Josh Gross
Friday July 25th, 2008

It wouldn't be the summer television season without reruns. And, on Saturday, CBS delivers.

With it's second installment of Saturday Night Fights, the Tiffany Network, in conjunction with EliteXC promotions, brings one of the most highly anticipated "do-overs" in mixed martial arts.

The promotion's first card on May 31 marked the first MMA event on network television and was headlined by heavyweight street-fighter-turned-professional Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson.

Criticism from the inaugural fight puts Saturday's lineup at the Stockton Arena in a unique position. Not only does it have to compete with network-TV hype of the May 31 card, but it also has to make amends for the lackluster initial offering of middleweight champion Robbie Lawler versus Scott Smith, which was ruled a no contest.

"We listened to the fans, to the media and I think you're going to see an outstanding show from top to bottom," said Douglas DeLuca, executive chairman of ProElite, the parent company of EliteXC.

By putting the middleweight championship bout -- a contest many felt should have headlined the first CBS effort -- in the spotlight, CBS creates "an opportunity to see if people stick around" to watch for skill and tactics rather than the hype of an untested fighter, said play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson.

Split between Showtime (8 p.m.-9:15 p.m. ET) and CBS (9-11 p.m. ET) broadcasts, the July 26 card features fighters of all disciplines, a drastic change from the striking-intensive, match-made bouts in Newark, N.J., a couple months ago.

Though Lawler-Smith is expected to be another stand-up affair, the bout for EliteXC's vacant welterweight title between Jake Shields and Nick Thompson could easily be a ground battle. The Antonio Silva-Justin Eilers bout for the heavyweight championship crown could follow suit.

But, as it should, CBS-EliteXC is focusing its energy on the middleweights.

In their first meeting, Lawler took advantage of the slow-starting Smith. The champion, who captured the title by pounding Murilo Rua, landed kicks to Smith's body, but Smith managed to send his own in return. In the second round, Lawler eased up on the body shots, but after almost three full rounds, he inadvertently poked Smith in the eye. On doctors orders the fight was called a no contest, and an empty feeling was left in its place for fight fans around the country.

But while Smith (13-4, 1 NC) gets another shot at his opponent's belt just an hour south of his home near Sacramento, some still aren't convinced he'll be able to pull through.

"I think Lawler really has Smith's number when it comes to the stand-up game and when it comes to dictating pressure and positioning in the game," said CBS color commentator Frank Shamrock. "I think it's going to be a similar fight. I really think Lawler can control that striking game to do the most power punching and damage. I see him coming out on this, and yes, I just think he's too strong, too big and too 'in his zone' with his new stand-up skills and his wrestling combination. He's got a flow about him that's really going to be tough to beat for a while."

Never one to brag or walk around cocksure (even with major knock-out wins on before he was old enough to buy beer), Lawler, now 26, focuses on the mental aspects of the fight game. With experience on his side, "Ruthless" claims he's a confident fighter, a competitor with honed punching, kicking and kneeing skills.

"Before, I was just going out there trying to kill the guy," Lawler said. "Now I just try to pick him apart and look for my chance instead of just going out there."

But that desire for a picture-perfect finish instead of just a good old-fashioned win could have easily come back to haunt the champion had the fight in May played out. Rather than unleashing a wild storm of strikes when Smith was hurt, Lawler eased up on the pressure.

For Smith, the first go-round against Lawler will serve as a lesson learned for Saturday. The former Ultimate Fighter 4 contestant recognizes that defeating the hard-punching, 185-pound champ with the same tactics might be troublesome.

"I can't let Lawler find any kind of rhythm because once Lawler gets rolling, he's hard to stop," Smith said. "I have to keep him off balance."

Getting too much in his head, he said, can "lead to confusion in the ring."

"I made some big mistakes in that fight," the 29-year-old Smith said. "Obviously in the first round of the last fight Robbie kicked my butt. And I felt throughout the fight I improved a little bit. And I'm just trying to keep that going and be ready for Saturday night as a different, better fighter."

As reruns go, Lawler-Smith II should be worth watching.

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