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Strike Force: Evolution review
by Scott Newman (MMA)
Posted on January 13, 2010, 4:14 PM

Strike Force: Evolution

San Jose, California

-Your hosts are Mauro Renallo, Frank Shamrock and Stephen Quadros. They discuss the return of Cung Le with Shamrock being firmly concerned about his long layoff and cage rust, while Quadros talks about Strike Force’s big signings in 2009, going on to discuss Matt Lindland vs. Ronaldo Jacare, and the debut of King Mo. On a side note, whoever did Quadros’s makeup for this show REALLY screwed up as his face practically looks plastic.

Heavyweight Fight: Muhammed ‘King Mo’ Lawal vs Mike Whitehead

One of the hottest free agents on the market due to his impressive wrestling background and ridiculous athleticism, ‘King Mo’ Lawal had debuted in MMA in September 2008 with a KO win over veteran Travis Wiuff, and had since put together a further four wins, three by TKO. He’d ended up signing with Strike Force in mid-2009, as their contract would still allow him to fight in Japan to gain more experience. This was his debut for the company and opponent Whitehead was seen as probably his toughest test to date, particularly as this was at Heavyweight and Whitehead was tipping the scales at about 260lbs while Mo’s natural weight is 205lbs. Personally though I’ve never rated Whitehead highly and despite the size difference, I expected King Mo to smash him.

We get underway and Mo circles on the outside as Whitehead keeps a low stance and throws out some strikes. Weak shot by Whitehead is easily stuffed by Mo, and he lands with a looping left hook as Mike comes forward. Whitehead shoots for the takedown again but once more King Mo stuffs it. Mo looks ridiculously relaxed here, dropping his hands and not worrying about Whitehead’s stand-up at all. Decent right hand from Whitehead and he follows with a pair of low kicks. Crowd begin to get restless as little is happening in the stand-up, and Mo continues to wing looping punches at his larger opponent. Couple more low kicks for Whitehead as Mo pops out a jab. Whitehead throws some more kicks, but King Mo counters with a BIG RIGHT HOOK that drops him! Whitehead looks in trouble and King Mo takes over, delivering some big punches from the top that stiffen the big man up. Word.

Post-fight things get a bit silly as King Mo decides to pull the Stone Cold Steve Austin celebration by bashing two cans of Rock Star energy drink together and spraying them all over the cage. Entertaining stuff, but it didn’t pay off in the end for Mo as he got fined by the California State Athletic Commission as the drink made the mat in the cage slippery, apparently. Quadros then asks him what weight he’d prefer to fight at, and Mo answers by saying he’s at “Moneyweight”, which I guess means he doesn’t mind. That’s smart actually as Strike Force, outside of Gegard Mousasi who is way too experienced for him at this stage, has no top 205lbers and so he’d be better off knocking off mid-level Heavyweights to build some more experience before either going to the UFC to face the top guys at 205lbs – unless some of them are in Strike Force at that stage of course.

Fight wasn’t anything special but boy was the finish vicious. Mo packs some serious power into his punches and Whitehead was knocked silly by the last one that landed. At any rate, this was a good win for the prospect, although I don’t think it was as good as some people (Dave Meltzer) made out because I don’t think Whitehead is nearly as good as some make out. Still, a win is a win and even though he’s not polished yet, King Mo is clearly one of the top prospects in the world right now.

-Jen Brown joins Lightweight champ Josh Thomson for an interview, and he tells us that he’s fully recovered from his injury now and is ready for the rematch with Melendez.

Middleweight Fight: Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza vs Matt Lindland

This was a very interesting fight as Jacare had joined Strike Force from DREAM and was given the chance to immediately position himself as the top contender for Jake Shields’ 185lbs title if he could beat perennial contender Lindland here in a rematch of their grappling match at Abu Dhabi that saw Jacare tap ‘The Law’ with an armbar. Lindland hadn’t fought since his devastating knockout loss to Vitor Belfort at January’s Affliction show, and in my opinion this was a horrible match for him – Jacare’s light years ahead of him on the ground and he isn’t the best striker – so I couldn’t see him having much success here either.

Round One begins and Lindland actually throws a couple of kicks, but his striking looks as stiff as ever and Jacare pops him with some straight punches that land pretty flush. Brief clinch is shrugged off by Jacare and the Brazilian lands with another straight right. High kick misses for Jacare and Lindland grabs onto a bodylock and transitions to a rear waistlock, but somehow Jacare muscles out and breaks with a right. Whoa, did not expect that. Good leg kick from Jacare and he continues to land punches practically at will. Big right lands for Jacare and Lindland goes for a takedown and this time manages to drag the BJJ ace to the mat. Lindland attempts to roll through to take the back, and then ends up on top in guard, but right away Jacare gets his hips up and goes for an armbar. It looks locked up, but rather than try to finish it he uses it to transition to an oma plata. Man, Lindland is being clowned here. Punches to the head from Jacare as Lindland’s trapped in the oma plata, but Lindland does a good job of rolling through to escape, and then surprisingly goes for an oma plata of his own. Jacare easily avoids that though, and ends up on top in Lindland’s guard. Jacare works to pass and then stands over him and drops a DIVING BACKFIST!~! This gets him into side mount and from there he locks up an arm triangle choke and passes out to the side to force the tapout.

Man, so I expected Jacare to win, but I did not expect to see him do it in such effortless fashion. I mean, Jacare fought a guy by the name of Ian Murphy in DREAM last year, a wrestler making his debut in MMA, and he tooled him. Lindland has been a contender at 185lbs since like, 2002, and yet Jacare toyed with him just as badly as he did with Ian Murphy, which is unbelievable. Yes, if we’re being honest, Lindland was always overrated by the hardcore online crowd and he was never a truly well-rounded fighter, but still, his sheer tenacity and wrestling skill make him a tough match for most fighters (although pushing 40 now, he may be on his way out) and so to blow through him in this fashion is very impressive. If I were Strike Force I’d look to do Jacare vs. Jake Shields for the 185lbs belt next, with new signing Dan Henderson facing Gegard Mousasi at 205lbs, but it looks like they’re doing Henderson-Shields instead, so where that leaves Jacare I don’t know. Whatever is in the future for him, I’m excited to see it.

-Jen Brown interviews Cung Le backstage, who tells her that his goals for this comeback are just to get through and win this fight. Also damn, it does not feel like 21 months since Le-Shamrock.

Strike Force World Lightweight Title: Josh Thomson vs Gilbert Melendez

This fight had been brewing for ages, as Thomson first shut out Melendez over five rounds in June 2008 to take the title, but then ended up breaking his leg training for the rematch and had to pull out about three times before they could finally set the fight up for this show. The first fight had been great, but I just saw Thomson as a bad match stylistically for Melendez, as he’s more of a technical striker and has the ground game to nullify Gilbert there too, so ring rust notwithstanding, I thought we’d probably see a re-run of the first fight with Thomson winning another hard-fought decision. Crowd seem pretty split which is surprising as I thought they’d be firmly behind the Punk.

Opening round and Thomson pushes forward, but Melendez lands the first strike – a hard leg kick. They circle and Thomson lands a glancing left high kick before they trade off with some punches. Takedown attempt from Melendez is stuffed. Good leg kick from Gilbert but Thomson grabs the leg and takes him down, then grabs a front facelock as Melendez scrambles up. They break off and Thomson lands a good combo, but Melendez stays in the pocket and it’s a SHOOTOUT with both men landing! They slow down for a moment and now Melendez stalks forward, but the champ lands with a low kick and a combination. Jab sets up a single leg for El Nino, but Thomson manages to block it again, eating a right hand on the way out though. Good leg kick from Melendez. Gilbert’s using the jab well here, too. Leg kick from Thomson. Another trade follows and this time Melendez lands the better shots, mixing in a leg kick too. This is a great round. Striking exchange continues with Thomson landing a body kick, and the round ends with another wild trade. Close round to score but I’m going with Josh Thomson by a hair, 10-9.

Into the 2nd and they circle before Thomson lands with a body kick. He tries it again, but this time Gilbert counters with a BIG RIGHT HAND that drops the Punk! Thomson pops up quickly and looks to shoot, but Melendez avoids it and Thomson somehow looks recovered quickly. Jab from Melendez and Thomson slips to the ground for a second but pops back up. Melendez looks really aggressive now as both men trade off and land some good shots. The pace here is incredible. Right hand lands for Melendez from close range, but he adds an inadvertent knee to the groin and Thomson spins away in pain, causing referee Josh Rosenthal to call for time. They restart and Melendez continues to push forward. Pair of hard body kicks land for Thomson. Wild trade follows before Thomson stuffs a single leg attempt. They circle off and Melendez catches a kick attempt and lands a right and then looks to trip him down, before landing a knee that forces the Punk into the cage. Now it looks like Thomson’s going for a takedown, but Melendez defends the single leg and breaks with a knee and a right hand. Heavy leg kick from Melendez as Thomson steps forward. Beautiful left body shot from Thomson and then he hurts El Nino with a one-two! Thomson looks to follow up and it draws a MAD BRAWL with both men standing in the pocket swinging! Good lord. HEAVY PUNCHES drop Thomson like a ton of bricks though, and now he’s forced to go to guard as Melendez pounds away looking for the finish! Thomson manages to recover and tie him up, looking to use the rubber guard, and he manages to survive the round. Incredible round with an even more incredible ending. Melendez takes it for landing the harder shots and the knockdown emphasised that.

We’re all even going into the third, but you have to wonder if Thomson’s still hurt after that knockdown. We get underway and Thomson pushes forward with some kicks, including a couple of front kicks, but Melendez answers with a solid leg kick of his own that looks to have Thomson a little hurt. Combination from El Nino follows as his striking looks hugely improved from the wild attack it used to be. Thomson continues to push forward though, and he lands a glancing spinning back kick to the midsection. Jab and leg kick land perfectly for Melendez, answered instantly by a leg kick from Thomson. Nice combo from Thomson but Melendez counters off his jab nicely and lands a right hand. Brief clinch is broken by a Melendez knee. Good bodyshot from the challenger. Another leg kick lands and seems to wobble Thomson a little. Both men fire out some jabs but Melendez looks like the harder puncher as he wobbles Thomson with an overhand right. Looks like he might’ve been off balance though. Leg kick from Melendez sees both men go down, but they come up quickly. Ha, I wonder if they’re slipping on King Mo’s Rock Star drink? Thomson continues to push forward throwing combinations, but Melendez is leaving himself much less open than he once did, and the Punk isn’t really landing. Nice front kick lands for Thomson though. Takedown attempt from the Punk but Melendez sprawls, and hops on one leg as Josh looks to complete the single. Takedown is stuffed and they break off. Melendez goes back to working the left jab, and he uses it to set up another heavy leg kick that ends the round. 10-9 for Melendez and he looks to be pulling away now leading into the championship rounds.

Round Four begins with Melendez looking to jab again as Thomson fires off with some kicks. Good body kick from Thomson but a crescent kick misses wildly. Takedown attempt from Thomson but Melendez stuffs it. A second attempt is more successful, but Melendez manages to explode to his feet and we get another trade-off with neither man really gaining an advantage. Thomson is the aggressor here but Melendez is countering off him like I never expected he could. Jab and leg kick combo again land for Gilbert. Leg kick for Thomson but Melendez backs him up with a combo. Leg kick into a one-two land for Melendez and Thomson looks to brawl again, but this time Gilbert backs up. Thomson continues to stalk forward, but walks into another combo before Gilbert catches a kick and looks to sweep Josh down. Thomson ends up on all fours and then escapes to his feet, and now he’s really pushing the action. Front kick to the midsection lands for him but he can’t seem to get off on the big shots. Nice body shot lands for Thomson but Melendez fires right back with a combo. Uppercut lands for Thomson but Melendez is walking through these shots and landing heavier ones of his own. Knee from Melendez, answered by a body kick from Thomson. They exchange and it looks like Thomson got poked in the eye. Ref calls time with twelve seconds to go in the round. Thomson recovers and they restart, but the round ends before any action. 10-9 for Melendez again and I think Thomson needs a stoppage to win now. This has been one hell of a fight.

Fifth and final round and it looks like Thomson knows he needs a finish as he comes out pushing the pace. Takedown attempt is easily stuffed but Thomson lands with a right hand. Furious exchange follows with neither landing flush, and Thomson is looking desperate now as he swings for the fences. Melendez tags him with a right and a knee to slow him down a little, but he keeps on swinging and this fight is AWESOME. Good lord. Now they’re just THROWING DOWN WITH RECKLESS ABANDON and Thomson is swinging with everything he has. What a fight. Melendez still seems to be packing more power, though, and an overhand right drops Thomson and now Melendez pounces to finish! Thomson manages to recover again though and ties him up from the guard, and as Thomson tries to scramble up Melendez pins him into the fence. They come back to their feet and it’s ANOTHER SHOOTOUT! How these guys are still keeping this pace I do not know. Left body kick and right hand from Thomson as Melendez continues to work the jab. Spinning kick to the body from Thomson and a knee to the body follows before Thomson gets a takedown to mount! Melendez scrambles and almost gives his back, but then escapes to his feet. Crowd are going APESHIT at this point, as are the announcers, and quite rightfully so. And with seconds to go they’re STILL swinging! UNBELIEVABLE. Fight finally ends there. Whew. Post-fight the announcers are obviously giving them a standing ovation as are the crowd.

We’re going to the judges and I think this is Gilbert Melendez’s decision. Scores are 49-47, 49-46 and 49-46, making Gilbert Melendez your NEW Strike Force World Lightweight Champion. This was, in my opinion, the best performance of Gilbert’s career thus far as after slowly developing it against Rodrigo Damm and Mitsuhiro Ishida, he finally came out with a fully matured game here, dropping the whirling dervish act that he’d used in his earlier fights with Kawajiri, Obiya, et al and using a smarter striking game to lull Thomson in, basically picking him apart in the end. It looked to me like Thomson just couldn’t deal with Melendez the counterpuncher as opposed to Melendez the Tasmanian Devil, and the jab-leg kick combo really worked for him. Still, Thomson never gave up for a second, and his aggression made for an unbelievable fight. This was a pure classic from start to finish and I’d rank it as the third best fight of 2009, behind Condit-Ellenberger and Sanchez-Guida. Amazing stuff and I would pay a lot of money to see a third fight between the two.

-Jen Brown introduces Strike Force’s new signings, Dan Henderson and Bobby Lashley, talking to Lashley first who promises all business and says he didn’t come here to play around. Well, that’s all well and good but if he wants to make a real dent in MMA I think he needs to quit the TNA rubbish now. Henderson actually gets a far bigger reaction than Lashley, and he tells us that he’s coming in at 185lbs and he’s excited to be a part of Strike Force. He even says he doesn’t know why people keep talking about him fighting Fedor, but he’d do it if it came to it. I could think of worse fights for the Russian to be fair.

Middleweight Fight: Cung Le vs Scott Smith

I really didn’t get this matchmaking if I’m honest – not so much Le fighting Smith, more that Strike Force only stripped Le of his title a month earlier. If they knew he was coming back in December why not match him with Jake Shields for the belt then? Anyhow, forgetting that, I saw this as another bit of smart matchmaking from Strike Force to protect Le, as once again he was faced with a striker probably not as good as himself technically, meaning we’d most likely see another Le highlight win.

We’re underway and the crowd are already chanting “CUNG LE!” like Bloodsport. Well, that was Chong Li but you get my drift. Smith comes out chasing him with punches but takes a spinning kick to the midsection and then a regular one in the same area. High kick narrowly misses for Le and then he throws another flashy side kick. Body kick and spinning crescent kick glancingly land. MASSIVE spinning back kick actually drops Smith and Le crouches over him to drop some punches, but you can tell he’s not a big ground-and-pound guy as he had a chance to put Smith away there and missed the opportunity. Smith gets to guard, and takes a few hammer fists but they’re not doing too much damage. Finally Smith manages to get to his feet, eating a knee on the way out. Smith tries to swing with his right hand, but he gets caught off balance and a spinning crescent kick knocks him down again. Man, he really took a tumble there. Le settles into the half-guard though and again does very little, allowing Smith to scramble to his feet. High kick lands for Le but Smith shrugs it off somehow. Spinning kick misses this time. Lunging right hand almost lands for Smith but Cung just dodges. Again the spinning back kick connects with the body, sending Smith back towards the cage ala Matt Hughes in the first fight with GSP. Crowd are loving this. Good left hook from Le and he follows with a nice low kick. Smith clinches and forces him into the cage to end the round. Well, that was something.

Smith pushes forward to begin the 2nd but takes the spinning kick to the body again, a glancing blow this time. More kicks follow for Le and he lands two particularly nasty leg kicks. Left hand into the spinning back kick drops Smith for a third time, but again Le fails to follow up, allowing Smith to get full guard and then doing very little from the position. Odd moment follows as Smith grips the wrists, so Le sort of grabs a strangle choke that doesn’t work. For a striker Le’s ground-and-pound is pretty bad. Finally Big John McCarthy calls the stand-up, and Smith comes in swinging a flurry, but Cung avoids and uses his kicks to keep the distance again. Smith clinches and forces him into the fence, where an attempted trip misses for Le. Little happens as they jockey for position and now Smith breaks with a good uppercut. Cung clinches again, forcing Smith to the fence, but Scott comes back with an elbow inside. Round ends with Smith breaking with a flurry.

Le comes out for the third throwing kicks again, and right away a spinning crescent kick to the head has Smith hurt again. He looks to follow with another one but this time it glances off. Smith is in trouble as he takes some more kicks, but somehow he’s still in this fight. Shamrock, I must add, is coming off like an ass on commentary, saying Le’s strikes “don’t hurt”. No Frank, they only break arms. Smith stalks forward, desperately looking to walk Cung down, but Le avoids the haymakers. Now Le closes in and lands some combinations before hitting him with a spinning backfist. Now Le shoots for a takedown and almost gets a HUGE slam, but the fence gets in the way somewhat and allows Smith to remain on his feet. Cung continues to keep Smith at bay with his strikes, and manages to avoid a flurry along the fence. Suddenly though Smith steps forward....and DECKS HIM WITH A LEFT! Le gets to his feet, but gets tagged by some more power punches and he’s OUT ON HIS FEET! HOLY SHIT. Another right puts Le down and it’s ALL OVER!~!

Jesus Christ. NOBODY does a comeback quite like Scott Smith. Nobody! To be fair, Cung Le was dominating this fight up until this point, but he didn’t capitalize and finish Smith when he had the guy hurt – his ground-and-pound was pretty poor – and when you have a guy with the heart and chin of Scott Smith, who also carries the equalizer in one-hit knockout power, you can’t afford to be messing around trying so much flashy stuff constantly. This was a bit of an exposing for Le in a way as although he was dominating, he showed a pretty bad ground game and although he’s exciting and carries sick power in his hands, Smith isn’t a top contender at 185lbs or anything. I think the hype around him – which, let’s be fair, was built with fights against stylistically good opposition – is probably gone now, which will lead him back to his movie career. And more power to him. Really exciting fight though regardless!

-Announcers wrap up the night’s action and we get a highlight package to close us out.

Final Thoughts....

Well, any show with a fight as good as Melendez-Thomson would be worth an easy thumbs up, but throw in an exciting main event like Le-Smith and two solid if one-sided matches in Mo-Whitehead and Jacare-Lindland, and you’ve not only got the best Strike Force show of 2009 but one of the best MMA shows of 2009 period. Like with some of the WEC shows and UFN 19, the only thing letting it down is the fact that it’s only four fights long, but how can you complain about fights of this quality? Highest recommendation for Evolution.

Best Fight: Melendez-Thomson
Worst Fight: King Mo-Whitehead

Overall Rating: ****1/2

Coming Soon....

UFC: 103-107, Fight Night 20
WEC: 45 and 46
King of the Cage: Various shows

Until next time,

Scott Newman:

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