” lightweight champion in Gilbert Melendez and a women’s match that had its fair share of pre-fight controversy, as Cristiane “Cris Cyborg” Santos weighed-in the day before seven pounds over the 145 weight limit.
In the hours that followed Santos’ initial weigh-in, Strikeforce executives, the California State Athletic Commission, and camps for both Santos and her opponent, Hitomi “Girlfight Monster” Akano, trudged through compromise and negotiations to reach a common ground that would allow the match to continue. For many, the match represented the final “build-up” match for Santos towards an anticipated battle with women’s’ MMA sensation Gina Carano.
In the sole title match of the night, Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez defeated Brazilian Rodrigo Damm, adding another title to his resume. Damm was a last-minute replacement after reigning lightweight champion Josh “The Punk” Thompson was forced to pull out of his scheduled title defense with Melendez due to a broken leg. Although this match was Damm’s U.S. debut, the Brazilian came to Strikeforce with impressive wins over Jorge Masvidal and “Ultimate Fighter 9” cast member Santino Defranco.
Melendez ended up in Damm’s guard after catching a leg kick and dropping him with a straight right, but “El Nino’s” flurries from top position were largely muted, as Damm kept a tight guard on the former champion. Midway through the second round, Melendez tagged with a two-strike combination to the face, knocking Damm out cold, before referee Josh Rosenthal was able to stop the match.
“That was my first real knockout. I got a lot of TKO’s, but it was cool to put someone to sleep. Not in an asshole way, though,” Melendez said of his win, which took place on the eve of his 25th birthday.
The general consensus for Match of the Night honors went to Scott Smith and Benji Radach, two respected and affable strikers who had no problem delivering fisticuff fireworks for the fans in attendance before Smith caught Radach with a straight right at 3:24 in the third round. In the first round, Smith and Radach both tried to capitalize on instances where the other slipped on the mat and was vulnerable, but neither was able to finish the other. The second round saw Smith attempt two takedowns, one of which led to Radach forcing a guillotine choke. They traded guillotine chokes again in the third round before Smith caught Radach. After the match, Smith fell to the ground, exhausted but elated. For the post-fight interview, Smith was joined by both of his young children.
“I need to start being careful about what I wish for. In one of my interviews, I said I really like Benji. I don’t want to get a quick knockout. I wanted to beat the hell out of each other for a couple rounds and then get the knockout, so I’m not going to ask for that anymore. He absolutely beat the hell out of me,” Smith commented at the post-fight press conference.
Opening the televised event, which aired at 11pm on Showtime, Brett “The Grim” Rogers defeated Ron “Abongo” Humphrey by TKO due to strikes at 1:38 of the second round. Rogers, last seen calling out Kimbo Slice at a press conference, had been contractually sidelined until being picked up in February as part of Strikeforce’s purchase of selected fighter contracts. Humphrey, whose first name was granted to him from a tribe in Northern Ghana, was last seen in BET’s “The Iron Ring”, a team-based MMA tournament. He was then picked up by EliteXC, but didn’t have a chance to fight before the company ceased fight operations in October 2008.
Rogers had the size and reach advantage here, but that didn’t stop Abongo from engaging. He threw rather wildly, which Rogers countered by working dirty boxing and knees from the clinch. Referee Herb Dean warned Rogers about grabbing Abongo’s hair, which, in all fairness, were just as long (albeit thinner) as Sokoudjou’s dreadlocks. Rogers was then docked as point for another violation. In the second round, Rogers imposed his will with headshots and body shots before finally dropping Abongo with standing knees.
“He always had a nice strong head. It was like a dissection instead of a one-punch knockout. I had to keep working . . . when it went to the second round, every strike was hurting his soul.”
For all the anticipation surrounding Santos’ San Jose debut, along with the weigh-in notoriety just hours beforehand, fans were surprisingly lukewarm to her entrance. Moreover, the frustration of not seeing a continuous slugfest grew as Akano continually dropped to the ground and baited Santos to enter her guard, an invitation that Santos continually declined. It was the classic grappler vs. striker stand-off, which inevitably forced referee Josh Rosenthal to order Akano to stand-up. But in the third round, as Santos landed a kick to Akano’s face and followed it up with punches to Akano’s head for the finish, fans were again won over by the display of athletic violence.
Looking to move on from the drama behind her Strikeforce debut, Santos was quick to address the long-discussed pairing with Gina Carano, saying “I really think it’s time for me to fight [her], but I am not rushing it. I want to prove that I can beat Gina.”
Strikeforce President Scott Coker said that he was currently in negotiations with Carano’s camp and, contingent on finalizing a deal for the celebrated female fighter, hoped to hold this fight in August and televise it on Showtime.
In what has to be one of be one of the loudest main events in Strikeforce history, Nick Diaz defeated Frank “The Legend” Shamrock by TKO due to strikes. The match was largely Diaz’ to control, as the Shamrock seemed to have difficulty with the reach difference. The two traded low kicks and combinations early in the first round before Diaz caught Shamrock’s right leg, using it for a takedown. From there, Diaz improved his top position, getting side mount and working on Shamrock’s arm. The hometown favorite escaped, bringing the match back to standing. From there, Diaz took a page from his opponent’s book of mind games and taunted Shamrock to hit him. Shamrock was quick to oblige, but shortly thereafter, Diaz forced another takedown and regained side mount. Diaz quickly moved to full mount, pounding away. Shamrock escaped just before the round ended. Fans ignited loud “Diaz” chants in round two, which seemed to fuel Diaz’ taunting of Shamrock. Shamrock continued to change levels and vie for body shots, but Diaz also continued to dictate in which direction the match went. Diaz landed a high kick on Shamrock’s head, followed by a low kick to Shamrock’s left leg. Diaz continued to tag Shamrock at will until landing a hard right body shot to the ribs. At that point, Shamrock felt to the ground. Diaz continued to fire rights until John McCarthy called an end to the match.
On the untelevised undercard:
Shingo Kohara defeated Jeremy Tavares with a stunning KO at 0:04 in the second round. This was Kohara’s pro debut. Round one proved to be a busy scrap on the ground, as Tavares punished Kohara with ground and pound from side mount and inside Kohara’s ground. For his part, Kohara stayed composed, working for several armbars. In round two, Kohara dropped Tavares with a left as Tavares charged him.
James Terry beat Zac Bucia by unanimous decision on scores of 30-27. The two combatants felt each other out in the opening minute by trading kicks. Terry took Bucia down twice, maintaining control from the side the second time. Terry got Bucia to the ground again in the second round, but couldn’t pass the guard. After a stand-up by referee John McCarthy, Terry and Bucia traded high kicks, with Terry scoring a textbook double-leg takedown as the round ended. Round three largely mirrored the first two, starting out with some striking, then a Terry takedown for side control. Bucia escaped and chased after Terry with strikes as the match ended.
Raul Castillo submitted Brandon Michaels at 1:45 in the first round by rear naked choke. Michaels threw a few jabs, while Castillo scored a reaching low kick. Castillo claimed a takedown and punished Michaels with ground and pound from the half-guard. He then moved to full mount, taking the back and sinking in the choke shortly thereafter.
Eric Lawson defeated Waylon Kennell at 4:54 of the first round by TKO due to strikes. Both men had good, entertaining striking, especially Lawson’s dirty boxing. A “let’s go Lawson” chant broke out early. Lawson scored a takedown and had top position briefly before Kennell escaped. Kennell later slipped on his feet, giving Lawson the chance to pounce, but Kennell escaped and chased after him with combos of his own. Kennell later took top position, almost finishing Lawson twice with armbars. Lawson escaped, got full mount, and fired away on Kennell’s head until John McCarthy stopped it with six seconds left in the round.
Luke Rockhold submitted Buck Meredith with a modified side choke at 4:07 of the first round. This match was all Rockhold, as he rushed in for a clinch and forced a takedown, throwing Meredith to his back. Rockhold controlled Meredith on the ground with a body triangle, hooks, and even a half-nelson. For his part, Meredith fended off the choke several times before Rockhold finally caught him.
Worthy of note in the post-fight press conference was the presence of two new Strikeforce signees, Kevin “The Monster” Randleman, who promised to take the promotion by storm, and Fabricio Werdum, who issued an open challenge to reigning Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem. “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz also took the stage, acknowledging that he and Coker were in discussions about fighting in Strikeforce.
Attendance was 15,211 for a box office close to $750,000, the third largest of a Strikeforce show for each criteria.