Posts Tagged ‘Strikeforce’

Reports: ‘Strikeforce: Champions’ event losing two of its three champions

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Nate Marquardt (above) is the lone champion still fighting on the “Strikeforce: Champions” card that could represent the promotion’s swan song. (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Nothing is official and no one is commenting, but it’s an open secret that the Jan. 12 fight card in Oklahoma City will be the last for the snakebit folks at Strikeforce. But before they pack up the office, there’s still a little work to be done. Someone needs to find the Wite-Out and cover over an “s,” altering “Strikeforce: Champions” to “Strikeforce: Champion.”

The former is the name given to the event when it was officially announced a couple of weeks ago. And the label fit, given that there would three championship fights packed onto the card, along with a bout featuring the champ of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. Still, this seemed a bit like that big burst of colors and sounds and fanfare that comes at the end of a fireworks display.

Actually, the only aspect of that fireworks analogy that works is the part about the end being near. There have been no bursts of colors lighting up the sky above Strikeforce venues lately. It’s been nothing but darkness, just dud after dud, with the last two events having been canceled and the promotion’s very existence being counted down as a matter of days.

But Jan. 12 would at least allow the Scott Coker-led promotion to go out with a bang, with the three title fights (thus, “Champions”) and the heavyweight tussle showcasing local hero Daniel Cormier. This is Strikeforce, though, so you just knew something had to go wrong.

First, lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez reportedly dropped off the card. There’s been no official confirmation, just a Nov. 16 report on the website of the Brazilian magazine Tatame and a vague comment that same day by UFC president Dana White, who said during an online chat with readers of the Montreal Gazette, “From what I’m hearing, and I don’t run Strikeforce, Melendez is hurt again.” Gilbert’s shoulder injury originally had forced him to pull out of a Sept. 22 defense against Pat Healy, and the loss of that main event led to the cancellation of the whole card.

Then, on Saturday, the website MMA Corner reported that middleweight champ Luke Rockhold had suffered a wrist injury and his defense against Lorenz Lakrkin was off. The two were originally scheduled to go at it Nov. 3, but Luke injured that same wrist and the fight — as well as that entire card, too — was scratched. A disappointed Larkin gave us the closest thing that we’ve had to confirmation of the injury/cancellation report, sarcastically addressing White on Twitter: “Hey Dana, I hurt my right pinky toe, guess I can’t fight. Wish I started two years before I did so I could have skipped this [synonym for cat] era.”

So now “Strikeforce: Champions” is down to a single champ, Nate Marquardt, who’ll defend his welterweight belt against Tarec Saffiedine. And of course there’s still Cormier, the event’s true draw for Okies. Before starting his ongoing beatdown of Strikeforce heavyweights, Daniel was an All-American and NCAA Division I runnerup wrestler at Oklahoma State. He went on to make two Olympic Games. He’ll face Dion Staring before moving over the UFC.

But first Marquardt and especially Cormier are being fitted for head-to-toe bubble wrap. It’s in the Strikeforce supply closet, and this is likely the last chance to use it.

– Jeff Wagenheim


  • Published On Nov 26, 2012
  • Strike two against Strikeforce: Nov. 3 event is second straight to be canceled

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    Daniel Cormier maintained his optimism after Strikeforce’s second straight cancellation. (US PRESSWIRE)

    Two strikes and you’re . . .  still alive?

    Strikeforce canceled its scheduled Nov. 3 event on Friday afternoon, making the Oklahoma City card the fight promotion’s second in a row to implode.

    That part of the announcement, made in a terse press release issued by both Strikeforce and television partner Showtime, was not a surprise. The unexpected part was the accompanying announcement that Showtime will air a Strikeforce event in January.

    That Strikeforce will live to fight another day — or at least is still publicly expressing its intention to do so — might flabbergast some who follow mixed martial arts. The promotion’s Sept. 29 event in Sacramento was canceled after Gilbert Melendez, scheduled to defend his lightweight championship, was injured in training and Showtime declined to televise the evening of fights without its main event. Then, after Frank Mir pulled out of the Nov. 3 event with an injury, and Strikeforce dragged its feet on announcing a replacement opponent for Daniel Cormier in the Heavyweight Grand Prix winner’s final bout before moving to the UFC, it looked like the end might be near for a promotion that parent company Zuffa already had stripped of many of its best fighters — Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem — and sent them over to its corporate cousin, the UFC.

    Earlier this week, the AXS TV show Inside MMA reported that “the Nov. 3 event is in serious jeopardy” and, citing multiple sources it did not name, that “the relationship between Strikeforce and Showtime may be coming to an end.” The report was vaguely worded — “strong possibility,” “could very possibly signify” and such — and no other media outlet was able to confirm the demise of the fight promotion. Still, both Strikeforce and Showtime officials were quick to tout the January event to quell the rumors.

    “Due to a series of injuries, we were forced to cancel the upcoming card on Nov. 3, but are already working to put together a stacked card in January,” CEO Scott Coker said in the Strikeforce statement, alluding to not just the Mir injury but also the event’s loss of a Luke Rockhold title defense after the middleweight champ was injured.

    About that “stacked card” Coker mentioned …

    “While we’re disappointed with the cancellation, we are looking forward to an even bigger Strikeforce event on Showtime early next year,” said Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president & general manager, Showtime Sports.

    The enthusiasm was lost on Tim Kennedy, who was scheduled to face Trevor Smith in one of the few announced bouts on the Oklahoma City card. The middleweight took to Twitter with his frustration, writing, “Thank you @Strikeforce for letting me read about my fight being canceled on the Internet. I was 9 weeks into my fight camp. Awesome!”

    The cancellation is an especially bitter pill to swallow for Cormier, who before becoming an Olympic wrestler was an NCAA Division I runner-up at Oklahoma State. Excited for a homecoming fight, he’d been patiently waiting for an opponent to be placed in front of him, even if it meant a shortened preparation time. “I’ll fight now, no matter what,” he told SI.com last month. “I’m not bowing out. I’m not doing that to my Okies.”

    After Friday’s announcement, Cormier remained surprisingly upbeat. “Very sad about not fighting,” he wrote on Twitter, “but at the end of the day something positive will come from it. More time to train. I am with a good company. Things will be OK. Very sad and upset, but it’ll work out. @UFC, @Strikeforce and @ShoSports are all top-fight organizations. Will be fine.”

    Considering his positive outlook amid a doom-and-gloom backdrop of two straight cancelled events, Strikeforce might want to enlist Cormier to run the show from now on. Either that or turn to Tony Gwynn for guidance. In his time, the Baseball Hall of Famer built as reputation as his sport’s greatest two-strike hitter.

    —Jeff Wagenheim


  • Published On Oct 12, 2012
  • Déjà vu for Zuffa: With Melendez hurt, Strikeforce cancels Saturday’s fights

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    Gilbert Melendez

    With headliner Gilbert Melendez suffering an injury in training, Showtime elected not to air Saturday’s Strikeforce card. (Mike Roach/Getty Images)

    The first 11 years of Zuffa’s involvement in the mixed martial arts business: zero fight card cancellations. The last four weeks: two events nixed.

    Strikeforce has called off this Saturday’s event scheduled for Sacramento, Calif., after headliner Gilbert Melendez, who was to defend his lightweight championship against Pat Healy, was injured in training last week. The announcement came with the UFC still feeling the aftershocks of its first cancellation in over a decade under Zuffa, which purchased Strikeforce a year and a half ago.

    Whereas UFC 151 fell apart last month after light heavyweight challenger Dan Henderson pulled out with an injury and champion Jon Jones declined to face a replacement opponent on nine days’ notice, Strikeforce had no such fallback possibility for salvaging its title fight, with the champ being the one injured.

    The event was to be televised on Showtime, but according to Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker, when the cable outlet learned that the star of the show was off the marquee, it opted not to air the evening of fights. “Without a television partner,” Coker said in a statement issued late Sunday night, “we simply could not move forward with this event.”

    Showtime Sports issued a statement Monday evening: “On Friday night Strikeforce informed us that lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez had sustained an injury and would not be able to compete in their Saturday, Sept. 29, card. Without our headline fighter and main event or a marquee undercard, we reluctantly informed Strikeforce that we could not continue with plans for the telecast.”

    On its face, Showtime’s decision signals nothing other than dissatisfaction with one event’s diminished ratings potential. But the cable executives’ disenchantment could very well run deeper. Since buying Strikeforce, Zuffa has stripped the fight promotion of most of its best fighters, moving Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson and Alistair Overeem to the UFC. Other than Melendez, who is among the top 155-pounders in the world, and a women’s division featuring the star power of Ronda Rousey, the only premium cable-worthy attraction left might be Daniel Cormier, winner of the recent Heavyweight Grand Prix. But he, too, will move to the UFC after one more Strikeforce appearance.

    Curiously, the two-time Olympic wrestler’s scheduled Nov. 3 fight is nowhere to be seen on the Showtime Sports website, which touts boxing matches slated as far forward as December. Of course, it’s a bit awkward to promote a fight between Daniel Cormier and Mr. TBA. Frank Mir was to come over from the UFC for the fight, but the two-time heavyweight champ was injured last week, and a replacement has yet to be named. The fight is less than six weeks away, and Strikeforce and Showtime need a plan. The same could be said for the two organizations’ big-picture partnership.

     –Jeff Wagenheim


  • Published On Sep 24, 2012
  • As Cormier plays waiting game in Strikeforce, his UFC future is unfolding

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    Daniel Cormier won the championship belt after defeating Josh Barnett during the heavyweight tournament final bout of the Strikeforce World Grand Prix in May. (Kyle Terada/US PRESSWIRE)

    TORONTO — Daniel Cormier is so close to the UFC he can taste it. The Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix champion was in attendance at Saturday night’s UFC 152 at the Air Canada Centre, watching the fights and looking for one.

    The undefeated 33-year-old has been promised a prominent spot on the UFC’s roster of big boys once he fights once more in the sister promotion. And he does have a bout scheduled for a Nov. 3 Strikeforce card in Oklahoma City. But no opponent. Frank Mir was to come over from the UFC, where he was a two-time heavyweight champion, but was injured in training and pulled out of the fight this past week.

    So now the prom is six weeks away, and Cormier (10-0) is left waiting for a dance partner. He’s hoping to hear a name early in the coming week, but he’s not fretting and he’s not setting a deadline. “When I fought ‘Bigfoot’ Silva, Strikeforce called me just five weeks before,” he told SI.com as he was waiting for the fights to begin. “And I had been in Louisiana for a few weeks, doing nothing. But I fought then, and I’ll fight now, no matter what. I’m not bowing out. I’m not doing that to my Okies.”

    Cormier has a history in the state where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plains. He wrestled at Oklahoma State, making it to the 2001 NCAA Division I final. He continued to live and train in the area for several years, twice making the U.S. Olympic team. That deep background in wrestling, aside from allowing him to dictate where fights are fought, has instilled in him a comfort level in taking on whomever whenever.

    “I’ve been training for Nov. 3 for a month,” said Cormier. “To get ready for a specific opponent, once one is in place, I just need a few weeks. It depends. Frank was a problem because he’s a southpaw, and I’ve never fought one before. But now if they bring me a conventional fighter, I can fall back into my comfort zone.”

    It’s not the softspoken Cormier’s way to call anyone out, but he must have a few names stored away in the back of his mind, right? “The only names that I have in my head are the ones that have stepped to the front and said they want to fight,” he said. “Roy Nelson said he’d do it. Pat Barry said he’d do it. Fabricio Werdum said he’d do it. Those guys are now on my radar. So I know that maybe I should start watching film on them a little bit, start training in accordance with what I might be doing against those guys.”

    How does one prepare for a fight that might be against kickboxer Barry or might be against jiu-jitsu ace Werdum? And then there’s the larger issue: Can a fight with either of them elevate Cormier’s status in the same way that the bout with Mir could have? “Any guy from the UFC could do that,” Daniel insisted, before acknowledging, “Maybe not as much as Frank Mir would have.”

    That’s an understatement. I mean, a win over Barry, who is 7-5 with losses in three of his last four fights, wouldn’t exactly put Cormier in the crosshairs of Junior dos Santos. Or, um, Cain Velasquez.

    Cormier smiled at the mention of his training partner, who by the time Daniel reaches the UFC might once again be the heavyweight champ. “I think he will be,” said the fellow American Kickboxing Academy fighter. “I really do believe it. He’s amazing.”

    Should Velasquez regain the belt in his Dec. 29 rematch with Dos Santos, Cormier’s options would be to drop to the 205-pound division — he wrestled at 211 pounds in the Olympics — or go for the heavyweight belt against his teammate. Cormier and Velasquez have discussed that latter possibility. “We’ve talked about it a little bit, not really going into detail,” said Daniel. “But we’ve always said that if a guy is a champion, it’s not fair for his teammate to have to say, ‘I’m going to be No. 2 for the rest of my career.’ So if and when the time comes, we’ll sit down as a family and discuss whether we want to go forward with that. I’ll tell you this: We would not allow it to rip us apart.”

    That’s a discussion for a different time. For now and for the foreseeable future, Cormier is working out alongside Velasquez five days a week. And as he sees it, sparring and grappling with the man he believes is the best heavyweight in the world puts him in good standing for his upcoming fight against an opponent who has not yet — “against TBA,” he jumped in. “And it doesn’t really matter who it is. When you’re training with No. 1 or No. 2 every day, the rest should take care of itself.”

    – Jeff Wagenheim


  • Published On Sep 23, 2012
  • Fedor: “It’s time for me to leave” MMA

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    Fedor Emelianenko

    For some, Fedor Emelianenko’s career will be tarnished by the fact that he never competed in the UFC. (Josh Hedges/Getty Images)

    On the same night that King James began his reign in professional basketball, The Last Emperor abdicated his mixed martial arts throne.

    Finally.

    Just as LeBron James’ first NBA title was much anticipated and a long time coming, so was the retirement of Fedor Emelianenko. In terms of performance inside the cage or ring, Emelianenko has been MMA royalty in nothing but nickname the last few years. However, in the big picture — even one tarnished by an undistinguished end game — his name will forever remain majestic in the annals of his sport.

    Fedor. Like Arnold and Jack and Tiger, Kareem and Michael and, yes, LeBron, there’s no last name needed. Even though it’s a pretty regal last name at that.

    Emelianenko will not be remembered for the 1:24 knockout of Pedro Rizzo on Thursday night in St. Petersburg, Russia, or for the two other empty victories he added to his resume after leaving Strikeforce a year ago following a three-fight losing streak. He’ll instead be called to mind as a luminary who, even at age 35 and coming off a string of performances that were more “Fader” than Fedor, still had the star power to sell out the Ice Palace, with Russian President Vladimir Putin among the 12,000 in attendance.

    While his management, M-1 Global, seemed content to squeeze a few more paychecks out of its aging cash cow by removing him from the MMA mainstream and pitting him against barely breathing opposition, Fedor finally said enough is enough. “I think it’s time I quit,” he said after Thursday’s bout, according to a report by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti. “My family influenced my decision. My daughters are growing without me. That’s why it’s time for me to leave.”

    A more fitting time for him to leave might have been last July, after he was stopped in the first round by Dan Henderson, a guy who usually competes down at light heavyweight, even middleweight. That loss came on the heels of two even more disheartening defeats: a nasty beatdown five months earlier by Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, and a 1:09 submission loss to Fabricio Werdum back in June 2010. As inglorious as it might have seemed for him to have gone out on three straight losses, there was no genuine consolation prize for Emelianenko in his post-Strikeforce wins over 40-year-old Jeff Monson, Olympic judo gold medalist but MMA neophyte Satoshi Ishii and an out-of-mothballs Pedro Rizzo, a once-stout fighter who at age 38 hadn’t competed in a relevant bout in years.

    Seen in the most generous light, those three career-closing victories represented a victory lap of sorts, as Fedor twice got to perform in front of his countrymen (the Monson bout was in Moscow) and also gave the fans in Japan, where long ago he created his greatest glory, one last peek.

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  • Published On Jun 22, 2012
  • CSAC upholds Cyborg’s one-year ban

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    Cris Cyborg Justino

    Cristiane 'Cyborg' Justino will be eligible to apply for reinstatement in December. (Josh Hedges/Forza/Getty Images)

    The California State Athletic Commission voted 4-2 to uphold the one-year suspension of Strikeforce champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (formerly Santos) for steroid use following a Monday appeals hearing in which the Strikeforce 145-pound women’s champion appeared asking for leniency.

    Justino’s license to compete in California had been suspended in January after a pre-fight urinalysis came back positive for three Stanzolol metabolites following Santos’ dominant 16-second victory over Hiroko Yamanaka on Dec. 17 in San Diego. Justino, who earned $66,000 for the December win, has already paid a $2,500 fine and the fight’s result was changed to a no decision.

    Justino, 26, appeared before the CSAC in Sacramento on Monday, requesting that the commission reduce the suspension to six months.

    “I made a mistake and I accept the penalty you have given me,” Brazil native Justino told the commission, reading from a prepared statement. “I do not condone the use of performance-enhancing drugs.”

    Robert Bartlett, Justino’s attorney, presented evidence of his client’s rehabilitation since the positive test to the state agency. Bartlett cited an online public service announcement Justino had released in March denouncing steroid use, and said the athlete’s personal physician would test and analyze all supplements for banned substances before she took them moving forward.

    In an affidavit Bartlett submitted to the commission prior to the hearing, it stated that Justino, should her suspension be reduced, anticipated taking a bout with Strikeforce 135-pound champion Ronda Rousey in late June or early July. At Monday’s hearing, Bartlett said the proposed bout would likely take place in San Diego.

    During questioning, Justino and her attorney stated that she’d taken what she thought was a weight-loss agent that had been provided to her by a conditioning coach, who was named but wasn’t present at the hearing. Bartlett stated that the coach was no longer employed in Justino’s camp. When asked, Bartlett said this was the first time Justino had taken a performance-enhancing drug.

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  • Published On Apr 09, 2012
  • Santos appealing steroid suspension, Strikeforce future uncertain

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    Cyborg Santos

    Cristiane 'Cyborg' Santos' is eligible to apply for license reinstatement on Dec. 16.

    Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos has begun the process to appeal a one-year suspension handed down by the California State Athletic Commission on Jan. 6 for alleged steroid use, her personal manager confirmed to SI.com.

    Santos’ manager, who asked not to be identified by name, said a response letter was mailed to the CSAC on Monday requesting a hearing in front of the seven-member commission.

    The CSAC suspended the Strikeforce 145-pound women’s champion after a pre-fight urinalysis came back positive for Stanzolol metabolites following Santos’ dominant 16-second victory over Hiroko Yamanaka on Dec. 17. As it stands, Santos will be eligible to appear before the CSAC for license reinstatement on Dec. 16. Santos was also ordered to pay a $2,500 fine and the fight’s result was changed to a “No Decision” by the CSAC.

    CSAC Executive Officer George Dodd said Santos’ appeal would likely be heard at an April 9 meeting with the venue to be determined.

    Santos, 26, issued an apology and explanation for the positive drug test on Jan. 9, stating she’d taken a dietary supplement to assist her during a difficult weight cut and was assured the supplement was “safe and not prohibited from use in sports competition.”

    Santos’ manager said its believed that the supplement in question was given to the fighter by a “trusted individual” in her camp to take orally, but that all the supplements she took are currently being reviewed.

    In California, a handful of the 20-plus MMA fighters previously flagged have explained positive steroid tests through supplements they’ve taken, though none have received reduced suspensions. Overall, only two fighters, Sean Sherk and Phil Baroni in 2007, have had their suspensions reduced based on chain-of-custody issues the CSAC had with their urine samples. The CSAC has since refined its drug-testing protocol.

    Santos (12-1, 1 NC) re-signed with Strikeforce for multiple fights over the summer after Zuffa, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s parent company, acquired the rival promotion last March.

    She has come under great public scrutiny since the performance-enhancing drug allegations were announced, as her Strikeforce reign has been the most dominant of any champion in the organization since she earned the inaugural title in 2009.

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  • Published On Jan 16, 2012


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