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…on Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Baroni

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Frank Shamrock needs to impose himself in a way he didn't do against Renzo Gracie

It’s a week early but with UFC 72 to cover next week, I bring an overview of Strikeforce’s June 22nd pay-per-view, Shamrock vs. Baroni.Living in the most litigious country in the world must be difficult sometimes. All that negative energy floating around just causes dissention. However, on very rare occasions, a lawsuit can become a positive. It leads to cooperation and compromise, business alliances can be formed and a view is taken that rather than destroy, we can build.

When Strikeforce, a San Jose-based promotion formed by Scott Coker and Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment, sued EliteXC over a contract they had with Frank Shamrock, it seemed like a very bad predicament for all parties. EliteXC were looking to use Frank Shamrock for the main event of their inaugural show, while Strikeforce claimed they had a pre-existing contract with Shamrock and were looking to promote a PPV show around a bout between him and Phil Baroni. However, not only did they reach a settlement that was pleasing to all parties, a promotional alliance was formed. EliteXC got Shamrock, Strikeforce got a pay-per-view slot on Showtime and a spirit of cooperation was forged.

So now, Strikeforce’s long in the making PPV airs next Friday. I find it somewhat unlikely that this will be a massive seller. While I can easily envision a packed house at the HP Pavilion, I really cannot envision this being a massive pay-per-view event. However, for those who do tune in, they will see some of the most exciting fighters that Strikeforce have to offer, as well as other interesting fighters from their promotional allies across the world.

Strikeforce has been built based on their use of popular local fighters. Local fans turn up to cheer the local and boo the outsider, like some post-modern version of pro wrestling from the 1970s. However, this formula has worked and is the foundation of the promotion, with local heroes like Frank Shamrock and adopted fighters like Paul Buentello defending local pride. In this vein, while Shamrock/Baroni is a fight that will interest many outside the Bay Area, it takes on more significance for the locals; Shamrock is fighting for them in his hometown against the brash New Yorker.

Frank Shamrock vs. Phil Baroni for the Strikeforce World Middleweight Title

There is little more that can be said about the main event, that I haven’t said in the past. Phil Baroni fights Frank Shamrock for the Strikeforce World Middleweight Title. Both fighters have very different personalities and different fighting styles. Baroni is a two-time All American collegiate wrestler with good boxing and heavy hands. The former bodybuilder is known to blow up late on in fights and cultivates his “New York Badass” character with blunt, often foul-mouthed interviews. Whilst in the UFC, Baroni’s time was defined by being a walking quote machine and by his victory over Dave Menne and the subsequent celebration, which saw him leap up on the cage and repeatedly proclaim himself “the best EVUH”. It has been said that Baroni has gone through a tough divorce, moved across the country and is training with a new team. What difference that makes to his head, I do not know.

Meanwhile, the cocky Frank Shamrock is a submission wrestler that was one of the first to seriously cross-train in kickboxing and gain success. In his heyday, Shamrock was known for his levels of cardiovascular conditioning and was, at one point, considered one of the best fighters in the world. He has tried to cultivate a clean-living image and develop his business interests. Since he returned to mixed martial arts, his cockiness and pro-wrestling tactics to sell fights has won him both plaudits and critics.

Mostly, it seems to me that people just want to see Shamrock back it up in the ring. His first fight back was with Cesar Gracie and resulted in a quick knockout. Cesar is a highly-regarded BJJ trainer with such names as Dave Terrell, Nick Diaz, Nate Diaz and Jake Shields under his charge at his school in Pleasant Hill, California. However, he was also an MMA novice and this mismatch at the first sanctioned event in California led to the California State Athletic Commission cracking down on what fights would be allowed. His fight with Renzo Gracie exposed his lack of takedown defence and his lack of a conventional bottom game, both of which are far more vital now than they were when he initially retired in 1999. While Renzo is a tremendous grappler, he is not known for his extensive ground and pound. Had Shamrock been facing an experienced grappler with the tendancy to punish his opponent from the side mount, Shamrock would have been roughed up to a horrible degree. Had it been Travis Lutter and not Renzo Gracie, the result would have been conclusive and it wouldn’t have gone Shamrock’s way. The same can be said of many older fighters but it seems that Shamrock’s style is very much at odds with modern MMA.

All this makes the fight difficult to call. Baroni has never quite climbed to the elite level of fighters, his cardio has long been suspect and we have no idea what sort of shape he’s in mentally. Meanwhile, Shamrock was once one of the world’s pre-eminent mixed martial artists, is known as a cardio machine and is relatively settled mentally. If all things are equal, I think that Baroni will use his boxing skills to pick Shamrock apart and knock him out. If Shamrock has more than Baroni expects on the feet, Baroni can take Shamrock down at will and pound him with ease. Being a title fight, one would assume that if the fight goes into the championship rounds, the pendulum swings back in favour of Shamrock.

I firmly believe that if he is to win the fight, Frank needs to get on the front foot, force the pace and take Baroni down. If Frank tries to frustrate Baroni and act like the cocky matador, you would think that he will eventually get tagged or taken down. In my opinion, Shamrock needs to set a quick pace that only he can stay at, frustrate Baroni from the top position while tiring him out and going for a knockout in the championship rounds. However, if he fights Baroni’s fight, I can only see Baroni winning inside three rounds. I know I should pick either way but that’s how I see it; If Baroni win, it is by knockout inside three round – if Shamrock wins it is either by knockout in round four or via unanimous decision.

You’d have to expect a rabid, pro-Shamrock crowd for this one and if he can beat Baroni, then we can say that Shamrock is back somewhat. He’d have beaten a decent fighter who has been in there with some excellent fighters. It preserves Shamrock’s aura and sets up a bigger fight with a better opponent. However, should Baroni win, Strikeforce need to manipulate the situation to make Baroni the hero of the future. Otherwise, Strikeforce have lost their golden goose for nothing.

The semi-main event: Murilo Rua vs. Joey Villasenor for the EliteXC Middleweight Title

In a crossover bout and obvious semi-main event, EliteXC will crown a middleweight champion as their prized middleweight Joey Villasenor faces off against Murilo “Ninja” Rua, brother of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, most recently of Cage Rage.

After a mediocre career in the heavyweight and middleweight divisions in PRIDE, Ninja stepped down a class to fight in PRIDE’s 83kg (183 lb) welterweight division in 2006. The drop in weight did not improve his prospects, losing successive bouts to Paulo Filho and Denis Kang. At a career crossroads, he took a bout with fellow PRIDE fighter Mark “the Wizard” Weir for Cage Rage, which was then considered a satellite promotion for PRIDE, to restore himself to winning ways and to get back into DSE’s good graces. He won the bout with a second round submission but looked troubled by Weir’s kickboxing. With the subsequent realignment of Cage Rage to a K-1/ProElite ally, Rua found himself fighting outside PRIDE’s influence for the first time since 2001 when he took his second bout for the British-based promotion in April with Alex Reid. The fight finished in a strange fashion, where the fighters accidently clashed shins, deeply cutting Reid’s shin and ending the bout, which was correctly awarded to Rua via doctor’s stoppage.

Joey Villasenor is a durable veteran fighter with excellent boxing, wrestling and jiu-jitsu. Fighting his way through lower-level shows, Villasenor put together a fifteen fight, forty-month-long winning streak to become one of the top unsigned middleweights in the country. He finally got a shot in PRIDE in 2006, losing a tough split decision to Ryo Chonan. He hit a career low when he was knocked out in 22 seconds by Robbie Lawler at PRIDE 32 last October. However, he managed to bounce back from that with a dominant and aggressive performance over David Loiseau in February. Some were saying that “Smokin’ Joe” looked better than ever and, though Loiseau’s killer instinct has been questionable since he took a five-round beating from Rich Franklin in March 2006, Villasenor’s performance was an example of a fearsome pressure fighter at his peak.

With Rua’s level of proficiency on the ground, it is hard to see Villasenor overwhelming Ninja with his strength. However, Villasenor has a massive advantage on his feet, where Ninja always looks to be a fish out of water. If he can keep the fight on his terms and stay away from Ninja’s strengths, Joey can take this fights. However, if he winds up on the bottom and Ninja is allowed to work his top game, “Smokin’ Joe” could be in a whole heap of trouble.

The X factor in this fight is the length of it. Rua is a durable fighter and has only been knocked out twice but he’s unlikely to knock Villasenor out. If this becomes a battle of attrition, cardio comes into play and should this occur, both men need to be prepared to go for 25 minutes. Villasenor has only gone the full 15 three times in his career and Rua has gone 20 minutes in PRIDE on four occasions. It could be interesting to see how it goes in rounds four and five.

Further down the card, we see a group of matches which fit the bill of a Strikeforce match. A local fighter against an outside opponent of varying abilities. Beyond the top two matches, I’m not curious about a whole lot. This is one of the reasons why I can’t see it selling big. However, I imagine that everybody will talk about the result; Shamrock or Baroni.

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Written by Michael Farrow

June 14, 2007 at 2:23 pm

Posted in MMA

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