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“Strikeforce: Lawler vs. Shields” conference call highlights

On Tuesday, May 26th, Showtime in association with Strikeforce held a media conference call in anticipation of their upcoming June 6th event entitled “Strikeforce: Lawler vs. Shields” which will be held at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri and will air live on the Showtime premium cable network.

Fighters participating in the conference call were Andrei Arlovski and Brett Rogers, who will face each other and Scott Smith who will be fighting Nick Diaz on the card. Strikeforce Director of Communications Mike Afromowitz also participated in the call.

The following quotes are highlights from the conference call:

OPENING COMMENTS:

Brett Rogers: “Things are great. I’m just getting ready for next week. This is definitely going to be a step up in class. Arlovski has been in the game for quite some time. He has plenty of experience. Those are the type of fighters I’m trying to fight from here on out. For me, now, it’s about building respect. I feel like I don’t have it, so fighting Arlovski is going to be a fun and challenging event on June 6.’’

Scott Smith: “I’ve been real fortunate the past year to be given great opponents to put on exciting fights. This is just one of those fights. Nick is a top pound-for-pound fighter in the world in my eyes. He is the kind of fighters I want. I don’t want to fight a C-class fighter. I’m going to use everything I got beat him.

“This is a very exciting card. I’m glad to be a part of it. This is definitely the best MMA card of the year. This will be my third fight on SHOWTIME. They do a great job of producing the fights. I’m excited to be fighting on SHOWTIME again. I’m ready to go.’’

Andre Arlovski: “I’m very excited about this fight. I’m looking forward to fighting Brett Rogers June 6.”

QUESTIONS:

What kind of fight do you expect this to be with Nick?

Smith: “I plan on keeping this fight standing. I think he is going to try to take me apart. He’s a more technical fighter than I am. He’s going to want to take this fight to the ground. His best chance of winning is getting it to the ground. I’m going to use my sprawl and brawl technique.”

What was your thought process in approaching (accepting) this fight?

Smith: “I wasn’t asking to jump in right away, but I’m definitely healthy enough to jump in and fight. I have a tendency after fights to get out of shape. When I start my training camps, half of the camp is just getting myself back into shape. Although I did get banged up in the Benji (Radach) fight, I stayed in great shape. I started training three days after it. The key to me is cardio, especially fighting a guy like Nick, who has excellent cardio. My cardio is terrific so I’d rather take the fight this close to my previous one even though it was a war. I got cut, I got stitches in my eye and lip, but that’s all healed up. You have a potential to get cut no matter what. I wasn’t going and asking for a fight but I’m glad I accepted it.’’

How do you evaluate Diaz’ striking skills?

Smith: “I think people don’t give him enough credit. He has a lot more power than what it seems. He just does a good job of picking people apart and setting up the power punches. I’m definitely not underestimating his power at all. I’ve definitely had to change up a few things in my technique to train for Nick.’’

What are your thoughts on being offered this big step up in opposition?

Rogers: “I’m at that point in my training where I have a great gym now. We have top coaches. I’m doing everything I need to do to take on top fighters. Once I got the phone call and Arlovski was set in stone, I was excited. I remember watching this guy at a younger age and thinking, ‘man I get to take on someone like= that?’ He’s an explosive guy; he likes to move around. It’s definitely going to be a challenge, but nothing I don’t think I can handle. He’s big, slimmer guy. He likes to move, he likes to be quick and move his hands. I’m kind of mellow with the fighting stance, so it’s definitely going to be me taking my time and controlling the fight.’’

Does it hold special significance because of who you’re fighting?

Rogers: “I’m not going to allow myself to get caught up in it. I’m pushing aside everything. Back in the day, I was more a fan. I’ve just been pushing that all out of my head and looking at different fighters as fighters. Arlovski is just one out of a few people I’m aiming at. I’m just going to go out there and just fight. Just do what I do. I love doing it. It’s a fun sport, it’s growing. There’s lots of money in it. I just can’t complain and I can’t wait.’’

How long have you been training full time as a fighter?

Rogers: “Pretty much (since) after the Abongo (Humphrey) fight. That was pretty much my retirement from the working world. Now, I have great coaches — top wrestling coaches, top Muay Thai coaches, boxing, everything. My gym has some of everything.

“We haven’t really had the chance to show off yet, so hopefully Arlovski pushes me to that point where I have to do something and do something different.’’

How long have you been training for this fight — after planning on fighting Alistair Overeem?

Rogers: “I was hoping someone would bring that up. I thought I was fighting him, but I got this one about three weeks ago. It’s cool because, the way I see it, it’s actually going to be a better fight than the one with Overeem would have been. With Overeem, we might have ended up on the ground and did all that up-and-down stuff. With Arlovski, he likes to stand and bang and I like to do that too. This is going to make for a better fight. I was putting in some time for Overeem. Then he wanted to act like a fool. He’s a pro fighter and he wanted to act like a fool. That’s on him. I’m moving onto bigger and better. I’m getting this fight. I’ll knock Arlovski out and hopefully move on to somebody better. I’m trying to get into that top-10 ranking. This isn’t going to be forever so I need to make my move like right now when I’m healthy.’’

How do you feel you did in you last fight with Humphrey and what adjustments are you making going into this fight?

Rogers: “More condition and a little more control. I definitely want to control this fight. Arlovski is a lighter heavyweight. He’s really light on his toes, so I’m definitely working on more control and conditioning.’’

Can you talk about the pressure that was involved with the Abongo fight?

Rogers: “You can pull anyone from the street and tell them you’re going to get ‘x’ amount of money, you’re definitely going to feel that pressure that you’ve got to get out there and do whatever. I went into that fight with that kind of mindset. I knew a small amount of his background and I wasn’t going to give him a small chance of doing anything. That’s when I decided just to clog whatever he wanted to do and just stay up on him.

“I just went in there, clogged his stuff and did what I needed to do. There was too much money riding on it. If I didn’t win that fight, I’d still be working. I feel like I’m still in the same situation with the Arlovski fight. If I move forward, it’s great, but if I don’t I’ve got a problem. He’s just another man. He walks around with vampire teeth; he’s supposed to be a monster. We’ll, I’m a monster too. I like to go in there and just hurt. That’s all I want to do. I don’t want to do anything else. None of that soft tacky stuff … just hurt.’’

How do you grade Arlovski?

Rogers: “I give his standup a high rank because he does like to use his hands. He can move his head really good. He has a nice right, I’ll give him that. But, as far as anything else go, there isn’t anything that would make me nervous. I’m just the type of fighter that likes to control the pace. I’m going to be the heavier fighter. I’m sure he’s going in around 250. I’m always on top of the weight. I just have to stand and bang with him. That’s all I can do, really. If he gets real careless or real crazy I might have to just check him and bang him around the ring a little bit and try to calm him down. I’m not going into this fight to try and be bouncey-bouncey with him.’’

Do you need to change your style for Rogers?

Arlovski: He’s obviously a very good striker so I think this is going to be an interesting fight for the fans. He likes to strike, I like to box.’’

Is there pressure on you to win this fight?

Arlovski: Yeah, there’s pressure because I lost my last fight. I’m just focused right now on my fight against Rogers on June 6. All my trainers are very excited for the fight.’’

Do you fear anything about Rogers?

Arlovski: Of course. This is the heavyweight division. He’s a good fighter and he’s 9-0. He’s not a joke. He’s a good= striker. He’s going in about 25 pounds heavier than me. He has a longer reach than me. So, of course, I have to correct my fighting style specifically for him.’’

Do you feel your only way of winning is by a knockout?

Rogers: “I won’t say it’s my only way of winning. First and foremost that’s going to be the first thing I go for. If it comes down to us turning around on the ground, I feel safe with the Jiu-Jitsu game. I know he has a background in that, but he’s just another man. It’s just another day in the gym, except we’re going 100 percent. Hopefully, he’s not sleeping on that.’’

What weaknesses in Rogers’ game do you see?

Arlovski: “If it goes to the ground, I have a chance to do something with my fists. He’s a good fighter so I’m taking him very seriously.’’

Scott, what does a win over Nick Diaz do for you? Does it lead you to Cung Le or a rematch with Robbie Lawler?

Smith: “I would think it’s one of the two. The 185-pound weight class is the most stacked weight class in Strikeforce. But the champion is not fighting and we have to do something about that. I definitely think I am in line for one of the top fights, but I do understand timing is everything. Lawler’s last two fights were against me. I have won two fights since then. I do understand if I have to wait in line and wait my turn.’’

Are you 100 percent physically and mentally after such a grueling bout two months ago?

Smith: “I’m way healthier now than I was going into the Radach fight. I had a pretty tough knee injury and I could not even do Jiu-Jitsu or wrestling practice going in. I think part of the reason why I was so flat-footed was because I was so worried about the take down. I’m doing hardcore Jiu-Jitsu now. The knee is completely fine. This is the best shape I’ve been in for a fight and I’m healthy and ready to go.’’

Do expect Nick to stand mostly or do you think he’ll try to take it to the ground?

Smith: “If he’s smart he’s going to try to get it to the ground. That’s where he has the advantage. But I think he’s going to go out there and bang with me. I’m ready for everything. I just have to worry about what I do best and control the fight and not wait for him. If I wait for him, he’s going to pick me apart.’’

Were you surprised by the result of Nick’s fight with Frank Shamrock?

Smith: “I really did think Shamrock was going to be the bigger, stronger fighter. I remember when we had the press conference that Diaz was saying how Shamrock was too small for him and it kind of threw me for a loop. I think it was combination of Shamrock looking a little beat up and Diaz picked him apart. He fought a good fight. But I was a little surprised with the domination.’’

What are your thoughts on Benji Radach’s appeal?

Smith: “As far as the appeal, I think it’s pretty unfortunate and kind of taking away from what was such a great fight. Win or lose, it was a great fight for both of us. He looked great until he got caught in the end. I think he’s kind of taking away from that. I don’t think anything is going to happen with this appeal. He is just trying to reassure a rematch down the road. That fight was such a great fight; we need a rematch no matter what. That’s kind of unfortunate though.

“With the appeal saying he wasn’t knocked out, and I hit him with an illegal strike to the back of the head. Yes I did, but not intentionally. If a guy is lying on the ground face down and able to get hit in the back of the head then the fight should be stopped. If he’s lying face down not even able to see a blow coming, then the fight needs to be stopped. I dropped him and I knew he was hurt obviously. I went in for the kill and I didn’t know he was knocked out with his face down and I unfortunately accidentally hit him in the back of the head.’’

Are you anticipating a first-round knockout?

Smith: “I’m definitely anticipating a knockout. I’ll be going for it in the first round. (But) whether it is in the first, second, or third, it doesn’t matter to me … as long as the fight doesn’t go the distance.’’

Do you respect the middleweight champion (Cung Le) even though he is not defending his belt?

Smith: “He’s a champion. I know he’s busy and he has things going on. But we’ve got to do something. Maybe get (a fight for) an interim belt. We can’t just sit around and wait forever, especially after this card. There’s going to be some guys deserving of that title. He’s definitely the champion, he’s unbeaten, and hopefully I’ll be the champ someday to test myself against him.’’

What did you learn in your last fight?

Arlovski: “When I fought Fedor (Emelianenko), I didn’t follow my game plan. I just went through the fight. Like all my trainers told me, you have to follow your game plan.’’

A lot of people say you’re only as good as your training partners. Who have you been training with as you get ready for this fight?

Rogers: “I’ve just been training with my same old team. I’ve been good so far so hopefully it takes me to the next level with Arlovski. We’re still working on trying to build a camp to get more pro fighters. I’ve just been more concerned with speed and working with guys with a lot of speed — especially fighting a guy like Arlovski who’s going to want to move around a lot. I guess if you’re going to play it like that, just keep in mind that I’m still undefeated and I still plan on being that way after June 6.’’

Who is it that you have your eye on in the heavyweight division?

Rogers: “I did have my mind set on that belt. I was kind of concentrating on that. So whenever Overeem heals, I’m going to go for that. Pretty much I want to fight anybody people say are better than me. I’ll fight Overeem, I’ll fight Arlovski, I’ll fight Fedor. I’ll fight whoever is up there. I’m going for all the top-10 guys in the heavyweight division.’’

It’s been a long time since (Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair) Overeem fought for Strikeforce. Are you going to draw a line with him saying you have to fight by this time or else we’re putting another title out there?

Mike Afromowitz: “The thing is, we’re expecting Alistair to return by the end of the summer, or mid-summer, so it’s really not an issue at this point. But we can revisit that if something comes up again or he is unable to defend his title by late August. As of right now, we are planning his return and he’s 100 percent confident that he’ll be back in time. The injury he sustained was unfortunate. It was some kind of infection in his hand. He was in New York a few weeks ago promoting the fight and all of a sudden that happened. It’s unfortunate; we were looking forward to having him return. But we are confident that he will be back by August.’’

What is the status of Arlovski? Is he going to continue to fight for Strikeforce or is this a one time deal?

Afromowitz: Andrei, we’d love to have him return. We can’t really go into dialogue about it right now. Andrei is a great fighter and we’re looking forward to having him fight on this card and hopefully we’ll see about the future.’’

The Rogers-Overeem fight was for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Title, correct?

Afromowitz: “Correct.’’

What is the likelihood of the winner of the June 6 Arlovski-Rogers facing Overeem?

Afromowitz: “There are a lot moving parts there depending on the winner. It’s definitely a possibility, but there are a lot of moving parts. We’d have to revisit where Andrei is at if he wins. If Brett wins and he’s healthy, it’s definitely a possibility. Right now, we’re focused on this fight and we’ll see what happens. But either fighter skill-wise could easily challenger Alistair for the title.’’

Is Alistair a fight you still want?

Rogers: “Definitely, man. He holds the best, so whenever he’s healthy I’m waiting for it.’’

How did the 180-pound catch weight come about for the Diaz-Smith fight?

Afromowitz: “It’s something both fighters agreed upon. Nick has fought at lower weights before and he’s big for the weights he’s fought at. I’m not really sure as far as he is concerned. He might be gradually moving up in weight. He’s naturally big for 170 or even a 179-pound fighter, which was (the weight for) his last fight. This could be a sign of his decision to fight at 185. As far as the fight right now, to make it happen we had to do it at 180 pounds. Scott obliged and he came off his last fight very healthy. The circumstances allowed it to be at the catch weight of 180 pounds.’’

Was it hard for you to shed those last five pounds?

Smith: “No, especially since I got the fight on such quick notice after my fight (with Radach on April 11 on SHOWTIME). I got the call about two weeks after my fight. I’m usually 205 by then but I was only 195 when I got the call. It’s going to be no problem. My last fight I weighed in at 184, so it’s only a four-pound difference. As far as the catch weight goes, I think it’s great because it leaves doors wide open. Just like Mike said, maybe potentially if Nick wins, he realizes that 185 is the weight class for him because that’s where all the great fighters are. Likewise, if I win, and I feel great at 180, maybe 170 is the weight class for me to go. I think it’s good because it leaves doors open for guys to go up or down.’’

How did the Arlovski-Rogers fight happen? Did Affliction come to you or did you go to them?

Afromowitz: “I’d say it was more of a mutual opportunity. I’ll leave it at that. The opportunity came about and it just worked out for both of us.’’

Do you ever worry that the overall mileage of your career is higher than it should be because you’ve been through so many wars?

Smith: “It’s something I think about a little. But the way I see it, I fight the way I fight because I have fun doing it. I don’t think I would have fun going in there and having a three-round snore fest. I had a terrible fight against Patrick Cote that went the distance.

“After that fight, I promised myself I’d never fight like that again and leave it all out there. If it gets to the point that my body can’t handle it anymore then it’s just time to get out of the game. But I’m not going to sit there and try to change my style of fighting to try to prolong my career.”

What do you feel is your advantage in this fight?

Smith: “My punching power. Definitely.”

Do you feel like this is almost a no-lose situation for you based on your level of opposition?

Rogers: “A no-lose situation? I don’t want to say it’s a no-lose situation because I always feel like I have to win. If it goes the other way around, will it affect it? I don’t know. I haven’t felt that other side and I’m not trying to feel that other side. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and just go out there and fight to the best of my ability. Hopefully that means me leaving the fight with the win.’’

If this wasn’t such a high profile fight with Nick, do you think you would have taken this fight or do you think you would have taken more time off?

Smith: “Considering I was in great shape, I would have taken this fight regardless. But, yeah, part of it is that a Diaz fight is such a high-profile fight that I can’t say no. I think I’d still have taken the fight. Any fight in the 185-pound class in Strikeforce is a high-profile fight so I think I’d have taken it regardless.’’

Roy Jones Jr. said he would like to fight for an MMA organization. Can we expect to see Roy Jones Jr. with Strikeforce?

Afromowitz: “No, not right now.”

Where do you see Strikeforce going over the next 12-26 months?

Afromowitz: “The agreement with SHOWTIME, who is a tremendous partner, is a multi-year agreement. SHOWTIME is our TV partner and we’re looking forward to really building our brand on the network. They’re an outstanding partner. We’ve done four shows with them to-date, one in 2007 and one in 2008. Then the multi-year agreement took effect on the April 11 show and this will be our third event of the year. It’s going really well right now and I think we’re moving forward with our efforts to build the brand into a prominent, national MMA brand.’’

What are your biggest challenges in expanding?

Afromowitz: In the past, there has been a lot of competition with other organizations. But the agreement with SHOWTIME has really allowed us to establish ourselves and put us in the forefront of the stage. Also, our acquisition of 42 fighters from ProElite really helped to strengthen our roster. It basically doubled our roster. We were able to bring aboard great fighters like Scott Smith, Brett Rogers and Nick Diaz. We’re very fortunate to be in the position we’re in because we have a major platform like SHOWTIME to showcase these fighters and bring our brand to millions of viewers. SHOWTIME’s platform is our home and we’ve taken the steps necessary to move forward.’’

What is the status of the contact negations with Gina (Carano) and the women’s division in Strikeforce?

Afromowitz: “Well, they’ll have a fight in August. That’s the way things are looking but we won’t know for certain until she actually signs, but we’re hoping to get that done soon.

“I think the talent is out there and the SHOWTIME brand is allowing us to build these stars. You saw from the women’s fight on our last card, that overall it was probably the best fight we put on and we had nine or 10 total fights on the card. The fight between Sarah Kaufman and Miesha Tate (May 15) was a phenomenal fight and I think there are more talented women fighters out there. It’s just a matter of building them on a national platform like SHOWTIME, and we’re fortunate to be in a position to be able to do that.

“Women’s fighting is nothing new to Strikeforce. We started out as a kickboxing event back in 1995. Some of the best fights we ever put on in that kickboxing series were between women. So, while women’s fighting may be relatively new to MMA on a national level, it’s nothing new to Strikeforce. We’re thrilled about being a pioneer of women’s fighting in MMA.’’

In the event that Nick Diaz and Jake Shields are both successful, they’re both training partners and won’t fight each other. What type of conflict does that make for you guys?

Afromowitz: “That’s really a question for them. I’m not sure if they’d fight each other. Our middleweight division is very deep right now and there are a lot of guys lining up for that title shot. It’s something that we could address down the road, but we can’t make the fight if they won’t fight each other. I know it’s an unwritten rule that the students of the Gracies won’t fight each other, so we’ll respect that.’’

Can you update us on the interest of Strikeforce in Kimbo Slice and Bobby Lashley?

Afromowitz: “We’re interested in both those fighters. Hopefully, someday soon, they may fight, but it really depends on the fighters’ interests and if we can work with them. But we’re definitely interested.’’

CLOSING COMMENTS

Arlovski: “Thank you for hearing me and I look forward to a good fight on June 6.”

Rogers: “I want to thank Strikeforce for once again allowing me to go out and prove myself to America. Hopefully I’ll be in an exciting fight as well and I’ll see you June 6.”

Smith: “Thanks to Strikeforce. They’ve been giving me absolutely great fights. Like I said, June 6 will be the biggest MMA card of the year so tune in to SHOWTIME and watch it. I promise to put on an exciting fight.”

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