Strikeforce Defy Boycott, Put Card in Arizona

Our friends over at ULTMMA have the news on Strikeforce selecting Phoenix as the site for an August Challenger’s card:

Strikeforce’s second Challengers card of the summer and first show in Arizona will likely take place at Phoenix’s Dodge Theater.

Sources close to the event have informed ULTMMA.com (www.ULTMMA.com) of the planned location for the Friday August 13th fight card.

The Dodge Theater is an indoor venue that seats 5,500 people. Located in the heart of downtown Phoenix the venue is normally reserved for musical acts, but has hosted boxing events in the past.

Arizona has been the subject of a boycott by multiple organizations and governmental bodies due to Arizona SB1070, which is widely viewed as an anti-immigrant law. The card by Strikeforce is to take place in August, falling after the July 29th date that the law will go into effect. MMA scribe Eddie Goldman was the first to questionthe moral and political implications of putting on a possible card in in Arizona in violation of the boycott. With the site selection process by Coker and Company being an elective one, it is unfortunate that they chose to ignore the boycott and place the the card in Phoenix. It will be interesting to see if there is any blowback from it’s fighters for the move. Hispanic-American fighters Nick Diaz and Gilbert Melendez are both high profile title holders for the San Jose based promotion. Neither appear on said card and neither have been very overtly outspoken on political causes, with the exception being Diaz’s support for the use of medicinal marijuana.

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Strikeforce Conference Call Transcript

OPENING COMMENTS:

SCOTT COKER: “We’re happy to have the fight between Robbie and Babalu and we’re looking forward to a great fight. That fight is going to have a lot of implications. I think that that fight, the winner, if Babalu wins and looks good, he will be first in line for a matchup against King Mo (Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal). Robbie, if he wins the fight, will be first in line to have a title shot at 185 against (Ronaldo) “Jacare” (Souza). Normally, we don’t put those fights out there, but I just wanted to let everyone know that this fight will have consequences and it will be an interesting show and we’re looking forward to putting it on.”

ROBBIE LAWLER: “Training is going good. I’m down in Arizona for fight camp. I’m just working real hard, working on my skills and looking forward to having a good show.”

BABALU SOBRAL: “I look forward to this fight. It’s going to be in California, my backyard, so it’s going to bring a lot of fans in.”

QUESTIONS:
With all the middleweight tournaments that you are having, could the winners be in a potential tournament?
COKER: “That is still to be determined. It hasn’t been mapped out 100 percent, but we’ll probably have an announcement in the next 10 days or so.”

Babalu could potentially face King Mo, but he’s recently said that he wouldn’t want to fight him because of their relationship. Is that true?
RICHARD WILNER (Babalu’s Manager) “Yes and no. For what it’s worth, if the question is ‘are we looking for a fight with Mo,’ with all do respect, the answer is no because of our relationship with Mo. If that’s the fight on the table because the fans are clamoring for it, then we’ll do what we have to do. If the question is ‘who do we want to fight,’ I could easily answer that question – and the answer is Dan Henderson and Gegard Mousasi.”

As far as Jacare goes, you said Robbie Lawler would face him for the title. Is Jacare absolutely locked to fight for the title next, regardless?
COKER: “This depends on how things shake out with Jake (Shields). If we end up in a situation where we’re looking for a 185-pound champion, I think Jacare would be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the slot.”

Babalu, how is your training going considering Robbie has such good power?
BABALU: “I’ve been working hard. He’s a great striker and, as everybody knows, I don’t try knocking people out, so I have to defend from that.”

Robbie, how is your submission defense coming?
LAWLER: “Everything is going good. I’ve been training hard, working on all my skills as usual, so everything is going good.”

Babalu, how are you preparing for this fight after almost one year of not fighting?
BABALU: “Well, I took a little time off. I have been going to the gym; I’ve been prepared all along. I was supposed to fight in DREAM, but that go cancelled and STRIKEFORCE offered me this opportunity. I just had to push the training a little bit more. It’s been good training. I’ve had a very, very amazing camp.”

Scott, will the winner of the Fedor-Werdum fight get a shot at (Alistair) Overeem?
COKER: “When the fight is over, should Fedor be victorious, we will definitely be sitting down with M-1 to try to put that fight together.”

Scott, how is this type of event different for STRIKEFORCE?
COKER: “Basically, what happened was E3 was on the books about six months ago and EA Sports was putting out this MMA game. They asked us if we could put together some sort of event. We said, why don’t we do a fight and it will be our first real time in the Los Angeles market with SHOWTIME. We thought this will be a fun opportunity to do something in conjunction with EA Sports as part of the E3 convention. Then we started thinking about what type of card we’d bring there. Would we bring a Challengers card, do we have the available space (for a big card)? There was really a tight, tight grip on a lot of the venues there, so we couldn’t pull a big arena show. We talked to Ken Hershman and thought about doing a hybrid-type of show, and he gave it the green light. It’s kind of a sampling where you’ll have two fights on the undercard, it’s not going to be a fight where we normally have four or fight undercard fights, it’s a little bit later of a start time, but you’ll get to see some of the best and some of the up-and-coming guys who are trying to keep their value up.”

How is the LA market treating you so far?
COKER: “Ticket sales are terrific; I think we’re about 2/3 there (to sell out).”

Robbie, you’ve been knocking a lot of guys out, but your last couple of losses were by submissions. How are you going to approach Babalu, who is a submission specialist?
LAWLER: “Really, I’ve just been doing what I normally do: working on all my skills, striking, grappling, wrestling, just trying to build everything at the same time. (Against Jake Shields) I got caught in a submission, it was tight and I made a mistake. It was an easy mistake to fix and that’s what I’ve been doing. I grapple as much as I do anything else, so I’m not leaving anything behind. I’m working on all my skills.”

Babalu, your last fight in STRIKEFORCE you lost by knockout to Mousasi. What have you done to improve your standup and striking for Robbie?
BABALU: “The only thing that I changed a little bit because Robbie is southpaw is I’ve been training more southpaw then I used to train. That’s the only difference.

“Sometimes it’s good to get your ass kicked, and sometimes it can come back to haunt you. Mentally, I’m more prepared for this. I can’t wait to come back and fight. I’ve improved more, but I can strike too. There’s no secret to my game. I’ve fought everybody under the sun.”

Robbie, can you talk about the difference at fighting at 195 pounds and what your preparation is?
LAWLER: “I’m not too worried about my weight. I decided that I’d just eat whatever I’d want to and not worry about my weight. I tried bulking up, adding more fluids and taking a little more supplements than usual. If I was going to weigh 190, I’ll weigh 190. If I weigh 195, that’s fine. I’m just going to work hard and that’s what I’ve been doing.”

Babalu, what’s the difference in your approach at 195?
BABALU: “I haven’t been 195 since I was, like, 15 years old. For me to make 195, that’s a good opportunity to fight Robbie. He’s a big man and he’s a great challenger.”

Facing a striker after the way you lost last night, what’s your thought?
BABALU: “I lost my last fight, but that wasn’t because I punched in the head. He tripped me and took me down. I was on the ground, it wasn’t because I was weak. I will come back strong from the loss. I want to get back to my winning track.”

Robbie, your last fight was a tremendous and grueling fight. How long does it take for you mentally and physically to get over that fight?
LAWLER: “Physically a little bit longer. Once I got out here to Arizona I started pushing it a little harder, and that’s when I started feeling really good. Mentally, I was ready to go. I’m always mentally there where I believe in myself and I believe I can beat anyone – that’s easy. The physical part is always the part where you need to work hard and get back into shape and that’s what I did.”

How would you rate that victory (over Melvin Manhoef) over your other victories in your career?
LAWLER: “I think it was one of my biggest because everyone knows what kind of striker he is. Everyone said I should have taken him down, which maybe I should have. But to knock him out standing and to beat him on his feet, where he’s supposedly one of the best in the world, felt good.”

Babalu, do you feel any added pressure in this fight because of the extra time off and because a title shot is on the line?
BABALU: “There’s always added pressure. The pressure is always on. The next fight is always the most important fight in your life.”

Robbie, do you think there’s some advantage because he has taken some time off and is coming off of a loss?
LAWLER: “No, I don’t look at that as an advantage. Sometimes, taking time off you come back stronger and you’re able to look at what you need to work on and you’re fresher when you come into the fight. It all depends on the individual and how they train if it’s a benefit. I’m ready to go – that’s all I can control.”

Babalu, what would you say your strengths or advantages are going into this fight?
BABALU: “Normally, I would say my submission skills. But, I don’t know. I don’t think I have any advantages. I’ve just been training really hard and feel comfortable with what I’ve done. I’m just trying to get as mentally and physically prepared as I can to get the job done so I can come back to my house and kiss my family.”

Robbie, what would you say your strengths or advantages are going into this fight?
LAWLER: “I don’t really want to talk about my advantages, but, as far as my strengths are, I’m mentally prepared. I’m ready to go; I’m physically ready to go. I’ve been training real hard. Babalu is a really good opponent; he’s fought everyone it seems at different weights. So he’ll be ready to go and I’ll be ready to go.”

Babalu, how many times ideally would you like to fight each year?
BABALU: “Without injury I can fight every week. But I used to fight 12 times in one year back in the day. Honestly, every four months is perfect. I don’t know if that’s possible, but that’s the dream.”

CLOSING COMMENTS:
COKER: “I’d like to invite everyone down to the event, and if you can’t make it you can always watch it on SHOWTIME. We have a very busy month with SHOWTIME, we have Fedor fighting Fabricio Werdum on the 26th. We’re very excited to host that event; it’s going to be a big show. You know, everyone is talking about Fedor, Fedor, but, let me tell you something, I think people underestimate Fabricio in this fight. He beat Fedor’s brother, he beat Alistair Overeem, who’s our current champion, back in PRIDE, and he just beat (Antonio) Big Foot Silva, who just had a great win over Andrei Arlovski. This guy has fought the best in the world and I think it’s going to be a great fight. Tune into SHOWTIME to watch both fights.”

Do You Know The Way To San Jose?

Once posed as a question in song by the great Burt Bacharach, the way to San Jose is now being asked by the number one ranked heavyweight in the world, Fedor Emilianenko, as he readies for his showdown with Fabricio Werdum. The pairing of the the Orthrodox mauler and the city once serenaded by Dionne Warwick seem an odd pairing, at least from a promotional point of view.

San Jose has long served as a home base for Scott Coker’s Strikeforce, capable of drawing good numbers at the gate with such local favorites as Cung Le and Frank Shamrock. Even when they don’t have one of those two on the card they can draw in the 7k to 8k range in that market, as evidenced by the Melendez vs Thomson I card which did just over 7k fans. With either Frank or Cung on the card they are usually bumping up or around the 10k mark. I guess what I’m saying is that they can draw a good number in the SJ market without putting Fedor on the card. With Cung and Thomson on the card for the June 26th card, they will do a good number regardless, meaning the marginal utility of having Fedor on the card is lessened.

The profile of Emilianenko could and would be best served in establishing a beachhead in another market. From all accounts, the Chicago card headlined by Fedor vs Rogers in November was well attended and did a decent gate number. The city hasn’t hosted a high profile card since that evening (sorry, Bellator, you don’t count) and hasn’t seen a UFC card since the UFC 90 card featuring Silva vs Cote in October of 08. Putting a second Fedor card in the market would be a concrete way of putting down roots and building up a regular secondary market for the Strikeforce promotion. St. Louis has been built into such a secondary market and adding Chicago as well would go far to building a strong mid-west base for a company that heretofore has been mostly west coast based.

If not Chicago, Strikeforce may have been better served to take advantage of some of the brand building attempted by Affliction in the Los Angeles/Anaheim market. Fedor headlined a couple of Affliction cards in the market and has good recognition there. Affliction admittedly had to do quite a bit of “papering” of the crowd to get a full house, but pricing your shows at UFC levels ($1,000 top ticket prices) without the UFC brand to back it up will do that. From what I’ve seen Strikeforce’s pricing structure has a bit of sanity to it in comparison, which I think would make pulling a good crowd attainable.

The Fedor to San Jose move seems motivated more by the need to get him on a card as soon as possible after his contract impasse as opposed to strategically using his value as a building block. When every Fedor fight you put on might just be your last, Strikeforce has to make the most tactically shrewd moves with his fights. Putting this fight on in San Jose just seems to be shortsighted, and not really advancing the brand.

Diaz Open to Possible Fight With Aoki

Fresh off his impressive submission victory over Hyato Mach Sakurai, Nick Diaz spoke with the Japanese press and made mention of a Dream fighter that might make for a good future opponent:

“I always wanted to fight Shinya Aoki, he’s a ….you know, I was a really big Shin….well, I don’t want to say I was a Shinya Aoki fan, its just that…. I felt like he got out and was able to do a lot of the tricks that I like to do, before I was able to do them…..and I was I guess you say, a little bit jealous in a way.. that he was making that sort of a show before I was, but I think the reason that he was doing that is because he didn’t have a complete game. Like….for instance I come out and I throw punches and so the guy wants to take me down. He comes out and he doesn’t throw punches, he doesn’t really have stand-up so he just goes for what he does and he finishes like that. If feel like if I ….If that was all I could do, I would finish like that, too, a lot of the time… but I go ahead and throw punches”

The Japanese press then asked him if he were to do a fight with Aoki would he willing to come down in weight to make the fight. Diaz -” If the pay is right. It’s gonna be a lot of hard work, regardless, having to lose weight or not. but on account of that I would ask for more money.”

Dream Prez Sasahara seemed cool to the idea presented with a question about Diaz’s comments:

Question──Nick Diaz said if the money is right he would fight Aoki.

Sasahara – Does he mean he’d lose weight? He’s crazy! The weight is too different. He won this time, but we won’t let him get away easily. We will have him back in the ring.

With Dream on a losing streak against Strikeforce, Sasahara may be a bit reticent to put his resident ace in a match-up with Diaz, which might end in another embarrassing defeat for Dream.

One possible impediment to having a Diaz vs Aoki showdown might be the Dream’s continued use of the White Cage, of which Diaz didn’t seem to be a fan. Dream Kingpin Sashahara talked during the the Japanese broadcast about what Dream fighters could possibly beat Diaz and said he wanted to keep bringing Diaz over and pairing him up. The press row queried Nick on if he was open to a fight career in between America and Japan:

Diaz: “I like fighting in the ring, so probably not if it’s in this cage again. I don’t like the way the cage is set up, I think it is really dangerous the way the metal comes up about three inches off the ground, people were putting their foot on it, I could see it. I was worried about getting taken down and landing backwards with my elbow and damaging my elbow, or even my head when I went on bottom that was what was in my head, that my head was gonna touch the back of that thing.”

With Diaz seemingly a perpetual inhabitant of the Strikeforce/Showtime doghouse, keeping his mind open to future Japan dates would be the best thing, whether they are using ring or cage. Whether he is forgoing California mandated drug tests or in the middle of post fight melees, some of Nick’s actions may put him in the position of being a beggar, and therefore, not a chooser.

TIM KENNEDY TO FACE TREVOR PRANGLEY

NEW YORK (May 26, 2010) – American military hero and up-and-coming middleweight, Tim Kennedy, will be opposed by the dangerous Trevor Prangley in one of the featured STRIKEFORCE Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fights at Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE on Wednesday, June 16, on SHOWTIME®.

The first-ever STRIKEFORCE event scheduled for mid-week will take place in the midst of the E3 Expo, the premier trade show for computer and video games. During E3 Expo 2010 at the L.A. Convention Center, EA SPORTS(tm) will exhibit its highly anticipated title, EA SPORTS MMA, in which STRIKEFORCE is featured as a premier league.

Tickets are on sale at STAPLES Center box office, all Ticketmaster locations (800) 745-3000, Ticketmaster online (www.ticketmaster.com ) and STRIKEFORCE’S official website (www.strikeforce.com ). Tickets will also be sold at the Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE box office on days when events take place there.

In other televised fights on SHOWTIME, hard-knocking, hard-hitting “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler (17-5) will collide with former STRIKEFORCE light heavyweight (205 pounds) champion Renato “Babalu” Sobral, at a catch weight of 195 pounds in the main event and. DREAM welterweight champion Marius “The Whitemare” Zaromskis (13-4) will face Evangelista Cyborg (17-13) in a welterweight (170 pounds) contest.

A previously announced heavyweight match between Bobby Lashley and Ron Sparks will not transpire. Lashley suffered a knee injury during training.

Both 185-pound fighters – Kennedy (11-2), of Austin, Tex., by way of San Luis Obispo, Calif., and Prangley (22-5-1), of Couer D’ Alene, Idaho, via Cape Town, South Africa — have been impressive in recent starts.

The 5-foot-11, 30-year-old Kennedy, a United States Army Special Forces sniper with the 19th Special Forces outfit based in San Antonio, has toured the Middle East multiple times, and earned the Army’s Bronze Medal Star medal for valor under fire.

Inside the cage, Kennedy has won three in a row and 11 of his last 12. In his last outing, he submitted (north-south choke) Zak Cummings in the second round during a STRIKEFORCE Challengers event on Sept. 25, 2009.

Prangley, a six-foot, 37-year-old former South African national wrestling champion and Olympic alternate who turned to MMA after suffering a knee injury in college, is 11-1-1 in his last 13 fights. A five-fight winning streak ended Feb. 26, 2010, when a STRIKEFORCE: Challengers fight he seemingly was on his way to winning against Karl Amoussou ended in a technical draw at 4:14 of the first round due to an accidental thumb to Amoussou’s eye.

Kennedy has split two fights with Jason “Mayhem” Miller. Kennedy’s only other defeat came to Scott “Hands Of Steel” Smith in his pro debut on Aug. 31, 2001.

“I am fighting full-time and still in uniform, which is what I’ve wanted all along,” Kennedy said. “I am looking forward to fighting again against a good, solid wrestler like Prangley, who trains at AKA (American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif.).

“He’s got heavy hands and a good chin. This will be a good fight for me.

Kennedy signed with STRIKEFORCE in 2009 after a two-year break the sport due to his military commitments. This will be his third start on SHOWTIME for the San Jose-based organization. Before walking through the previously unbeaten Cummings (10-0 going in) in Tulsa, Okla., Kennedy scored a second-round submission (punches) over former BodogFIGHT champion Nick “The Goat” Thompson at Kent, Wash.

“I want to keep winning,” Kennedy said. “STRIKEFORCE has a bunch of guys in my weight class who I match up very well with. I want to fight all of these guys and put on a good show for SHOWTIME and STRIKEFORCE.”

Prangley may not be the most feared fighter in MMA, but he is definitely not one many want to enter the cage with. He’s capable of besting anyone on any given night.

Since his pro debut (as a light heavyweight) in January 2001, Prangley has met some good ones, including “Babalu,, Jorge Santiago (his last loss) and Chael Sonnen. Prangley’s most significant victory may have come against Sonnen.

Prangley has fought for STRIKEFORCE in the past. Besides his last start against Amoussou, he also competed in STRIKEFORCE: Four Men Enter, One Man Survives, the first sanctioned MMA tournament in the state of California on November 16, 2007 and was victorious over Anthony “A Train” Ruiz by way of unanimous decision at the second STRIKEFORCE event at the world-famous Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Sept. 20, 2008.

Doors at Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE will open for the event at 5:15 p.m. PT. The first non-televised preliminary bout will begin at 7 p.m. and the first main card fight will begin at 8 p.m.

The event will be televised live on SHOWTIME at 11 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast).