Strikeforce’s Houston event this past weekend was pretty… disappointing. Some viewers criticized the slower paced fights, which I did not mind despite the begrudgingly long match to crown the new middleweight champion in place of the deposed Jake Shields. From the poor officiating to the lackluster bouts to the typically irritating commentary, Strikeforce did deliver two pretty big upsets. First, Bobby Lashley’s one-dimensional fighting ability and heavy frame led him to his first loss in MMA against underdog Chad Griggs. Following that, King Mo dropped his light heavyweight title to Rafael “Feijao” Calvacante, a match that many predicted would be dominated by Lawal.
Two upset victories from two different fighters. The difference is, one of these fighters will bounce back and the other has hurt his image for the long run. King Mo lost his belt, but Bobby Lashley lost a ton of credibility, damage that will take a ton of work to repair (and not just from Lashley, either). Both of these men had a similar road to get to where they are now, but their downfalls could not be more different.
Why is losing a three-round match to Chad Griggs worse than losing a championship belt? Hit the jump to read the rest!
Bobby Lashley has been taking his entry into the MMA world with baby-steps, being spoon-fed a special diet of fighters who are either unknown outside of their regional promotions, or are quite simply cans (Bob Sapp and Wes Sims are as dangerous as a morbidly obese tabby cat). Promoters have been careful not to challenge the former WWE champion beyond his limitations, praying that this goose would start laying golden eggs in ticket sales and event viewership.
Instead, their massive plan has backfired, much to the chagrin of Chad Griggs. In this past fight, we saw what Lashley is made out of – a few big slams, manic ground and pound with little accuracy and effectiveness, and a gas tank that is still held back by his meaty size and inability to pace himself. We have learned that Lashley is still very rudimentary in his skills and little has changed from the Lashley we saw first fight Joshua Franklin in December, 2008.
Muhammed Lawal had a very different entrance into the sport, replacing Roger Gracie on very last minute notice against Travis Wiuff in a Sengoku event (which I happened to attend back in 2008 in person). Wiuff had over 70 fights at that point in his career and was popular with the Japanese after knocking out national sensation Kazuyuki Fujita, and it seemed like “Diesel” would walk through the man who wore a towel on his head during the press conference while a flock of models covered him with an umbrella. Defying Vegas betting odds, Lawal took it to Wiuff and finished with a TKO early in round 1.
Here is where the two tales merge, as both fighters took underwhelming fights leading them into recent times. Lashley was playing it safe and claiming he wanted to earn his spot and get his feet wet, while King Mo did much the same and both kept their records clean of losses. Things changed when Lawal agreed to battle Gegard Mousasi for his Strikeforce Light Heavyweight title. Mousasi was riding an undefeated streak with his past fifteen fights against opponents like Renato Sobral, Jacare, Denis Kang, Mark Hunt and Hector Lombard. Needless to say, King Mo added his first title belt to go with his crown and scepter.
King Mo’s first loss to Feijao adds a blemish to Lawal’s record, but in the long run, means little for him aside from a loss. Mo took the challenge, stepped up, and had his first taste of gold. In defeat, he learns a little more about himself and can work his way back to the top, as well as earn some new fans after seeing him display a new strategy and not just be a formulaic fighter. For Lashley, losing to a no-name like Griggs destroys the hype machine that was pumping him towards the spotlight.
It is no newsflash to say that Strikeforce officials wanted Lashley to be their Brock Lesnar, but they forgot one thing – Lashley is no Lesnar. After Lesnar’s first fight, he was off to the UFC where Dana White stopped the coddling and threw him to the wolves against Frank Mir, who soundly defeated him like he should have. Lesnar was then built from the bottom-up and became a dominant force in the heavyweight division, earning many fans respect in his last match that saw him almost lose to Shane Carwin. Had Lashley taken a similar challenge to his skills earlier in his career, a loss might not have been so devastating to his career.
In losing to an unknown, Lashley has lost credibility to be a bigger star. When you beat a fighter you are not supposed to, it’s a huge plus. When you lose to a fighter you were expected to lose to, it’s not such a bad thing. When you lose to a fighter you were supposed to steam roll, you need to go back to the drawing board. While King Mo lost on the same night to Feijao, the battle was a close affair and neither man has lost anything more than some blood and some gold. Mo was being built as well, but also was being challenged. Lashley was protected and never had a chance to let himself mature as a fighter since he was not threatened in any way.
All is not lost for Lashley, as a defeat just means it is time for a change. It is unfortunate this need to evolve came via Chad Griggs and not someone like Antonio Silva or Brett Rogers or… whoever else Strikeforce has in their shallow pool of talent. I take nothing away from Griggs, don’t get me wrong, but here is hoping that Lashley can pick himself back up and in time, do what he was meant to do. Otherwise, Lashley will be an example of another company believing their own hype and will go the way of Kimbo and Elite XC, and we don’t need another promotion to end up like that, do we?