The Weekly Wrap walks readers through the last seven days in MMA, recapping and putting into context the week's top story, important news and notable quotes.
Unless you were Jake Shields, Gilbert Melendez or Muhammed Lawal, Strikeforce's second effort on network television was pretty much bad news all around.
The April 17 card in Nashville, Tenn., saw an ugly brawl erupt following Shields' impressive show-closing victory over Dan Henderson. The melee, sparked by Jason Miller cutting into Shields' post-fight interview to challenge him to a rematch, involved some 10 members of Shields' corner, including Melendez and Nate and Nick Diaz.
“Gentlemen, we're on national television,” announcer Gus Johnson pleaded over the microphone. The pull-apart fracas was beamed to the nation as most people were waiting for their local affiliate evening newscast to start. Most parties involved issued apologies.
Some of the 8,196 spectators on hand were exiting the arena after a third straight fight went five rounds, but came running back to witness the commotion. The Tennessee State Athletic Commission is investigating the episode to determine if it will license penalties for those involved. Mainstream sports media, including ESPN sports talk shows, covered the brawl.
There was much gnashing of teeth about what the scene would mean for the future of the sport on CBS. But the brawl was a secondary factor in that question, as television ratings, the biggest factor in how interested CBS will be in carrying the sport going forward, came in quite low.
Strikeforce "Nashville" did a 1.8 rating for an average of 2.9 million viewers for the two-hour, 45-minute broadcast on CBS. That is down from a 4.04 million average audience for Fedor Emelianenko-Brett Rogers headlined event in November, and only slightly higher than the lowest rated card of the five CBS has aired. The July 2008 "EliteXC: Unfinished Business" event, headlined by Robbie Lawler vs. Scott Smith, did a 1.7 rating and 2.6 million viewers.
CBS executives have said the most important aspect of the ratings is how MMA does in the target 18-34 male demographic. While it represented a 43 percent drop in the demographic from the November event, the 1.3 demo rating on April 17 was considerably higher than the network average on Saturday nights this year. Numbers in other demographics (adults 18-49, adults 25-54) were down appreciably from the network's average in the time slot. A fall return to CBS was promoted during the April 17 broadcast.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship again countered the broadcast by premiering a pay-per-view event on cable, airing UFC 110 on Spike TV. That broadcast did a 0.9 rating for 1.4 million viewers, and approached Strikeforce's Males 18-34 rating with a 1.1 rating in the demo. CBS is available in 16 million more households than Spike.
Before the headline-stealing brawl, Jake Shields notched a signature win that greatly ups his market value by toppling Dan Henderson in the former UFC headliner's first fight since leaving the promotion.
Shields survived two knockdowns in the first round, one from a Henderson overhand right and another from a short uppercut in tight. Shields found success with the single-leg takedown as Henderson began to tire in round two, starting the whispers that age may be catching up to the battle-tested 39-year-old former two-division champion. Shields controlled the fight on the floor, mounting Henderson in rounds two, three, four and five and landing punishing strikes. According to CompuStrike, Shields landed 380 strikes in the fight compared to Henderson's 132. Scores were 49-46, 49-45 and 48-45. Shields entered Sherdog.com’s Pound-for-Pound Top 10 rankings with the win.
The bout was infused with MMA contractual politics. Shields said he is essentially a free agent after the fight, while Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has said Strikeforce has a one-fight option on Shields during a re-negotiation period, when Strikeforce can match any offer Shields receives.
Shields told the Sherdog Radio Network's "Beatdown" show that under his contract, Strikeforce would have had to have proposed an opponent to him by April 10 to lock in that one-fight option. UFC President Dana White, who posted a smiley face to his Twitter account after the CBS event, said he wants Shields in the UFC and that Shields is due to call him as soon as he is contractually able.
As for Henderson, who signed a four-fight deal with Strikeforce, he also opened up about his contractual dealings to The Los Angeles Times. He told the paper he "never saw" a $25,000 check for personal appearances UFC brass promised him, and that the moving of his fight with Michael Bisping from one of the main event slots at UFC 100 cut him out of pay-per-view revenue and "probably cost me $1 million." Henderson asked for an increase in his cut of pay-per-view revenue in UFC contract talks; a rematch with Anderson Silva and a cut of UFC video game sales featuring his likeness were on the table. Henderson said he received a $650 weekly coaching stipend for coaching on “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show.
Elsewhere on April 17, Gilbert Melendez took the mantle as a top-three lightweight fighter by sweeping Shinya Aoki in the Japanese submission master's U.S. debut. Aoki found himself repeatedly shooting for Melendez's legs and then sitting out, spending considerable time in the butt-scoot position. Melendez was careful to not overextend himself, but still land point-scoring blows. Melendez turned the striking on heavy in the final minute sensing restlessness in the crowd.
All told, Aoki failed on 18 takedown attempts and landed a total of 18 strikes to Melendez's 132 over the course of the five-round fight, according to CompuStrike. Scores were 50-45 across the board. Melendez jumped from No. 8 to No. 3 on Sherdog.com’s lightweight rankings with the win. Aoki will now reportedly pay a visit to the Cesar Gracie camp to round out his training.
In the night's biggest upset, Muhammed Lawal battled facial trauma and fatigue to defeat Gegard Mousasi and become Strikeforce's light heavyweight champion in his seventh pro fight.
Lawal, one of the most accomplished competition wrestlers in MMA, hit double-leg and knee-tap takedowns almost at will over five rounds, often setting them up with punch fakes. Mousasi landed damaging strikes in the first two rounds, including hard paintbrush-style shots from his back, but didn't have an answer for Lawal's bread-and-butter wrestling. The live crowd was schizophrenic toward the charismatic Lawal, loudly chanting "King Mo" several times but booing him heavily during his post-fight interview. Scores were 49-45 across the board. Mousasi had a point deducted for hitting Lawal with an upkick when both fighters were down.