LOS ANGELES – Showtime Networks Inc. and world championship mixed martial arts (MMA) Event producer Strikeforce hosted a kickoff press conference Thursday to discuss their new relationship and the eagerly awaited April 11 fight card on Showtime (10 p.m. ET/PT).
Highlights from the press conference at the Avalon Hollywood included verbal insults between legendary MMA pioneer Frank Shamrock and talented MMA bad boy Nick Diaz, who will collide in the main event at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.
Conversely, Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Josh Thomson and Gilbert Melendez, who will square off in a rematch of their first all-action matchup, showed nothing but respect for each other’s ability and tenacity. Both are braced for a repeat performance, five-rounds of frantic and versatile MMA battle.
Strikeforce founder and CEO Scott Coker, in addition to putting a stamp on “a new era” for his respected MMA brand, also announced the main event of the next Strikeforce event to air on Showtime—Robbie Lawler vs. Jake Shields—coming in May. The matchup of EliteXC champions – Lawler was welterweight titleholder, Shields owned the lightweight belt – will be contested at a catch weight of 182 pounds.
Other fights confirmed for April 11 on Showtime: Benji Radach of Los Angeles faces Scott Smith of Sacramento at 185 pounds and Cris Cyborg of Brazil meets Japan’s Hitomi Akano in a women’s fight at 140 pounds.
Among the speakers Thursday were Ken Hershman, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Sports and Event Programming, Showtime Networks, Coker, Jim Goddard, the SVP of Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment, and fighters Shamrock, Diaz, Thomson, Melendez, Smith, Radach, Cyborg, Lawler and Shields.
What they had to say:
“This is going to be the new MMA 2.0. We’re starting over. We’ve been presenting boxing on Showtime for 20 years and we think boxing and MMA complement each other. The younger audience the MMA brings us will only help us add more viewers and ultimately subscribers.
“We’ve assembled the best announce team in the business—Gus Johnson, Stephen Quadros, Frank Shamrock, Mauro Ranallo and Pat Miletich. We feel like we have some incredibly compelling matchups. When Scott (Coker) mentioned the matchup of Frank (Shamrock) and Nick (Diaz) I said, ‘Done. Next.’
“Let’s move on to the next one.”
“Today is a great day for MMA, for Strikeforce and for Showtime. We are going to be able to put on some of the best fight matchups out there. We’ve been doing this for 24 years and we know what works. We know how to put on a successful martial arts show.
“An era has begun where every fighter gets into the cage to prove they are the best and where every fan can afford to participate. We have entered an era that will begin with two incredible matchups on April 11.”
“Someone asked me the other day how my comeback was going so I guess I’ve come back. I love fighting. I love this art. I want to thank Nick Diaz for the opportunity and just warn him that when I punch his head and he lands in the second row he’ll need someone to catch him.
“I’m not going to show a lot of things I have in the past. This time I’m just showing up to smash some people and make a few dollars.”
“Training has been going great and I am very happy with it. I am clear-headed and ready to fight.
“I feel I am the perfect candidate for this fight. Shamrock thinks he can beat guys with styles like me.
“I don’t care about the weight. I feel more energetic. My strength is great. I hit harder. I like this fight because I will be able to control what goes on when we’re on the ground.
“Frank can talk all he wants, but I’m going to beat him up. Let’s see how much he fights back.’’
“There is much more pressure on me this fight. There was no pressure when I fought him the last time; I was just the challenger.
“But now that I am Strikeforce champion, I have to work ever harder and be more prepared for anything and everything.
“I don’t feel I got the respect I should have after beating Gilbert. But that doesn’t bother me. As long as I know I am giving the fans what they want – and the fans know what they will get when I fight – then I am fine.
“Our second fight will really showcase our new skills, things people haven’t seen in the past. It will be more action-packed and fast-paced.
“Gilbert is someone I admire and I’m actually dreading this fight. I know it’s going to go for five rounds and will be full of action. There will be a lot of blood, sweat and tears shed to get ready for this fight but it’s going to be fun come April 11.’’
“It is definitely a great thing for me to have a chance to redeem myself for my only loss and to do it on Showtime is a dream come true. This fight will give both of us a lot of exposure.
“All I will say about our first fight is that Josh trained harder and was the better man that night.
“Losing is never a good thing, but you live and learn from experiences and that fight has made me train even harder. I did the best I could in our first fight, but I feel I am a better fighter now and will do better on April 11.
“This time, I am going to take it to him, dictate the pace and make him fight me. This time, I am going to fight my fight.’’
“I am very excited about this show and excited to be able to ride this new wave. This is going to be a great fight, one of the best of the night.
“I totally respect Benji. This will not be easy. I’ve changed a few things in my fighting.
“I’m trying not to get hit too much. People like to see fun fights and our fight will definitely be a fun fight to watch.’’
“He has been in a lot of wars but by no means do I think they have taken a toll on Scott. He is always is top shape and always comes to battle.
“My advantage is, I think I am faster and maybe a little better wrestler. My quickness is going to be key.
“But the bottom line is to be better and win the fight no matter where it goes.’’
CRIS “CYBORG” SANTOS
“It’s really exciting what Showtime has done for women’s MMA and I am proud that they want me back on their next show. I am not looking past my opponent, but the fighter I want is Gina Carano.
“People have been talking about us fighting so I think it is only a matter of time. I think we both want the fight and I know it is a fight the fans would love to see.
“I can’t wait for April 11 and I can’t wait to fight Gina Carano.’’
“Everybody knows I am always ready and willing to fight anybody, anytime, any place so I am just looking forward to getting out there and fighting.
“I might be bigger, but it sure doesn’t look it when we stand side by side. This will be my first fight since July but I’m always in the gym and I stay in shape. So I’ll be 100 percent.’’
“I am super excited about this fight and this opportunity. I’ve always wanted to fight the top level guys. That’s not to say the guys I’ve fought recently weren’t good fighters because they were.
“But Lawler is a high-profile fighter, a top-five middleweight. So this is a real challenge for me and a fight that has me highly motivated.
“I am very happy to be fighting on Showtime again. This is definitely going to be a great fight and I am super happy to be part of this. Strikeforce is going to be doing a lot of good things in the future.’’