Strikeforce is not boxing. The company might have begun as a small Northern California promotion of the sweet science's cousin, kickboxing, but that's where the resemblance ends. (And, really, that's not much of a resemblance to begin with.) But if there's anything else that situates Strikeforce and boxing in the same corner, it's the undercards. They're simply not as deep and appealing as the ones offered by the behemoth UFC.
Even in the days before Strikeforce was swallowed up by his promotion's parent company, though, UFC president Dana White never judged his MMA rival anywhere near as harshly as he did that other combat sport. A few years ago, during a pre-fight conference call with reporters, White summed up his viewpoint of where boxing's business model falls short of his company's: "The difference is, we showcase nine fights that night, not just one. Let me tell everybody on this call something and go off on a rant for a second. I always talk about how much trouble boxing is in. Boxing is in trouble for one reason: greed."
Strikeforce is different. CEO Scott Coker isn't Bob Arum or Don King, who've both lined their pockets for years while filling their boxing undercards with ho-hum Tomato Can vs. Cream Puff bouts, four rounds contested in an empty arena. Strikeforce at least tries.
The company has a cable deal and has been on network TV, true, but that doesn't bring in the kind of revenue of a pay-per-view. So Coker & Co. do what they can to cobble together a collection of undercard matchups that might not be title eliminators but at least serve as crossroads bouts.
Last month, for example, on an evening headlined by two Heavyweight Grand Prix quarterfinals, we saw unbeaten Daniel Cormier take on former UFC fighter Jeff Monson. At age 41, Monson is many miles over the hill, but he's seen it all during a 54-bout career and because of that can be a challenge for an up-and-comer with just seven pro fights under his belt. Cormier passed the test with a unanimous-decision win and later was rewarded with a spot in the Grand Prix, replacing injured heavyweight champ Alistair Overeem.
This Saturday's event in Chicago has an undercard packed with similarly testing bouts. The evening's drawing card, of course, is the main event between Fedor Emelianenko and Dan Henderson, and there also will be a title belt on the line when Marloes Coenen defends her women's welterweight championship against Miesha Tate. But the three other fights on the Showtime telecast (10 p.m. ET) feature rising competitors each facing off at a crossroads with guys who present some problems -- and who themselves have careers that are a lot more alive than Monson's. Truthfully, though, each of the roadblock guys has little more than what in that other combat sport is known as a puncher's chance.
He lost a decision to "Jacare" Souza in last summer's title bout, but bounced back in March to submit veteran Melvin Manhoef. Now he gets the heavy-handed Lawler, who while only 29 has been around the block a time or two. He's fought in the UFC, where he beat Chris Lytle, and also is a past EliteXC middleweight champ and owns victories over Frank Trigg and "Ninja" Rua. His last fight was a title bout with Souza, but his third-round submission loss was his third in five fights, with one of the wins being over ancient Matt Lindland.
In other words, Lawler (18-7, 1 NC) can't afford to be taken apart by the 13-1 Kennedy if he hopes to remain relevant. And that's precisely what the versatile Kennedy has to do if he still has his sights set on the belt. Which you know he does.
Woodley has just eight pro bouts under his belt, all wins, but none against someone as dangerous to be around as Daley. Will he have the poise to set up his takedowns for a moment when the Brit is not in punching position? Likewise, will Daley take his time in setting up his fisticuffs, so he isn't taken down the first time he throws a punch and misses?
Daley has experience on his side, with 38 pro fights, including UFC wins over Martin Kampmann and Dustin Hazelett. His last bout was a thrilling welterweight title fight loss to Nick Diaz in April. But he's even more of a one-trick pony than the wrestling-first Woodley, who has the know-how, speed and bulk to take Daley down and stay on top for three rounds. A Daley win would doubtlessly be more exciting, but the fans ought not hold their breath.