Light heavyweight Muhammed Lawal is turning out to be a big fish in a rather small pond.
The best 205-pound fighter not currently tied to the UFC is undoubtedly Muhammed Lawal, a former Division II wrestler who has earned three solid wins out of a seven-fight career and has the potential to claim many more. He's reason enough to be interested in Strikeforce's Saturday event on Showtime, even if his opponent might not contribute much to Lawal's reputation.
Rafael Cavalcante is a durable Nogueira-bred fighter who does not possess the wrestling to ward off the machinelike takedowns of Lawal: If every successive fight should try to tell us something new about an athlete, then we probably won't be getting us much of an education this weekend. But Cavalcante can hit -- hard -- and won't be quick to wilt on his back. Lawal's -500 number on the betting boards might be a little too generous.
If Lawal succeeds as most expect, he'll continue to have potential as a promising attraction. The only drawback is Strikeforce's limited roster in finding him fights. Potential is no substitution for results.
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI
Slow and steady might win the race, but it never sits well with fight fans.
What: Strikeforce Houston, an 11-bout card from the Toyota Center
When: Saturday, Aug. 21, at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime, with two undercard bouts streaming live at 9 p.m. ET on Sherdog.com
Why you should care: Because Lawal might be Strikeforce's most personable (and marketable) athlete, and may decide to spill an energy drink on Mauro Ranallo; because Tim Kennedy is a very real threat to Ronaldo Souza thanks to an incredible work ethic and because Bobby Lashley may be taking one step closer to fighting someone even halfway relevant following a bout with Chad Griggs.
Fight of the night: Kennedy/Souza, which should be a nice clash of the busy Kennedy's high output and "Jacare's" high-level jiu-jitsu.
Hype quote of the show: "I'm really confident on where my level is ... if this fight goes the way I hope it will go, I'm going straight for the top. I know what my abilities are and hopefully I'd look at a title shot at the first part of next year." -- Lashley, speaking to the Las Vegas Sun, on what the Griggs fight means for him. Why bother going through any real contenders first?
Questions: Strikeforce Houston
Boxing with a certified boxer like K.J. Noons is probably a bad idea.
Q: Is Jorge Gurgel the worst strategist in MMA?
A: There's one thing Gurgel should have on his mind against pro boxer K.J. Noons on Saturday: eliminate any distance between them and get the fight to the ground. But odds are that Gurgel will choose to stand and exchange with Noons, just as he's done against virtually every opponent in the past several years.
MMA strategy can be simplified to what the pioneering Marco Ruas summarized in the mid-1990s: If the guy wants to strike, we'll grapple. If he wants to grapple, we'll strike. In other words: don't be a sucker for your opponent's specialty. Gurgel is an OK striker, and he might even threaten Noons standing. But how many more fights would he have won if he had stuck with the jiu-jitsu black belt that got him here in the first place?
Q: Is Lashley ever going to get serious about a career?
A: Griggs may well be the toughest man we've never heard of, but the DNA of his fight record is not encouraging that opinion: virtually all of his eight wins came against fighters with losing or .500 records. He's had exactly one bout in the past 2½ years. If someone was planning on matching Lashley against a threat, they're doing it blindfolded.
Lashley must be getting tired of the criticism, but he should probably recognize that fans and media are frustrated because he appears to be a talented fighter with real potential. (No one gets irritated when a mediocre fighter sticks with mediocrity.) The NAIA wrestler said this is the last of his weak-pulse bouts before he cracks the upper tier of Strikeforce. For the sake of our patience, I hope he's sincere.
Q: Can Daniel Cormier cut his teeth without begging for it?
A: It seems fair to match a fighter with only a handful of pro bouts against someone of the same experience. But if you asked a 4-0 fighter to face 4-0 Cormier, you're probably going to get laughed at.
Cormier is an NCAA Division I runner-up in wrestling, a sport that can often come down to a game of inches. That makes it hard for Cormier to find fights, and harder for him to get cage time, but he's trying: A streaming undercard fight on Sherdog.com will be Cormier's second in a week. How can he prevent the inadvertent sandbagging? Chipping some weight off his 250-pound frame -- and he's got it to lose -- would open up the 205-pound division for him, doubling his list of potential opposition.
Red Ink: Kennedy-Souza
The ability of a fighter to train only part-time and still find a measure of success in MMA is sometimes seen as an incrimination of his goal. If the sport demands only a half-shift, how demanding could it possibly be?
An athlete can train for only so long in a day, though, and most fighters can survive on mid-tier prize purses only so far into the month before their stomachs begin to shrink. Nonetheless, someone completely devoted to a fight career is probably more promising than someone juggling multiple responsibilities, even if for no other reason than a psychological focus.
Kennedy has come a long way training while simultaneously pursuing a military career. The most interesting story of Saturday's Strikeforce card is how far he can go with a full-time devotion to the sport. He exceeded expectations in the spring by submitting Trevor Prangley in the first round, his first bout since he began wall-to-wall training. His style is busy, and while he's not outstanding in any one area, grit goes a long way.
How that will fare against the level of grappling offered by Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza is the question: Souza is a bear trap on the ground, a developing striker and just as eager to take the vacant middleweight title as Kennedy is. But for only the second time in Kennedy's career, it's a bout of one full-time professional against another.
Wild card: It's the first five-round bout for either fighter.
Who wins: A more dedicated Kennedy is going to be a problem in the later rounds for Souza, whose cardio conditioning isn't as reliable as his opponent's. Kennedy by upset decision.