Lawler still has Strikeforce title hopes

LOS ANGELES – Strikeforce promoter Scott Coker made some unique stipulations for Wednesday night’s catch-weight main event between Renato “Babalu” Sobral and Robbie Lawler at the Nokia Theater.

Sobral, the former light heavyweight champion, cut to 195 pounds. Lawler, a top middleweight contender, moved up. The idea was that the winner would get a title shot in his normal weight division.

But after Sobral won a straight 29-28 decision, he indicated he would decline the title shot because of his friendship with current champion “King Mo” Lawal, and instead asked for a match with Dan Henderson.

“We talked about Babalu fighting for the championship and it’s something we’re going to sit down and talk about [more],” Coker said. “This was a good fight. He fought a smart fight. I know that they’re friends, but sometimes friends in this business have to get it on.”

Sobral (36-8), who dropped the title on Aug. 15 to Gegard Mousasi – who in turn lost to Lawal – said he wants to fight Henderson to even the score for a prior loss. That’s holding a long grudge, since Sobral’s controversial loss by decision to Henderson took place in 2000 in Japan.

Lawler (17-6, one no contest) may still be alive in the title chase, despite having lost two fights in a row.

Jake Shields holds the middleweight title, but his Strikeforce contract has expired and most expect he is UFC-bound. If Shields leaves, Coker said his title would be decided in an eight-man tournament, in which Lawler would almost surely garner a spot.

Lawler was frustrated Wednesday by the belief Sobral didn’t beat him. Yet he made tactical errors that caused the decision to go against him.

“I didn’t start fast enough,” Lawler said. “I gave away one or two takedowns I wish I would have gotten back. He caught me with some decent kicks. I felt good, but I left it in the judges’ hands and he got the decision. He fought well.”

The first round, which ended up spelling the difference, was close enough to have gone either way. Lawler did a little more damage with his punches, but Sobral got two takedowns. Sobral then won the second round solidly, connecting with several kicks, including one that hurt Lawler. Lawler entered the third round knowing he may have needed a big finish, but was unable to land enough key blows to put Sobral in any kind of serious trouble.

“I knew I did enough to win, but when you leave it in the hands of judges, anything can happen,” Lawler said. “The second round I might have lost. The first round I gave up a stupid takedown on the flying knee. I didn’t feel good because I left it in the hands of the judges. I could have done more.”

Lawler, a natural middleweight, was never overpowered by Sobral, a Jiu Jitsu specialist who also once medaled in the Pan American Games for Brazil as a wrestling heavyweight. In fact, Sobral looked a lot worse for wear when the fight was over. His face was bruised, and he didn’t appear at the post-fight news conference.

Lawler, with frustration evident in almost every word after the fight, tried to at least take solace that the night was a learning experience.

“Every fight’s a new lesson,” he said. “I needed to push things. I need to establish my jab. I fought a stupid fight in the first round. I was just loading up and I’m better than that.”

Strikeforce’s first Wednesday night show in its history was held in conjunction with the E3 convention going on in downtown Los Angeles and was part of a promotion for the soon-to-be-released EA Sports MMA video game.

A crowd of 5,259 fans, in a building that was about 90 percent full, paid $418,061 for a Showtime presentation with four televised matches.

In other fights, Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos (18-13), the husband of champion fighter Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, finished Marius Zaromskis (13-5) with punches on the ground in 2:38.

The loss had to be another disappointment for the Japanese Dream organization, which has pushed a series of matches against Strikeforce hard, only to have its champions look like anything but world-class competition.

Zaromskis, Dream’s welterweight champion, also lost in the first round Jan. 30 in Sunrise, Fla., to Strikeforce welterweight champ Nick Diaz.

Sgt. Tim Kennedy (12-2), taking time off from the U.S. Army special forces, finished gatekeeper Trevor Prangley (22-6-1) with a rear naked choke in 3:35.

“I’m in the greatest position in the world,” Kennedy said. “I’ve got support from the Texas national guard to train full-time. Before, I had to split between being a special-forces soldier and a professional fighter. I have no idea where my potential is. But this is better for me, and worse for my opponents.”

K.J. Noons (9-2), a pro boxer with strong takedown defense, also won Wednesday with a split decision over former college wrestler Conor Heun (8-4).

Noons, who beat Diaz in 2007 for the Elite XC lightweight title, has set lofty goals for himself.

“I want to win the title at 155,” he said. “I only want to fight one person at 170 [Diaz]. I want to fight him and win that title. Then I want to win a boxing title. People say I can’t do it, but I don’t know why not.”

Dave Meltzer covers mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Send Dave a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Jun 17, 2010