Strikeforce officially came to an end on Saturday night and while it was a bittersweet moment saying goodbye to the biggest regional promotion in MMA history, there were also some major pieces missing from the puzzle.
Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez and middleweight champion Luke Rockhold weren’t able to fight due to injury, turning a card once called “Strikeforce: Champions” into just another run of the mill outing.
Ronda Rousey, who made her name and fame in Strikeforce, was signed away to the UFC long before this show ever made it to Showtime. As a matter of fact, not a single women’s fight took place on the final Strikeforce show, which was disappointing considering how much they supported the ladies over the last several years while promotions like the UFC considered them untouchable.
The fighters that did show up for the final Strikeforce card delivered, however, including a main event upset that really capped off the show and reminded everyone what made the San Jose, Calif. based production great over the years.
Now that Strikeforce is officially done, the doors are open for many of their fighters to end up in the UFC and face the best of the best in the Octagon. While the end of Strikeforce technically came in 2011 when they were purchased by rival organization Zuffa, Saturday night’s fights felt more like guys moving on to the next stage of their careers instead of a grand finale, saying goodbye.
So now that they have said goodbye, what’s next for the best and brightest on Strikeforce’s final roster? Here are a few ideas:
Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix champion Daniel Cormier
It seems simple enough for Cormier, who mowed down 20-to-1 underdog Dion Staring as expected on Saturday. He wants former UFC champion Frank Mir for his debut fight, so he’ll likely get Frank Mir for his first fight in the Octagon.
Of course Mir is coming off a loss and Cormier is probably one fight away from challenging for a title in the UFC, but still it’s an intriguing match-up and a great way to introduce the former two-time Olympian to a whole new batch of fans.
In a perfect world, however, if Cormier is really making a move down to light heavyweight to avoid facing his friend and teammate Cain Velasquez, then doing it now would be a good start to his UFC career. Cormier taking on either Phil Davis or Alexander Gustafsson would go a long way in establishing him as a top ten light heavyweight, and eventual challenger to champion Jon Jones.
Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez
Melendez will likely come in on day one and face UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson. It’s a fight Melendez wants, Henderson wants, and the UFC has already said they are on board for later this year. In reality with Melendez having sat out since May 2012 and now coming back from a severely damaged shoulder, it would seem more fitting for him to get a “warm-up” bout in the Octagon before getting a title shot.
Melendez facing former title contender Gray Maynard sounds like a great fight to headline an upcoming UFC on FX card, or even a main card fight on the upcoming UFC on Fox show landing in San Jose.
It’s not that Melendez doesn’t deserve a shot at Henderson. Far from it actually. But we’ve all heard those stories about first time Octagon jitters, and when you add to that a long layoff due to injury, it might not be a bad idea for Melendez to dip his toe in the Octagon waters before jumping in head first. Chances are, however, he’s going to be swimming in the deep end on day one.
Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold
Rockhold didn’t do himself any favors by sitting out the final Strikeforce card on Saturday night. With an injured wrist that wouldn’t allow him to face Lorenz Larkin, he will now come to the UFC with a lot less momentum than he would have had coming off a win in January.
It’s likely the man Rockhold beat for the belt in 2011, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, who defeated UFC mainstay Ed Herman on Saturday, will probably come in with a bit more hype than the champion.
That said, Rockhold is still a very talented middleweight, but he has to prove himself at the top levels of the UFC. Wins over Tim Kennedy and Keith Jardine won’t curry him much favor when dealing with the top 185 pounders in the world.
For his first fight in the UFC, Rockhold drawing recent top ten fighter Costas Philippou would make the most sense. It’s a chance for Rockhold to fight an established UFC middleweight, and Philippou will be available when he’s healthy and ready to make his Octagon debut.
Strikeforce welterweight champion Tarec Saffiedine
In the biggest upset on Saturday, Tarec Saffiedine showed everyone why you have the fights in the first place when he unseeded Nate Marquardt as champion before both head to the UFC later this year.
Saffiedine is a crafty veteran with nasty kicks (as observed by Marquardt’s mangled leg) and underrated wrestling (he’s been working with Team Quest for four years now).
He likely won’t come into the UFC with the same kind of hype that Marquardt would have with a victory because he already had name value before the fight ever happened. Still, Saffiedine deserves a top ten level fight after dismantling a fighter most believed would be top five on his first day back in the UFC.
With most of the UFC’s top welterweights already locked up in fights, Saffiedine would likely draw one of two fighters for his debut: Mike Pierce or Martin Kampmann. In terms of value, Saffiedine vs. Kampmann sure sounds like a lot of fun. Yes, Kampmann is coming off a loss and typically UFC matchmaker Joe Silva hates matching up a fighter coming off a win with one coming off a loss, but for style points, this one has fireworks written all over it.
If he would have won Saturday night, Marquardt would have come to the UFC with a ton of hype around him. Unfortunately, he ended up losing in a fairly one-sided fight to Tarec Saffiedine, so now it’s about rebuilding.
Marquardt still has a lot of name value coming in and that’s why he should be the one to draw Mike Pierce. Again, this is the opposite of what the UFC typically does when matchmaking fighters, but it would be a chance for Pierce to face a well known name, which sometimes carries as much weight as beating a top ten opponent, and Marquardt would have a chance to prove himself in the shark tank of the UFC welterweight division.
The Best of the Rest:
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza probably comes in day one in the UFC with more intrigue than champion Luke Rockhold, and with his appeal in his home country of Brazil, he’ll be an even bigger star over time. Jacare vs. Jake Shields sounds like an intriguing fight, or maybe Chris Weidman if he’s willing to wait until the New Yorker heals up from shoulder surgery.
Josh Barnett may not even end up in the UFC, but if he does, there’s something special about a potential match-up against Roy Nelson. Both have a love of professional wrestling, which could make the promos leading into the fight quite fantastic. Barnett is a ground wizard, but Nelson is no slouch in that department, which could make the fight that much more interesting.
Gegard Mousasi re-introduced himself to the light heavyweight division with a dominant win over Mike Kyle on Saturday, and now poises himself for a run at the best in the UFC’s 205-pound division. A fight pitting Mousasi against either Glover Teixeira (assuming he gets past Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC on Fox 6) or James Te Huna would be a good introduction for the former Strikeforce and Dream champion.
Pat Healy deserved a lot better in his final Strikeforce fight than to be shelved to the prelims after originally headlining the card in a scheduled bout against champion Gilbert Melendez. His “welcome to the UFC” present should be a legit lightweight challenger to see where he stacks up in the division. Pat Healy vs. Jim Miller just sounds like the kind of fight both would get up for.
Last but not least we know they are coming but how about setting up some women’s fights to compliment the UFC 157 main event pitting Ronda Rousey against Liz Carmouche? Miesha Tate, Sarah Kaufman, and a laundry list of women’s fighters are waiting for the call to make their Octagon debuts, so let’s start seeing some fights get made.