Saturday's main event at the BankAtlantic Center before 8,156 fans -- and preceded by Herschel Walker's MMA debut -- capped an uneven night for Strikeforce, the Calif.-based promotional company with ties to Showtime and CBS attempting to put on consistently compelling events in the face of heavy competition from the industry-leading Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Walker, the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner and former U.S. Olympic bobsledder, earned a victory in his pro debut. At 47, few outside of Walker's camp and promoter took his foray into the cage seriously. But unlike Johnnie Morton or Jose Canseco, who both badly lost in their MMA efforts, Walker showed over the course of two-plus rounds against Arizonan Greg Nagy (1-2) that he was sincerely interested in putting his best foot forward.
Walker, whose purse went to charity, has not decided whether this is a one-time affair, but the former NFL All-Pro deserves credit for stepping into an unforgiving arena and making the most of it. The victory came at 2:17 of the third.
In the main event, Diaz, a UFC veteran who at the age of 26 is in his ninth year as a professional, made smart use of height and reach advantages against Zaromskis before referee Troy Waugh saved the dangerous Lithuanian striker 4:38 into the opening period.
It was apparent from the opening exchange that Zaromskis, 29, was going to have a difficult time finding Diaz's chin. And considering he stepped into his U.S. debut facing a significant submission deficit against an innovative Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, it was imperative for the London-based welterweight to do his damage as Diaz stood in front of him.
Save one stiff right hand, things never materialized for Zaromskis (13-4) the way did in his last three fights, all high-kick knockout victories. Diaz, one of the best body punchers in MMA, pounded his challenger for the vacant Strikeforce 170-pound title, both to the head and gut with punches, moving beatifully and upping the combinations as the round wore on.
This was a mature Diaz, now 21-7, not the hot-headed kid from Stockton, Calif., that loved brawling for the sake of engaging in fisticuffs.
"He's a passionate fighter but uses his brain more and more each time," said the new champion's longtime training partner Gilbert Melendez, who along with Diaz and middleweight Jake Shields gives Cesar Gracie three Strikeforce titleholders.
"Diaz has ups and downs and people like to count him out," Melendez said. "But he knocks out Robbie Lawler, gogoplatas Takanori Gomi, knocks out Frank Shamrock and puts away Marius Zaromskis. He's one of my favorite fighters to watch, as a fan."
In other bouts:
• Strikeforce promoter Scott Coker said he'd wants to place Japanese veteran Hayato Sakurai in the cage with Diaz next. A much-talked about contest against Jay Hieron, who decisioned Joe Riggs on the undercard, will need to wait as he negotiates a new deal with the promoter.
While Coker works to secure an opponent for Diaz's first title defense, he may have a much more difficult time signing any female who can give Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos a legitimate challenge. The Strikeforce 145-pound women's champion once again put together a rousing effort, this time stopping Dutch threat Marloes Coenen (17-5) in the third round for her first title defense since pounding out Gina Carano last August.
Santos (9-1) is unlike any women yet to compete in MMA. Her physicallity and brutishness, which she called gifts, seems impossible to overcome for competitors. Erin Toughill is next in line, then perhaps the winner of a pending Summer tournament promoted by Strikeforce to crown the next contender.
• In a highly anticipated middleweight fight, Robbie Lawler affirmed once again that anything can happen in MMA by stopping Dutch bomber Melvin Manhoef with a stinging overhand after taking three minutes worth of punishment to his legs and body.
Manhoef, one of the most vicious strikers in the sport, peppered Lawler with kicks to the southpaw's lead leg. The former EliteXC champion seemed out of his league on the feet as Manhoef (24-7) chased him around the cage -- then he unleashed a perfect overhand right that stopped the K-1 striker in his tracks.
"He would kick and look to finish with hands," said Lawler, now 19-5. "Most guys it's the opposite. He just did it one too many times. This was the biggest fight and best knockout of my career."
• Also one the card, heavyweight Bobby Lashley, a hyped fighter who many want to compare to Brock Lesnar because of his dominating physical appearance and professional wrestling ties, dominated an overmatched, undertrained Wes Sims to earn a stoppage. The performance did nothing to advance Lashley's career. That may come next, said Coker, who would like to see a bout between Lashley, now 5-0, and Brett Rogers.