The fighters and STRIKEFORCE CEO Scott Coker participated in a national media conference call on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming STRIKEFORCE: Henderson vs. Babalu event on Saturday, Dec. 4 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, MO., live on SHOWTIME® (10 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the West Coast).
Daley, an exciting British bomber, and Smith, a superb Muay Thai striker with tremendous one-punch knockout power, have a combined 42 victories. But only five of those wins have come via decision, and all five belong to Daley.
Lawler, a two-time world champ, is fighting back at his natural weight of 185 pounds after losing his last bout to former STRIKEFORCE world champion Renato “Babalu” Sobral at a catchweight of 195 pounds. The southpaw brawler will face MMA veteran Lindland, who was a silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
Mixed martial arts superstar Dan Henderson will take on Sobral at light heavyweight (205 pounds) in the main event. In other televised fights, football legend and unbeaten MMA fighter Herschel Walker will face determined heavyweight Scott Carson and former world heavyweight champion Antonio “Big Foot’’ Silva faces Valentijn “The Python’’ Overeem, the older brother of STRIKEFORCE heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem.
Here’s what the fighters and Coker had to say on Tuesday:
Lindland: “I’m glad to be back fighting for STRIKEFORCE, and last time I got in the ring it was in my hometown of Portland, Ore., in front of my hometown crowd and fans. This time I get to go in front of Robbie’s hometown, so I am looking forward to that. I am looking forward to fighting Robbie. He is a young, talented guy who has been in the sport as long as I have, so he has a ton of experience. He’s a very skilled fighter, and I am looking forward to the other fights on this card. I am a big fan of Paul, Henderson, Babalu, we’ve got some really exciting fights on this card, so I am glad to be a part of it.”
Q: How do you feel going into this fight to be fighting at 170 pounds for the first time, and what was behind your decision to move down to welterweight for this fight?
Smith: “A big part of the decision is that I have been lazy at getting away with making 185. I’ve been a little soft a couple of times. Fighting at 170 has forced me to diet and that has been the worst part of my training. Three weeks after my last night I was walking around at 189, but I didn’t think there was any reason that I couldn’t cut down to 170, so I’ve been walking around at about 185, eating a ton of healthy food. I think the cut should be good. I might be crying about it on the day of weight-ins but I don’t think there is any reason why I shouldn’t be fighting at 170.”
Q: Paul, talk about your decision to come to STRIKEFORCE as your new home and your thoughts on facing a guy with a game plan similar to yours?
Daley: “STRIKEFORCE has great fighters, and has put on awesome shows. The match making is great and I just want to be part of an exciting promotion. Scott is one of those guys that I used to watch back in the day, because of his game, he comes out and fights. He has that attitude that I admire and you know when he is in a fight it is going to be an exciting fight. The dude knocks people out, a man after my own heart. He likes to go in there and leave people lying on the floor, receiving oxygen. It is going to be a great fight. I have trained hard. I expect it to be a short but exciting fight.”
Q: What has been the root of your recent weight cutting issues?
Daley: “The times that I am missing weight, I think I am being a bit naïve where I am in regards to when I need to start my diet. I should be doing it way earlier, and my weight is down to about 178 right now, and everything has gone well. And for the past fights I have been flying out on Wednesdays before the fight due to my visa taking awhile and that was an issue. But I am not making any excuses this time and it will be much better.”
Q: Was there any reason in particular that you decided to drop to welterweight?
Smith: “It was the fact that I wasn’t walking around over 185 too much and I thought this would be a new exciting weight to boost my career. I was usually walking around at 200 because I could and then I would cut down a couple weeks before the fight. But right after my last fight I jumped back into training and didn’t allow myself to get out of shape – lifting, eating. I never got over 190 so I thought it would make sense to go down to 170. In order to cut weight I have someone who cooks and pre-packages my meals for me and I feel stronger now walking around at 185 than I did at 200.”
Q: Scott, could Robbie get the title shot if he beats Matt, and if so does it work the other way around as well?
Coker: “This fight is going to very important for the title contention for the 185 class. Matt has fought Jacare (Souza) and that was about a year ago, so we can revisit that. We will definitely be keeping our eye on it to monitor to see who wins and how he wins because of the fight that we want to put together for Jacare. This is definitely a fight that is right up there for the title contention.”
Q: Robbie and Matt, because there could be a title shot on the line is there more pressure?
Lindland: “I think all fights have the same amount of pressure, especially when you are playing at this caliber and fighting either a top contender or a champion or a former champion. It’s not necessarily about who wins or loses, it’s about putting on a good performance and fighting. I have never seen Robbie in a fight that wasn’t exciting, so I don’t plan on this being any different. I am looking forward to going out there and performing and kicking the shit out of Robbie.”
Lawler: “I am not too worried about what is happening after this fight. I am worried about training for Matt and going to get in there and doing my best.”
Q: What is up next for the winner of Smith/Daley?
Coker: “I think when people talk about our 170 weight class, obviously you know that Nick Diaz is our world title holder, and I think that this fight is going to have title contention, as far as who is going to fight for the title. Depending on the belt and where he’s at and who he is fighting but we have some plans for Scott or Paul. But you also in that weight class have to mention Evangelista. It will be interesting and this fight will help determine who goes where.”
Q: Paul, do you have any thoughts on your path to the title?
Daley: “Obviously first it’s Scott Smith and to get him out of the picture real quick and then really I just want to take these names that STRIKEFORCE has en route to the title or the people that I think are going to present me with the most challenge. Without being disrespectful to Cyborg or Mr. Coker, I don’t think that a fight with Cyborg is something that I am looking for at the moment. I would rather fight K.J. Noons, Nick Diaz straight away or Tyron Woodley, which is maybe not a bigger name but I respect him and I think a fight with him will not only be a challenge for me but it will be an exciting fight. But ideally I’d like to fight Noons after I knock out Scott Smith. It makes it a more fun fight because I respect Scott Smith, because I feel like I am familiar with them because I have watched a lot of their fights. I know how they operate and have a lot of knowledge on that person, rather than someone I don’t admire.”
Q: Scott, do you have goals of a title shot at 170?
Smith: “I just look for these exciting fights and a fight with Paul Daley is an exciting fight. That is more important to me that a title fight. I know when me and Daley fight we are going to put on a show and the fans are going to like watching. Those are the type of fights I look for.
Q: Robbie, have you had a chance to work with wrestlers to get ready for a guy like Matt?
Lawler: “I didn’t go down to Arizona this time because the gym wasn’t open, but I’ve been working on my wrestling as much as I’ve been working on all my other skills. I’ve trained hard for this fight and I look forward to it.”
Q: Matt, where do you feel like you fall in your career and your goals?
Lindland: “I think I am still one of the top contenders in this sport, a top 10 guy and of course I lost to a champion, Jacare, and I think this is a great path back to that title contention. A win against Robbie certainly solidifies me in that top 10. I just need to focus on this fight. I have been working on all aspects of my game, the standup, the ground, the wrestling, the submissions. Every bit of it. Robbie is a well rounded fighter and people categorize him as a big striker and a brawler, he knows how to fight on his feet. But he knows how to wrestle and he knows how to fight on the ground. So I have to be prepared for all aspects of the sport. Right now I am just focusing on coming in the best shape and being healthy. I have zero injuries, so no excuses going into this fight. I’m looking forward to it. I am very excited about this opportunity.”
Q: Scott, do you anticipate mainly a standup fight?
Smith: “I am definitely looking for a standup fight but this is mixed martial arts so I have to be prepared for anything. So I am working all aspects of my game, but I definitely plan on this being a slug fest.”
Q: Paul, what have you done to prepare yourself better for the ground game?
Daley: “I have just been training in all aspects. I have great coaches and just like with anything, when you learn something new, some people pick it up quick and some people pick it up not so quick and some people have a passion for it and some people don’t. I never had a passion for any of the ground work, but I am slowly getting a passion for it and its coming to me a lot quicker. So I am getting better and its something I have never stopped doing and I will continue to do.”
Q: Do you anticipate this fight being more standing or on the ground?
Lindland: “It is whoever can impose their will. If I had my way I would put Robbie on his back and pound a hole in his head and I’m sure Robbie would like to try to keep it on his feet and put me to sleep standing up. I think it’s really about who can impose their will.”
Lawler: “I except Matt to come out and be in my face and me to have a chance to hit him. I think he is a smart fighter. I don’t think he is just going to go in there and wrestle from the start. He’s been working on all his skills, so I am ready for a little bit of standup before he closes the distance.”
Q: Paul, Scott Smith is known for his come-from-behind wins, how much does that factor in?
Daley: “It is something I have looked at in his past fights. He’s had some crazy fights where he comes back Rocky style, but I am very good at finishing fights. When I hit people they stay hit. Both of us are knockout punchers, so from my point of view there has to be some caution to the way I approach things compared to the way I approach a standard fight. There are some tactics that I have been working on because of Smith’s fighting style. I have been working everything but I am slightly more cautious about working on other things when it comes to standup.”
Q: Scott, compare your preparation for Daley after fighting Cung Lee?
Smith: “The main thing with this training camp is that I have been able to spar a lot more. Due to injuries I haven’t really been able to spar the last couple of years, so I’ve spared more in the last three months than I have in the last two years. I am doing a lot of live sparring and wrestling, which makes me real confident going into this fight.”
Q: Describe what it’s like when you drop a guy during a fight.
Daley: “Just wining a fight is a relief, to go in there and see a guy laid out on his back means you have just got your paycheck and any knockout bonuses in your contact, and you’re about to go partying. I always expect a knockout so when I do finally land that punch and the guy is out on his back, it’s more relief, not a surprise.”
Smith: “It is a relief but it is also a surreal feeling. It’s something you trained so hard for for months and then one big punch and the fight is over. It’s a big relief and it’s time to go party now.”
Lawler: “It feels good. When you hurt someone you just have to go in there and look for the finish and get it done.
Q: Matt, describe the feeling when you submit a guy in a fight.
Lindland: “I am a little insulted because I have knocked some people out and the last guy I knocked out was Robbie’s teammate, Jeremy Horn, when I kicked him in the head and then punched him with a straight left. I do enjoy the ground game a lot and it is a technical aspect of the game, and I think subs happen better when you punish guys and I do like to impose my will and punish a guy and have him make a mistake. I like to hook guys and make sure that everyone sees that that guy is tapping out, and submitting not just to me but in front of the world. When I drop a guy it is more surprising, because I haven’t had as many knockouts as these other three guys that you are talking about. They go in there looking for the big punch and when I go in there and hit a guy or clip him and take him out it is a little more surprising because it’s not as frequent.”
Q: Matt, some people say athletically you are at a disadvantage to Robbie because he is younger and stronger, how are you going to deal with his explosiveness?
Lindland: “I think I am a little more experienced, wiser. I wouldn’t argue with people who say he is athletic, he’s got speed, he’s got power. I am going to have to use superior positioning, conditioning and just knowledge of the sport and put him in positions he is not comfortable with.”
Q: Matt, do you have the feeling that you need to change things up?
Lindland: “You lose and then you have to figure out why it happened and how you are going to improve, and that’s what I’ve done. If you lose and stay the same then you are not a smart fighter and should not be in this sport. After a loss I feel like I come back stronger from working on the aspects that were a part of my loss. I don’t want to talk about the little things, just know I trained hard and changed those aspects. There was no hesitation to face a grappling guy. I just want to fight and compete against the best.”
Q: Scott, facing a big striker like Daley have you been working on striking defense?
Smith: “Yes, definitely. I have a new boxing coach that I have been working with for a little while now and he’s been great for me. I haven’t had the opportunity to spar as much in the last two years but I have in the last two months and that makes a big difference. I know Paul is a very dangerous fighter and he’s definitely not a guy who you want to go in there and take shots from. So I have definitely worked on my defense.”
Q: You haven’t fought more than twice a year. Is that a conscious decision?
Lindland: “No it’s has been a little disappointing that I have not been able to compete as much and as frequently as I have in the past. It’s a change in companies and the irregularity, and there are a lot of fighters on the STRIKEFORCE roster. I have not gotten as many opportunities that I would have liked. I think that has contributed a lot to me taking the fight in the Challengers show, because there wasn’t a fight in the immediate future. So I wanted to get back in the ring and compete.”
Q: Scott, do you feel like this fight is made for you?
Smith: “Yeah, I think we are kind of made for each other. We are two guys who like to go banging and come at each other. I think this has a fight of the night potential. When I got the call to fight Paul Daley I got excited. I think this fight will be fun. I don’t think Daley is underestimating me. I think everyone on this card understands we are all tough, smart fighters and take everyone seriously.”
Q: Do you think you are going to have a tougher time taking Lindland to the ground than he thinks?
Lawler: “I don’t know how he thinks it is going to be but I have been working on my skills, my wrestling and I have been working on everything. I think you have to ask Matt how easy he thinks it will be. I think he thinks it will be tough and it will be.”
Lindland: “I think everything about this fight is going to be challenging. Robbie is a talented, well rounded fighter. I don’t see a ton of holes in his game. I just have to go out and impose my strength in the weaker parts of his game. That is really all it is, and I think there are going to be no surprises in this fight. It will just come down to who is can impose their will. I don’t think anything about fighting Robbie will be easy, and that is why I have prepared hard and trained great. Going into this fight I have no excuse but I am not overlooking any aspect of Robbie’s game.”