Luke Rockhold was successful on Saturday night, defending his Strikeforce Middleweight Championship over a full five rounds against Tim Kennedy, while Nate Marquardt was able to avoid going the distance with Tyron Woodley for the welterweight strap thanks to a scintillating knockout.
Who would have thought before the event began that Marquardt and Woodley would have the barn-burner, while Rockhold and Kennedy would largely put on a decent, but not great, bout?
You can feel tempted to put all of the responsibility for a lackluster bout on Kennedy’s shoulders, and I get that. Kennedy was the one who lost four out of five rounds, so he clearly needed to do more than what he was doing. Furthermore, in a fight where logic would seem to dictate that Kennedy force the action into close quarters, he was content to let Rockhold take the center of the cage while simply peppering the champion with kicks for most of the bout instead of really going for the gusto.
Still, Rockhold was also completely content with cruising to the finish, which became more apparent as the fight went on. Call it the mentality of a champion or just plain smart, but Rockhold knew he had the fight in the bag and didn’t really change his approach as the bout went on and the judges’ decision became more and more obvious.
So, what was Kennedy thinking? It seemed to me as the fight went on that he had built his plan around wearing down Rockhold with leg kicks. The problem was that either the volume of kicks landed wasn’t enough, or perhaps his shots weren’t as stinging as he intended, because Rockhold appeared no worse for the wear until he switched stances later in the fight.
The strategy of literally chopping your opponent down with leg kicks can only really be accomplished by those with truly powerful leg kicks and the discipline to use them correctly, rather than simply throwing them one at a time without setting them up. It’s not just about landing the kick, it’s about doing so when your opponent doesn’t expect it and hasn’t had time to brace himself.
The other way to use leg kicks is simply to throw your opponent off of his timing. Unfortunately, Kennedy allowed Rockhold to dictate the fight just about the entire time, and the kicks seemed to be more of a pesky annoyance than a game-changer.
Contrast that bout to Marquardt-Woodley, where Woodley may have been forced by Marquardt’s improved takedown defense to fight standing up much of the time, but did so gamely and with the intent of putting away his opponent.
So many times in MMA, when a fighter is unable to do what he set out to do, they simply fall into an ineffective, rather hopeless strategy the way that Kennedy did through much of his fight. Woodley did not do that. He couldn’t get the takedowns he wanted as often as he would have liked, so he just bombed on Marquardt and hoped for the best.
It worked, to a point. He rocked Marquardt twice in their four-round fight, and he survived for quite some time considering how talented Marquardt is in the stand-up realm. Most importantly, he actually made an effort to win, and you don’t see that as much as you’d expect in MMA, especially when someone’s carefully-constructed gameplan goes out the window.
Your Next Lightweight Challenger…Who?
Hey now, I know who Pat Healy is, but don’t be surprised if a lot of Strikeforce viewers won’t be so acquainted with him after he was confusingly relegated to the prelims on Saturday night. I know he’s not a big name like Robbie Lawler and doesn’t have the pedigree of a Roger Gracie, but when a guy is one fight away from a title shot, don’t you think he should probably get on the main card?
–Lost in a lot of the talk about Marquardt-Woodley was how good Marquardt looked at 170 pounds. You have to wonder whether the extended time off was good for him, as he likely used the time to shave off some excess mass to make his weight cut a bit simpler.
–Speaking of Marquardt, remember how fighters constantly plead innocence when they get in several unnecessary follow-up shots on an unconscious opponent after a KO? “Oh, it happens so fast,” “It’s the adrenaline,” etc.? Well, Marquardt is yet another fighter who had no trouble recognizing an opponent who was finished, and walked away before referee Dave Hagen intervened instead of landing unnecessary punches on an unconscious Woodley. Good for him. It just proves once again that there’s no reason or excuse to continue hitting your opponent after he’s knocked out- “I go until the ref stops me” is not a good excuse.
–I thought the Robbie Lawler-Lorenz Larkin outcome was more of a result of Lawler fighting awfully than Larkin stepping up and really taking it to a big-name veteran. Larkin has some upside, but Lawler just looked disinterested in there at times. With a guy who is 30 years old and has been fighting professionally for 11 years, you have to wonder if he’s just a bit burned out. He doesn’t seem like he’s evolved as much as he should have by now, and he’s still subject to just looking for the ever-elusive “big shot”.
Movin’ On Up Award
With apologies to Jason High, I’ll go with Pat Healy on this one. Healy has been on quite a run and in my opinion, should be the next challenger for Gilbert Melendez’s title. Let’s make it happen, Strikeforce.
Beautiful Loser Award
I was more impressed with Tyron Woodley on Saturday night in a losing effort than I was in many of his previous wins. He faced a lot of adversity against an elite opponent and managed to hurt him twice while fighting in a disadvantageous situation. I thought Woodley looked pretty aggressive throughout much of the fight, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a rematch with Marquardt down the road. Who would have thought I’d be saying that before this fight went down?
Holy $#!% Award
This one obviously goes to Marquardt’s picture-perfect three-strike combination that put away Woodley. A brilliant right elbow in close started it all off, and the final uppercut on an already-falling Woodley was viciously beautiful stuff. And again, Marquardt simply walked away right afterward, which is a lot more impressive than rushing to get in follow-up shots against a downed opponent, as so many fighters do.