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California Love: My Strikeforce Experience

Right now, I can’t help feeling a bit like Hunter S. Thompson. Here I sit in an off-the-wall looking corner room in a cramped apartment in the Lower Haight section of San Francisco, surrounded by encroaching house plants and old fashioned lamps, piecing together my sorted tale from the previous night’s events while a deranged homeless woman screams her thoughts on global conspiracy outside.  Although I haven’t quite the fame or narcotic capacity as Thompson…so really it’s a pretty weak comparison. I digress.

A Philadelphia werewolf in San Jose.

Despite the evil airport employee at PHL who tried to force me to check my carry-on bag (you’ll have to pry it from my cold dead hands, Northwest!), my trip to San Jose was fairly painless, and a layover in Minneapolis did provide some very humorous accents. Ever see Fargo? They weren’t exaggerating.

As we (and by “we” I mean myself, my cousin’s husband Steve, and my photographer buddy Andrew) made our way from the parking garage through the streets of San Jose en route to the HP Pavilion, the usual suspects surfaced as they do at any large-scale mixed martial arts event. Alpha-males cloaked in various MMA brand names, many already belligerent and packing additional 40’s, some even fortunate enough to sport a smoking hot Latina on their arm. Admittedly I was a little jealous of those lucky few. Philly may have cheese-steaks and Rocky, but I could easily see the appeal in top notch taco-stands (Taquerias!) that put Q’doba to shame as well as a more diverse supply of females.

Upon arrival at The Pavilion Steve parts ways to find his seat in the stands while Andrew and I began a seemingly endless search for the press entrance. Three different security guards provided three different answers on where to obtain our credentials, and after about 20 minutes and a thorough tour of the outside perimeter we alas arrived at the prescribed destination, which was Gate A, low and behold.  A few random, significantly older drunks shouted something garbled at us as before we entered the arena and Andrew, who isn’t a huge fan of the sport, remarked about his dislike for the stereo-typical MMA fanatic. I told him it’s just like anything else that if you enjoy enough, you’ll take the good with the bad. Though some of the more obnoxious drunks were really hurting my case. Sigh.

Fight Time

We throw our press passes on and head to the floor. Not surprisingly, the press area is already over-booked and I can tell that it’s going to be a walkabout kind of night. Good thing I had my New Balance’s on. As we cruise what would be our camping ground for the next few hours I notice some pretty big names in the expensive seats around the cage. Andrei Arlovski, Babalu Sobral, Tito Ortiz, Jake Shields, Robbie Lawler, Gina Carano, Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, Joe Riggs, even Royce Gracie. Royce in Strikeforce? Lord only knows.

The preliminary bout’s are underway and don’t disappoint. I remember thinking “I only hope the main card is this entertaining.” Luckily, it was. The last prelim ends and now we’ve got some time to relax before the 7’oclock Showtime kickoff. I recognize Esther Lin shooting some photos and introduce myself and Andrew. She and Andrew both remarked about not being able to shoot closer to the cage, which I guess for a photographer is pretty damn annoying. I then reach into my “journalism bag” to check the sound on my digital recorder, only to find that the batteries are dead. I asked around but shockingly no one had any size triple a’s to spare. Looks like I’ll be scribbling a lot tonight. I remember wishing I had better handwriting.

A few minutes later I spot Tito Ortiz just a few steps from me, decked out in a full suit and backwards sunglasses (yes, he is that guy) hamming it up with some fans. Like him or not, Tito is actually quite fan-friendly and spent much more time than he had to taking pictures and signing autographs. You could tell he was in his element. I managed to grab a few minutes with Ortiz before he trotted back to his seat.

 Tito informed me that he is officially with Strikeforce (though the UFC still has first right of refusal on fight offers) and that his inaugural appearance will more than likely be against Renato “Babalu” Sobral, or as he dubbed in the post-fight conference “Baba-who.” He and Sobral also shared a brief war of words later in the night, complete with Babalu giving Ortiz the finger and Tito making sexual hand gestures in response. The hype begins.

Tito added that Affliction is in fact looking to co-promote with Strikeforce, and that there will be a Tito Ortiz-Frank Shamrock rematch. Ortiz did however change his tune on that matter after Shamrock’s disappointing loss to Diaz in the main event. “Like taking money out of my pocket” I believe was the quote.

Before the main card kicks off Strikeforce does their own 10 second tribute to Charles “Mask” Lewis, during which various fans still felt the need to shout random cheers for their favorite fighter. It seems that San Jose couldn’t even keep quiet for ten seconds. That has to be some kind of record.

Humphrey vs. Rogers begins and ends as much as expected. Rogers really needs a step up in competition, that much is obvious. Also nice to see Rogers make a pay day after hearing about his struggles to make ends meet in the wake of EliteXC’s closing.

Enter T-shirt guy, The Monster, Darth, and The Wrestler

Some more familiar faces surface in the form of Tom Atencio, Kevin Randleman, Ryan Bader, and Mickey Rourke of all people. I ask/yell at Mickey Rourke if he was still ready to meet Chris Jericho in a street fight. He laughed and shrugged the other way. Hey, I made Mickey Rourke laugh. That’s something…right? A few minutes later I see Rourke taking a photo op with Royce Gracie and it was quite a sight to say the least. I then asked Ryan Bader to predict the night’s main event to which he responded “Shamrock, because he’s too big.” His prediction, like mine, would prove very wrong.

During and after the Cyborg-Hitomi fight, the big monitors kept showing Gina Carano which garnered the loudest cheers every time. Gina=Money. It’s that simple.

I also realize that Josh Barnett is cornering Hitomi. How about that?

After Cyborg destroyed Hitomi I tried to asked Babalu, who was still sitting in front of me, how he feels he matches up with Tito Ortiz. I couldn’t hear his response because of the crowd noise, but he quickly shot me a Nick Diaz type mean mug and I don’t think I want to know what exactly he said. Wonderful, I had now pissed off Babalu Sobral.

Radach vs. Smith is underway and re-ignites the crowd. Scott Smith truly has the heart of a lion, and you have to be impressed with his level of dedication and modesty. Also noticed was Bas Rutten who I believe was cornering Radach.

Next up was Melendez vs. Damm and it was a thoroughly one-sided affair. The eager crowd persistently booed while action stalled on the ground, but as you know Melendez came up with the big finish and I don’t know if it was broadcast, but Damm seizured pretty intensely before he regained consciousness.

Now it’s time for the main event and the pyrotechnics are in full effect. The crowd was so split it was difficult to tell who the favorite was, Shamrock or Diaz. Both received heavy doses of cheers and boos upon entering the cage. The crowd absolutely loses it and explodes into the air when Nick Diaz finally puts the finishing touches on a huge performance. The last body shot looked brutal, and Shamrock looked like a fish out of water for most of the fight.

Where he’ll go from here is anybody’s guess, but when Frank Shamrock starts to resemble Ken Shamrock, you have to worry about not making the same career-prolonging mistakes.

Post-fight Notes:

Before the conference began I latched onto Alistair Overeem who was just standing around. He told me that he would be fighting for Strikeforce again on June 6th against a to-be-named opponent. He also informed me that he would never drop back down to light-heavyweight (shock), and has no interest in fighting in K-1 again after being robbed in his match with Remy Bonjasky. At the conference table, Overeem added “I felt like I was fighting Remy and K-1.”

Fabricio Werdum has inked with Strikeforce and openly challenged Overeem (he submitted Overeem before in 2006) to a rematch, “I will take your arm home with me to Brazil.”

Brett Rogers also voiced his willingness to face either Overeem or Werdum. Now that would be interesting.

Regarding his knockout over Rodrigo Damm, Gilbert Melendez remarked how it was “cool to finally put someone to sleep, not in an asshole way though.” We know Gilbert, we know.

Shedding some more light on his dissatisfaction with Zuffa, Tito Ortiz told a quick story about how the UFC refused to pay for his back surgery, citing that it was not the result of a fight-related injury. Ortiz said that because of this he has only been functioning at 75% for the past few years, but once he fully recovers from the surgery he will finally be 100%.

Ortiz again stated his interest in putting together big money, blockbuster fights “on CBS and pay-per-view”, and appears to be stricken with a little boxing jealousy.

When asked what he said to Frank Shamrock as he helped him up, Nick Diaz responded “Get up, you’re a legend.”

Kevin “The Monster” Randleman has officially signed with Strikeforce and will be resuming his MMA career “as soon as possible.” Kevin will be getting married on the 25th of this month.

After the conference a few of us vultures swarmed Scott Coker to ask him a few questions.  Coker said that despite their counter-programming, he still believes that he has a friendly relationship with the UFC and does not view Strikeforce as Zuffa’s competition, though I begged to differ.

In regards to a Lawler-Diaz rematch, Coker reiterated that Robbie Lawler has “moved on”, and seemed awfully negative about putting that bout together, despite an obvious interest. (Diaz knocked out Lawler in the UFC)

Strikeforce does not plan to invade Las Vegas any time soon, and maintains San Jose as their home base. Strikeforce will look to hold up to 16 events per year, and has absolutely no interest in delving back into kickboxing.

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