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Strikeforce: Fedor vs Werdum – The good, the bad and the ugly

Strikeforce: Fedor vs Werdum” did not just surpass expectations, it absolutely smashed them. Such was the aura of invincibility surrounding Fedor Emelianenko that many are calling Fabricio Werdum’s submission victory the greatest mixed martial arts upset of all time.

It is difficult to disagree with this description. Other results, such as Georges St Pierre’s loss to Matt Serra, might have been equally surprising but no figure in MMA history has ever attracted the same levels of adulation as Fedor.

Werdum’s surprise win was the good. It is a fantastic story which will dominate the MMA media for months to come and make this arguably the most memorable Strikeforce card in history.

Strikeforce’s decision to match Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Santos with Jan Finney was the bad and referee Kim Winslow’s failure to stop the fight thereby allowing Finney to sustain a completely unnecessary amount of punishment was the ugly.

The bookmakers were under no illusions as to how competitive a contest the fight between Santos and Finney would be, Finney was a 15/1 outsider to win this fight. If this card taught us one thing it is that upsets do happen in MMA but there was only ever going to be one outcome from this mismatch.

Fights like this simply should not be allowed to take place on a promotion of the stature of Strikeforce. If the Strikeforce matchmakers really cannot find credible female opponents for Cyborg then perhaps they need to give serious consideration to allowing her to fight against members of the opposite sex.

This was a horrible match up which firstly, should have been stopped before it started, and secondly, should have been stopped a lot sooner after it did start. Refereeing might be primarily about enforcing the rules but as with any supervisory job involving potentially dangerous pursuits a degree of common sense is required.

It was immediately obvious from the opening exchanges that Finney was not going to win the fight. A sensible referee should have been looking for the slightest excuse to stop the fight from this moment onwards. Winslow seemed absolutely determined to allow Cyborg to batter Finney for as long as possible. Even Cyborg herself at times seemed to be reluctant to inflict any more punishment on an opponent who was clinging helplessly to her leg.

I have nothing against women fighters and I have nothing against women referees but this ‘fight’ seriously detracted from an otherwise excellent show and Strikeforce should take steps to ensure we are never forced to witness another debacle like this again.

The opening fight saw Josh Thomson get the reward he deserved for a series of ambitious submission attempts eventually forcing Pat Healy to tap due to a rear naked choke late in the third round. Healy spent the majority of the fight in dominant positions but never looked like coming close to finishing or even hurting Thomson.

Thomson showed great persistence in repeatedly trying to submit Healy and after coming close with triangles and armbars he finally found success with the late rear naked choke. Healy managed to withstand the choke for an inordinate amount of time but was finally forced to tap with just over 30 seconds remaining in the fight.

Cung Le’s first fight with Scott Smith came close to being stopped early as Smith seemingly had no answer for Le’s eclectic selection of strikes. Smith was given the benefit of the doubt and in this instance the referee was vindicated as he came from behind to knock Le out in an amazing comeback.

It was the first loss of Le’s MMA career and one he was anxious to avenge. Smith seemed determined not to leave it until late in the third round to land his first meaningful punch and came out swinging. Le was extremely composed and easily avoided Smith’s combinations while landing a few swift counters of his own.

It was one way traffic, much like the first meeting, but this time Le was actually able to finish the fight. Smith survived until early in round two when Le landed with a devastating back kick to the liver which left his opponent entirely incapacitated.

Earlier in the evening another Le victim Frank Shamrock announced his retirement from MMA. Le, at 38, is a year older than Shamrock and is surely approaching the end of his fighting career which is a shame because he is one of the most gifted fighters on the planet. He would surely have achieved even more in the sport had he started his MMA career a little earlier and not allowed himself to become sidetracked by acting opportunities.

The fight between Fedor and Werdum was over almost as soon as it had started. Normal service appeared to be underway when Fedor knocked Werdum to the floor but the Russian made an uncharacteristic error of judgement and was punished for it. Rather than letting the fight remain on the feet, where he clearly had the advantage, he elected to attempt a little ground and pound.

Werdum’s only realistic chance of victory was to secure a submission and Fedor should have seen the warning signs when he narrowly escaped an armbar attempt by the Brazilian. Instead the ‘Last Emperor’ chose to remain in and around Werdum’s guard and quickly paid the ultimate price as Werdum sank in an inescapable triangle choke.

This loss does not make Fedor any worse a fighter than he was a week ago. It does not alter the fact that he had won his previous 18 fights beating a who’s who of heavyweight opposition in the process. It definitely does not make the prospect of Fedor fighting Strikeforce Champion Alistair Overeem, UFC champion Brock Lesnar, or any of the other heavyweights in the UFC for that matter, any less palatable.

What this loss does demonstrate is just how competitive the sport of mixed martial arts has become. At an elite level even the slightest hint of a mistake is likely to be ruthlessly exploited. Fedor learned this lesson the hard way against Werdum and I expect him to be a better fighter in the future because of it.