Strikeforce has come and gone from the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, leaving empty seats and the occasional snack wrapper or beer bottle where thousands of screaming fans once stood watching “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko (31-4) fight for the second time in the Windy City. The world’s second most powerful force in MMA presented one of its most stacked cards to date last night and while some of the bouts went pretty much as expected, big things still went down. From the first bell of the prelims to the last punch of Fedor’s main event brawl against “Hendo” Dan Henderson (28-8), MMA Gospel was there, looking for the lasting effects a card with this much name recognition would have on the MMA world.
Scott Smith vs. Tarec Saffiedine: Legendary NCAA football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once said of his Alabama Crimson Tide that they never lost a game, they simply ran out of time. For MMA’s own comeback king, “Hands of Steel” Scott Smith (16-9), time ran out in his three-round war against “Sponge” Tarec Saffiedine (11-2). Over the 15 minutes of the bout Saffiedine punished Smith with precision combinations and solid footwork as “Hands of Steel” bet it all again and again on a big overhand right that he simply couldn’t seem to land against the superior technical striker. As always when Smith is in the cage the bout was never at a loss for excitement, but a third straight loss will certainly have a strong effect on his current standing as a draw in Strikeforce. For his part, Saffiedine’s masterful performance has likely landed him a fight for the now vacant welterweight belt against “T-Wood” Tyron Woodley (11-0) at a future date.
Paul Daley vs. Tyron Woodley: While it certainly wasn’t “T-Wood’s’” best performance, his win last night over former UFC contender “Semtex” Paul Daley (24-12-2) was a dominant one. For the third time in his career, Woodley was forced to settle for a decision win as a combination of the dangers posed by Daley’s strikes and his improved takedown defense and grappling left him relying on positional control to get the victory. The fight did neither man any favors as multiple restarts for inaction on the ground and stalls against the cage did not sit well with fans, the referee, or the Zuffa brass. Woodley will get a title shot for his win, but only because there is no one else to fight for it, and Daley will likely receive Zuffa walking papers for a second time after his unimpressive performance.
Robbie Lawler vs. Tim Kennedy: While former Green Beret sniper Tim Kennedy (15-3) is rumored to be very unhappy with his win over “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler (18-8), no one else in the MMA world is. Kennedy didn’t get the finish but he fought through a bloody cut and a few hairy moments on the feet and on the mat to achieve a perfect score on all three judges’ scorecards. The loss was Lawler’s second straight, but the fight was competitive enough to secure his continued place on the main card with the organization while Kennedy has likely found a way to get a rematch for the belt that narrowly escaped his grasp almost a year ago. Following the incredibly lackluster Daley/Woodley bout, this fight was exactly what Strikeforce needed.
Marloes Coenen vs. Miesha Tate: The title bout between Marloes Coenen (17-5) and “Takedown” Miesha Tate (12-2) showcased two of the top talents in the WMMA world. Coenen’s stand-up and grappling were superb as always and Tate, while a very one-dimensional wrestler, excelled in that dimension. As expected, Coenen was for the most part unable to prevent the takedown but dominated the action on the ground from the bottom. She sat on Miesha’s back for one entire round and reduced her limited offense to nothing more than holding position in the others. However, in the fourth, Tate got position for an Arm-Triangle Choke, a brute force submission wrestlers favor, and ended the fight. A skilled, competitive match of a moderately high caliber that had WMMA buffs on their feet cheering. Unfortunately, they haven’t much reason to cheer. The match was boring for anyone who isn’t a Jiu-Jitsu or wrestling fanatic and even the majority of those likely switched stations during the fight. The ladies needed a barn burning, back-and-forth bloody war and instead produced the kind of fight that fans have complained about ever since the ten point must system came into effect. Tate’s rematch against former champ Sarah Kaufman (14-1) had better be a fight for the ages or WMMA’s life as a Zuffa product will very likely come to a sad end.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Dan Henderson: Fedor Emelianenko is probably done. Not because he is no longer a great fighter – he is. Not because he lost three straight, the most recent being to a much smaller fighter – many others have recovered from that. Fedor is done because the legend that was built around him by his fans and protected for so long by M-1 Global has put him in a position where he is only worth the time, money, and effort if he is fighting in a marquis bout against a fighter riding on the top of the world. There can be no tune-up fights for Emelianenko to regain some of his mystique and some of the respect in the cage that he arguably no longer has against top talent. Dan Henderson, after brutally destroying three of his last four opponents, met the Russian head on in a barroom-esque brawl that may have been one of the most exciting one-round bouts in MMA history and left him face down on the canvas. For Henderson, he has the honor of being the last fighter who will benefit substantially from Fedor’s fading reputation and is now in a very strong bargaining position with the Zuffa brass. For Fedor, it is unfortunately looking like he may be cut from Strikeforce now that he has lost three straight one-sided fights. His name is prophetic, because Fedor was indeed “The Last Emperor”, not only the last remaining vestige of PRIDE pageantry and power, but the last “Emperor” of MMA as the sport has now evolved to the point that no man can hope to be as dominant for as long as Fedor once was.
Click here for the full list of Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson live results.