ST. LOUIS -- Continuing on his mission to prove jiu-jitsu, aggressive submission-seeking jiu-jitsu, is a mighty fine and effective way to win a fight, Jake Shields snagged RobbieLawler's neck and strangled him in front of 8,867 fans Saturday at the Scottrade Center.
Strikeforce's main event between former EliteXC champions at a catch-weight of 182 pounds was fairly simple to handicap. Lawler, a heavy-punching head hunter and natural middleweight, wanted no part of the submission-inspired welterweight champion's ground game. Shields, despite a stand-up game that's probably underrated, knew he had a much better chance of winning his 12th fight in a row if he could get action to the floor.
Lawler avoided going to the ground in the opening minute, fending off a double-leg before locking up in the clinch. Having moved up 12 pounds to meet Lawler, Shields immediately realized he needed to switch up his plan of attack after feeling the 27-year-old Iowan's strength. Forcing a takedown wasn't going to work. It had to come from the outside, he figured, and it would need to be set up with strikes.
Kicks to the body and single punches from the outside helped Shields avoid Lawler's debilitating power. "He worked," Lawler said. "He was throwing hands. He wasn't shying away from standup."
When the moment came for Shields to transition into a submission -- and make no mistake that's what he hoped to accomplish from the opening bell -- he didn't hesitate.
Defending the possibilty that Shields might slide down from the clinch into a single-leg takedown, Lawler (16-5) put a right underhook in too deep, setting up the 30-year-old Californian to jump guard while locking in a guillotine choke. Lawler's only defense -- and it wasn't much of one -- was to lift Shields and slam his way out of the submission. But even that was reconsidered as Shields cinched in the painful hold, leading to a tapout at 2:02 of the opening round.
"He's strong. He's technical. And unless you've experienced it, his grappling is shocking," said Shields' longtime training partner, Gilbert Melendez. "The first time you lock horns with Jake, it's like nothing you've experienced in your life."
"I have a super aggressive style of jiu-jitsu," said the victorious Shields, now 23-4-1. "The old style of jiu-jitsu is just to kick back, relax and wait for things to happen. But I think the wrestling mentality of forcing things and making them happen, called "American jiu-jitsu," a style I made up, is go, go, go."
Shields left open the possibility of officially moving up to 185 pounds, where he said he would like to challenge Strikeforce middleweight champion Cung Le. More likely, however, is a return to 170, where the best welterweight currently competing outside the confines of the UFC would participate in Strikeforce's first welterweight title fight.
• Heavyweight Brett Rogers earned his tenth stoppage in as many fights -- and the respect that comes with such an accomplishment.
At 22 seconds it wasn't the quickest finish of his career (the 6-foot-4, 260-pounder scored a nine-second KO in 2007) but considering former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski was the one needing rescuing, it was far and away Roger's most important.
A left hook to the temple set up the finish, which came with Arlovski pinned against the cage as three heavy punches thudded off his head. The final shot put him down, prompting referee John McCarthy to step in as Rogers (10-0) set himself to deliver one more damaging blow. Live the stoppage seemed a tad early, but replays exonerated the veteran ring official.
"Basically, I wanted to go in and put the heat on him," said Rogers, who was fully aware that Arlovski, 15-7, returned to the ring for the first time since suffering a knockout loss to Fedor Emelianenko in January. "He's obviously a fighter who's someone to respect. I just wanted to come in with heavy shots, and it worked."
With Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem slated to fight on Aug. 15, Rogers, who first gained press by suggesting Kimbo Slice was a fraud, appears to be the likely challenger.
"This is a perfect opportunity. This sport is all about timing. It's definitely my time and I'm going to keep working."
• It's taken a couple years for Nick Diaz to rebound from his war with Takanori Gomi -- one of the best fights of the decade -- and subsequent suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for marijuana use. With a dominant win over hard-handed Scott Smith, it's safe to say Diaz (20-7) can compete with any fighter in the welterweight or middleweight divisions.
Fighting at a catch-weight of 180 pounds, Diaz brought his prolific punch stats and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt into the cage against Smith, a fellow Northern Californian with the reputation for miraculous comebacks. He wouldn't find one tonight.
Diaz interspersed pawing lefts and rights from all angles, rendering his hands noticeably swollen after the fight. Though his bravado was answered with a strong punch to the face by Smith, Diaz made few mistakes while painting shades of red and purple on an increasingly lumpy canvas, shots that sent Smith (16-6) to a local hospital as a precaution after the fight.
In the second, Diaz killed Smith, less than two months removed from a brutal contest against Benji Radach, to both sides of his body. "I didn't want to start popping him to the body too early," Diaz said. "When I go to the body I risk getting hit to the face with an elbow or punch."
The varied assault, which Diaz hoped would bring flailing punches from Smith, continued into Round 3, when a left to the liver and right to the head dropped "Hands of Stone" to his knees. Diaz seized back control and locked in a tap-inducing modified rear-naked choke at 1:41 of the final period.
• Joe Riggs took a well-earned decision over Phil Baroni in a competitive and entertaining welterweight fight. Mixing up striking, grappling and submissions, Riggs, just 26 as he entered his 41st fight, outperformed Baroni in virtually every area.
Choosing to grapple at the start, Riggs (30-10) took Baroni's back during a dominant stretch that lasted through the first half of Round 1. While surviving on shaky legs, the 33-year-old Baroni was forced to fight defensively, leading each judge to rightly score it 30-27. Riggs, of Phoenix, Ariz., never stopped punching despite breaking both his hands during the fight.
• Sluggish and slow, Mike Whitehead and Kevin Randleman deliberately worked their way through the first two rounds of a light heavyweight fight that led off the televised portion of the card.
Ten years younger than Randleman, a former UFC heavyweight champion, Whitehead pot-shotted and wrestled his way to a two-rounds-to-none lead. Randleman (17-13) found himself in the fight after dropping Whitehead (24-7) with a left hook early in the final period. The aged 37-year-old pounced, offering a storm of hammerfists that, while menacing, failed to secure a stoppage. Judges at ringside saw it unanimously for Whitehead, 29-28 three times.
• On the unaired portion of Saturday night's card, hot light heavyweight prospect Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante (7-2) was stopped cold late in the second round by veteran Mike Kyle (12-6-1).