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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Drama at the StrikeForce Weigh In ! Frank Shamrock Vs Diaz


Following a 12-hour ordeal that began with Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos tipping the scales at 152 pounds – a full seven pounds over her contracted fight weight – a fight pitting the Brazilian against former Smackgirl champion Hitomi Akano will take place Saturday night when Strikeforce debuts on Showtime.
When Santos stepped off the scale at about 2:30 p.m. Friday afternoon, she was given until 8 p.m. the same evening to cut down to 149.5 pounds. She never made it, reportedly weighing 150.5 pounds at about 6:30 p.m. Still, the California State Athletic Commission cleared Santos to fight.
But at that point, Akano’s camp didn’t want to take the fight, citing the weight differential as being to great. Akano weighed in at 143.5 pounds Friday afternoon – without cutting any weight at all.
Sherdog.com published a story claiming that the fight was off, based on direct comments from Akano’s manager Shu Hirata, who was emphatic that the fight was off. Both Hirata and trainer Josh Barnett commented on the cancellation of the fight.
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That’s when things got interesting.
Despite their declaration, neither Strikeforce officials, nor Santos’ Chute Boxe camp would give up hope that the fight could be saved.
Following several back-and-forth exchanges of the fight being on, then off, then on again, then off again – and reports of Santos weighing in just past midnight at 158 pounds – Hirata, Barnett, and Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker all finally echoed the same statement, “It’s on!”
At this point, the clock read 2 a.m. local time.
What saved the day… err, night?
“I think it was face to face conversation,” said Coker. “I think when the fighter and the promoter can see each other and know it’s real, there’s a human side to… there’s not just a business component, but a human component.
“I think if I would have left around 8 o’clock, 9 o’clock, this fight wouldn’t have happened.”
Neither Coker nor Hirata would reveal what the final negotiations were that lead to a resolution – without Santos having to drop any further weight – but Coker hinted at a portion of it.
“I don’t really want to say what the deal is… but their gym will have a much better relationship with Strikeforce than just one fighter,” he commented. He was referring to Abe Ani Combat Club, which is also home to several other top Japanese fighters including Takafuni Otsuka, Yasuko Tamada, and Megumi Fuji, who is in San Jose with Akano.
Hirata would not address financial details, but did say that Coker agreed that the background behind the struggles in getting this fight to the cage on Saturday night would be addressed on the Showtime telecast.
“I asked Mr. Coker to do so and he promised it to be addressed in the broadcast. I think it’s important to tell the story behind it,” stated Hirata.
“We thought about making her cut (weight) again to tomorrow, but that may be a problem because of safety issues. We don’t want that for the sport. From this instance, I hope everybody will understand making weight is very, very important. That’s one of the professional rules you’re going to have to follow if you want to be a professional fighter.”In building a reputation as maybe not the best fighter in the world but the best active competitor at promoting fights, Frank Shamrock has exuded confidence or cockiness, extreme bravado or false bravado – take your pick.
He insults his opponents, talks as if there is little or no chance of losing, and hopes – for the sake of the buildup – that they insult him just as much. His goal is to inspire a strong emotional reaction.
Some love him. Some hate him. No one is ambivalent.
In doing so, he helped set what is still the U.S. record for largest paid attendance at an MMA event when fighting Cesar Gracie in 2006. He helped draw two of the three biggest MMA ratings on Showtime for fights with Phil Baroni and Renzo Gracie. His last fight, with Cung Le, drew 16,326 fans to the HP Pavilion in San Jose. And Saturday night’s match with Nick Diaz in the debut of the Strikeforce promotion contract with Showtime is expected to approach that number in the same venue.

So, like usual, when asking how things are going as the fight approaches, Shamrock goes right into the expected mode.
“I feel great,” he said. “I’m ready.”
But then, he suddenly changes his tune: “I’m a little banged up. Two weeks ago, I hurt my ribs. It is what it is.”
With nearly 15 years of experience, Shamrock is the last of MMA’s true pioneers who is still a major card headliner. The benefit is experience, but the flip side is that when he started with the Pancrase promotion in Japan in the mid-1990s, nobody really knew what they were doing. In his early years, he trained all-out every day, without pacing himself, and fought just about every month.
Many fighters were frequently hurt, and most of the original stars physically burned out within a few years. Shamrock’s longevity can be traced by going in the opposite direction, as this is only his seventh fight since his last true victory against a top-10 opponent – a decade ago against Tito Ortiz in one of the most famous matches of the pre-Zuffa Ultimate Fighting Championship.
But injuries have been frequent over the past decade, with knee, shoulder, rib, foot and arm issues filling out just a portion of the list. Shamrock tore his ACL two weeks before his match two years ago with Baroni, but it ended up pretty much even since Baroni was fighting through a groin tear. The two put on one of the most exciting fights of 2007 before one of the most rabid crowds ever to witness mixed martial arts, with Shamrock winning via choke to become the first Strikeforce middleweight champion.
Last year, in the second round, Shamrock suffered an arm fracture from having to continually block Cung Le’s blistering kicks. Even with it, he came back in round three – one of the most exciting rounds in recent memory – and rocked Le with hard punches, putting Le in trouble until blocking another kick caused Shamrock’s forearm to snap in two. He was unable to continue at the end of the third round, losing his championship. Shamrock needed surgery to put a plate in the arm, and this is his first match back.
While a win is always important, the stakes here are high. Strikeforce will debut later this year in prime time on CBS, and it’s imperative to have a strong main event or the show will not do well in ratings.
The best business option is for Le to defend the Strikeforce middleweight title against Shamrock. With a Shamrock-Le rematch on CBS, you have Shamrock’s ability to sell a fight – as well as clips of the first fight, which finished high in most Match of the Year polls.
“I’ll be able to box, and if it goes to the ground, it’s important to stay on top,” he said about Saturday’s fight. “But that was the strategy anyway.”
A few weeks ago, Shamrock talked about trying to push the pace to tire Diaz out late. Though he’s been known for his conditioning, Shamrock is now 36, while Diaz is 25. Diaz has never had a problem with conditioning in matches, and has completed at least one triathlon.
Shamrock acknowledged that if he’s in a lot of pain, he could tire faster. But he’s abandoned that thought process, and his mentality is now to get inside and hurt Diaz with power punches. He said he’s been able to train his boxing and cardio, and going three rounds isn’t going to be an issue.
Though Shamrock (23-9-2) is listed at 5-foot-10 and Diaz (18-7) at 6 feet, when they stood side by side at the press conference a few weeks ago, Diaz looked 4 inches taller. Shamrock said that he’s been training with tall, skinny Muay Thai fighters, and his strategy is to stay inside, negating Diaz’s reach advantage.
It’s been nine years, when he fought Elvis Sinosic, since Shamrock has competed against someone with that kind of a reach advantage. Though Diaz has fought two weight classes lower than Shamrock the past few years, the expectation is that he’ll be the heavier of the two when the cage shuts for a 179-catch weight fight.
“He’s never had to take a 185-pounder’s punch before,” Shamrock said. “I’m right now 185, and after practice I’m 183. Cutting to 179 will be nothing. I’ve got the same power and I’m faster.”
Diaz’s style is to use his length to throw a multitude of punches. While Shamrock was considered one of the best submission fighters in the world in the 1990s, his training emphasis for the past decade has been on boxing.
Diaz, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Cesar Gracie, has claimed that if the fight goes to the ground, he’ll submit Shamrock right away.
Shamrock – who has studied boxing and pro-wrestling promotion – always notes that for a big match, the key is the story, not rankings or championships. The story here is that three years ago in the same arena, Shamrock knocked out Cesar Gracie, Diaz’s coach, in just 21 seconds. This is Diaz going for revenge.
Like his younger brother, Nate, a UFC star, Diaz exudes an image of a street-fighting punk. He hails from Stockton, Calif., little more than an hour’s drive from San Jose.
Diaz is still looking for his first win over a major star. In February 2007 in Las Vegas, he submitted Takanori Gomi, who many felt at the time was the No. 1 lightweight in the world, with a gogoplata. The match is generally considered among the best in modern MMA history. But the decision was overturned by the Nevada State Athletic Commission because Diaz tested positive for a high concentration of marijuana.
Shamrock thought Diaz was doing a good job as his adversary in building up the fight, but did express frustration of late that he’s spending more time talking up the benefits of smoking pot to the press than building the match. It’s become a lightning-rod issue, since Diaz went before the Nevada commission after his positive test in the Gomi fight, and vowed he would no longer use the drug.
A year later, the California State Athletic Commission pulled him from a fight on the Shamrock-Le undercard for listing his use of medicinal marijuana, a drug banned for fighters, on a commission form listing medications he was taking.
“It’s not the right image we should be promoting for our sport,” Shamrock said.
In a Los Angeles Times interview published earlier this week, Diaz – who said he got high in his hotel room before every fight he had when he was with the UFC from 2003 to 2006 – said he wasn’t worried about testing for the fight.
“I can pass a drug test in eight days with herbal cleansers,” he told the Times. “I drink 10 pounds of water and sweat out 10 pounds of water every day. I’ll be fine.”

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