Strikeforce’s last event until June went off with a bang, as all but one main card fight ended in the first round last Saturday night. In the title matches, it was business as usual as both champs defended their titles successfully. Meanwhile, Keith Jardine received a late Christmas gift against Gegard Mousasi, and Shinya Aoki redeemed himself in the United States with his performance against Lyle Beerbohm.
Who impressed more, Diaz or Melendez?
In the wake of impressive performances that leave individuals like myself with little to actually criticize, we often turn to meaningless and silly debates such as “whose performance was more impressive?” Hey, it could be worse, I could be debating this on ESPN First Take, where completely asinine questions such as “Did Team A win the game, or did Team B lose the game?” are not only actually asked with a straight face, but are regurgitated weekly as if they aren’t completely preposterous in the first place.
Anyway, in this case, you have one champion who completely dominated a top ten opponent in devastating fashion and another who chose to face his challenger where he was most dangerous and still prevailed in a gutsy effort. Which is more impressive? It kind of depends on what you’re looking for. Do you value dominance more or perseverance and heart? Sure, Diaz was rocked a couple of times by Daley, but this is the guy who has probably the hardest punches in the welterweight division, and he was landing some pretty clean shots.
Furthermore, Diaz was once again able to take on a foe in the area where he was supposedly most dangerous and beat him at his own game. That has to be worth something. Melendez surely has heart and fights with great determination as well, but Diaz is on another level in those categories from where most other top fighters are, and it showed yet again last week.
Still, I continue to be more impressed by Melendez, only because he so rarely shows any actual weaknesses. His wrestling is very good and his striking is excellent. He has the kind of power that lightweights rarely have and also has the increasingly (and sadly) rare ability to know when and how to close on his opponent to bring an abrupt end to the fight.
When it comes to Diaz, it’s kind of hard to think of him as a fighter in the sense that Georges St. Pierre and the rest of the newer crop of mixed martial artists are. This guy is actually a fighter, more interested in testing himself than about holding onto a silly belt or worrying about his place in history. When Diaz goes out there, he’s not trying to implement a strategy that will get his hand raised. He’s there to find out if you can whoop his ass. There’s something to be said for that, and there’s certainly something to be said for the fact that the answer to that question has always been “no” for a long, long time now.
Another day, another scoring disaster
Former UFC fighter Keith Jardine and Gegard Mousasi put on a pretty entertaining scrap, but that’s not what will be remembered about their fight. What will be remembered is that it was just another instance where horrible judging and ill-fitting scoring criteria cost someone a deserved win. Actually, it probably won’t be remembered; robberies in MMA are so prevalent now that fans have come to expect at least one on every card.
First of all, the decision by referee Mike Beltran to take a point from Mousasi for the illegal upkick may have been appropriate according to the current rules, but taking a point is a horrible way to punish offenses in mixed martial arts. As I’ve said in the past, this isn’t boxing, where many fights are between 8 and 12 rounds long and a point deduction isn’t the end of the world. In a three-round MMA fight, a point deduction is a much bigger penalty than it is in a boxing match, and is too harsh a penalty. With a scoring system that utilized half-points, not only would we have more ways to separate close rounds from clearly-won rounds, but we could also take a half-point from a fighter for a foul without crippling his chances of winning.
Then, there’s the judging. To give Jardine a round in that fight is absurd. Why should he have been given one? Because he landed takedowns? Why should a takedown matter at all if the other fighter is immediately able to stand up and the fighter on top never is able to take advantage of the position? Even if you want to use the “Octagon/cage control” metric as an excuse to reward takedowns, it doesn’t make sense. If a fighter stands right back up for the bottom, no control is being exercised with the takedown at all.
When judges reward successful takedowns that don’t lead to anything, they preserve the antiquated and quite frankly, harmful notion that takedowns are the key to winning rounds in MMA fights. It’s a fight, right? Mousasi outstruck Jardine in all three rounds, but he’s supposed to have lost a round or more because Jardine was able to plant him on the canvas a few times? It doesn’t matter that Jardine wasn’t able to utilize the takedowns in any real way and that Mousasi was able to easily stand back up?
The reason I say that this mentality is harmful is because it hurts the sport. This type of judging is why we see fighters going for meaningless takedowns in the last fifteen seconds of a round. It’s why we see fighters looking to control opponents instead of actually beating them. Fortunately, more fighters are learning takedown defense to prevent MMA fights from leaning too far towards becoming wrestling matches. However, removing Octagon or cage control from the judging criteria completely is the best way to improve this problem. Effective grappling should be improving your position and working for submissions, period. Takedowns shouldn’t matter if you can’t use them to your advantage. If the round is close, aggression can be used as a tie-breaker of sorts, and takedown attempts against an inactive opponent could factor in that way. However, no fighters should win (or draw) a bout based on takedowns that didn’t lead to anything.
–Good for Shinya Aoki, who finally made good on his efforts to represent Japanese MMA in a positive way here in the United States with a quick win over Lyle Beerbohm. Aoki is hardly a feel-good story with all of the antics he’s been a part of, but anything that can lift the spirits of Japanese MMA fans at this point is a positive thing. Plus, we can always use more of two things in MMA: otherworldy submission specialists and good villains, and Aoki fits both categories nicely. Love him or hate him, he’s fun to watch.
–Speaking of referee Mike Beltran, who officiated the Jardine-Mousasi fight, what was up with that moustache? At first, I thought it was a strange forked beard before realizing that Beltran’s chin wasn’t even in on the trick whatsoever. I know that it doesn’t keep him from being able to do his job, but good gravy, is it a good idea to trot people out there knowing that they’ll be the center of attention, rather than the fighters? On a side note, it was fun to see that Jardine was not the ugliest guy in the cage for once. In fact, his usually-scraggly looking goatee looked rather tame compared to Beltran’s epic moustache. Jardine almost looked well-groomed in comparison!