Josh Gross
Sunday July 27th, 2008

Hoping to erase the disappointing no-contest that marred Robbie Lawler's EliteXC middleweight war against Scott Smith in May, the pair met again Saturday -- in primetime on CBS -- picking up where they left off.

Tailor-made sluggers with stout chins who don't mind getting hit, Lawler and Smith highlighted EliteXC's first venture on network television before the fight was stopped, when Smith took a finger to the eye. This time, it was a knee to the midsection that told the tale, and again it was Smith who went to the canvas in a heap.

Fighting about an hour south of his hometown of Elk Grove, Calif., Smith came out uncharacteristically fast, following every combination with a kick, including one that glanced off Lawler's left cheek.

"I wanted to dictate the pace and stay in his face and make him work," Lawler said. "He was pressing me, and I didn't want him to press me and then rest; so I just tried to stay there and make him work and hit him at the same time."

The plan paid off big in the second. A bit cute with his punches in the opening five minutes, the southpaw champion unleashed his power in the deciding frame. Smith answered, making for the best moment of the fight, as both men stood and slugged in front of a raucous crowd at Stockton Arena.

Lawler (16-4, 1 NC) remained unscathed, save a cut at the top of his head, eerily reminiscent to an elbow-induced gash from Smith (15-5, 1 NC) in the first fight. With that cut fully healed just two weeks prior to the rematch and the memory of commission doctors moving in to call a halt in their previous encounter, Lawler increased his punching output so referee Herb Dean couldn't find a spot to step in and get it checked.

"He's matured as a fighter," Smith said of Lawler. "He's so much smarter. He knew he was cut, so he knew to stay out of it."

Against the fence, Lawler worked over Smith's midsection and ribs. Then, he came with the knees. The first dug into the challenger's abs and he took it. But two more followed and Smith failed to hold up.

"I do work my stomach," Smith quipped. "I know I've been dropped by body shots, but let Lawler knee you in the stomach and see how you like it."

The challenger scrambled, but the moment he rose Lawler delivered another knee, this time to the head, that finished it at 2:35 of Round 2.

Jake Shields pined for a championship opportunity. He wanted to fight on CBS. Most of all, the best welterweight outside the promotional auspices of the Ultimate Fighting Championship craved respect.

If nothing else, Shields' 63-second destruction of Nick Thompson, a quality welterweight with 12 consecutive wins under his belt coming into Saturday, should give Shields enough gravitas that he's brought into the discussion of top 170-pound fighters in the game.

It's not like he doesn't deserve it. With wins over the likes of Carlos Condit, Yushin Okami, and Hayato Sakurai on a ledger that carries a 21-4-1 record, Shields has established himself as a top welterweight. Always holding him back was a reputation for producing plodding fights, but stoppages in his last six have helped change that perception.

Included in the 29-year-old San Franciscan's tally is Saturday's domination of Thompson (36-10-1), which saw Shields land an early takedown, move to mount and lock in a one-armed guillotine from the top.

"I tap everyone with it in practice," Shields said. "You'll probably watch that again watching my fights."

In studying film of Thompson a week before the fight, Shields said he saw an opportunity for several techniques, including the modified choke from the top.

"I think I'm one of the best in the world, and Jake treated me like a little kid out there," said Thompson, a law school graduate who faces the bar exam next week. "That's the best mount I've ever felt."

Injuries in the first half of 2008 denied Shields -- thought of as one of the sport's 10 best welterweights in the sport -- a chance to capture the EliteXC belt.

"I was supposed to fight for this thing three times, and I already felt like I was the uncrowned champ," he said. "Half the interviews I do people were calling me EliteXC champion by mistake. I wasn't even correcting them, but I felt extra pressure to get it. If I didn't get this belt it would have been an embarrassment to me since I let all the guys think I was champion and not correct them.

"It meant a lot to me."

Joining Shields Saturday in claiming a new EliteXC belt is Brazilian Antonio Silva.

Though he now sits firmly atop EliteXC's heavyweight division, "Bigfoot" Silva could have just as easily been relegated to the sidelines.

Pulled from a card by the California State Athletic Commission in May 2007 over concerns of a benign tumor near his pituitary gland, the talented 6-foot-4 Silva (11-1) underwent medical procedures to ensure he could continue fighting.

With those struggles behind him, Silva, now licensed by the CSAC, finished Justin Eilers in 19 seconds of Round 2 to capture the organization's first EliteXC heavyweight title.

"After the storm," said Silva, "there's always sunlight."

Following a competitive opening period, "Bigfoot" connected with a left hook that sent the one-time UFC heavyweight title contender's mouthpiece into the air. Eilers (19-7-1), a former Iowa State University linebacker, moved back to the fence where he was met with a knee and a swarm of lefts and rights by the former super heavyweight.

"He seems to move really well," said Eilers, a quick heavyweight in his own right. "He's got a lot of size and he can move, so that combination there is devastating. When you've got a guy that's big that can move like a smaller guy, I think he's going to do very well in this sport."

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