April 17, 2010
Strikeforce stackedHenderson vs. Shields headlines best card of year ... and it's free on TV
By JOSE RODRIGUEZ, QMI Agency
For pedestrian fight fans, it's a free card on network TV.
For those who have watched mixed martial arts grow from niche to mainstream, it's the most stacked card of the year so far.
Strikeforce -- the only legitimate challenger to the UFC's undisputed reign over the sport -- will host its first Nashville show Saturday on CBS.
Strikeforce brass are hoping three title fights on one card -- including some of the world's top-ranked fighters in their weight classes -- will serve notice to the UFC that it is not the only big player in the MMA world.
The card will feature a middleweight title bout between former UFC standout Dan Henderson and champ Jake Shields.
Gegard Mousasi will put his light-heavyweight belt on the line against slugger Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, while the man pegged by many as the best lightweight on the planet, Shinya Aoki, will come over from Japan to try to take Gilbert Melendez's lightweight belt.
For Henderson -- a former Olympic wrestler who was once considered one of the UFC's elite and even coached one season of The Ultimate Fighter before falling out of favour with UFC president Dana White -- his first Strikeforce scrap is an opportunity to grow his already swollen fan base.
"A huge part of why I signed with Strikeforce was to be on CBS," says the Californian (25-7).
"Having fights on network television helps better the sport and it introduces people to it, so they can fall in love with it."
His opponent is coming into his first title defence as an underdog.
"I may feel a little slighted the way this has played out because I put a lot into becoming champion, but I certainly understand why and I'm fine with it," says Shields (24-4).
"Being the underdog doesn't bother me; it only gives me added motivation.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how (Henderson) reacts when I hit him and he goes down.''
The light-heavyweight showdown seems the only tilt on the card that carries any bad blood.
"I don't like King Mo as a person," says champ Mousasi, who at only 24 has amassed an impressive 28-2-1 record.
"He is arrogant and cocky. I respect him as a fighter like I would any fighter who enters the cage, but I've never faced anyone who talks as much as he does. I'll do my talking in the cage."
Lawal, like Mousasi, is a knockout artist, with a perfect 6-0 record -- with five coming by TKO. "After our fight, the city of Nashville is going to be known as Mo-Town," says the Tennessean.
Even without its top draw -- heavyweight champ Fedor Emelianenko -- on the card, Strikeforce brass are expecting a large TV audience.
Not to be outdone, the UFC will air UFC 110 card from February free on Spike TV to coincide with the CBS show.