by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
The recent addition of former Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Jorge Gurgel to the ranks of Strikeforce caps off a year where veteran stars like newly crowned light-heavyweight champ Renato “Babalu” Sobral and young talents like Eric Lawson have helped the promotion grow to its biggest and most diverse state yet.

With a multitude of exciting fights and surprises from both the men and women’s divisions, Strikeforce has a lot to grow on in the coming year, according to company Director of Communications Mike Afromowitz.

“I think the talent we’ve had has really showed tremendous progression,” he stated. “We brought in new talent and there were some incredible moments.”

Specifically speaking, the first fight that stood out in Afromowitz’s mind was also one of the year’s biggest upsets.

“The Cung Le (versus) Frank Shamrock fight was probably one of the best fights of the year,” he said. “It was amazing being in the arena. The atmosphere was electric, and watching those two guys fight after all those years of build-up was an amazing thing.”

Another title fight he feels stood out, as well as established the strength of the promotion’s champions, was the clash of two longtime friends in the lightweight division.

“Josh (Thomson) really stepped up big time (against Gilbert Melendez),” he exclaimed. “I think it was one of the finest performances of his career.

“We have some great champions on our hands. Some of these guys are worthy of top rankings in the sport and they are the faces of our organization and there’s a lot more in store for them.”

Not only did established stars make their mark in 2008 for the promotion, but Afromowitz also feels there is a multitude of young talent that made its mark in the coming year.

“The fight between Billy Evangelista and Luke Caudillo in Denver was one of the greatest comebacks I’ve ever seen,” he stated. “Billy’s comeback is amazing, he’s still undefeated, and we’re looking forward to bringing him back and having him fight for us again.

“We brought Corey Devela in, who suffered a loss at the Playboy Mansion, but before that he had the big win over Joe Riggs. Luke Rockhold, who just fought on the last show, is going to be something. We definitely have a few prospects that are something we can build on next year as well.”

As it has since its inception, Strikeforce continues to be a great home for the emerging women’s MMA scene, and Afromowitz doesn’t see that changing next year.

“Women with talent should be given the opportunity to fight,” he stated. “There will be opportunities for women in Strikeforce.

“I think we showed that a little this year with Kim Couture, Michelle Waterson and Miesha Tate. The women’s division is growing and I think you’re going to see more talent come up in the ranks, try their hands at it, and it’s going to build.”

As well, Afromowitz confirmed that Strikeforce will be looking to continue to grow its base of fighters on an international scale in the future.

“Definitely you should see more Japanese fighters in the future from us and foreign fighters in general,” he said. “One of them is our heavyweight champion, Alistair Overeem, hopefully we’ll seem him back, as well as other fighters from overseas.”

He also shed light onto perusing fighters from other organizations who may be available now or in the future, such Tito Ortiz or Gina Carano.

“I think right now we’re kind of in limbo with some of the fighters that are supposedly free agents, because they’re not necessarily free agents on one hand,” he admitted. “Obviously we’d like to work with some of these guys, and girls, so it really just depends on how the situation goes legally, if anything.

“Whether they’re attached or not remains to be seen, but they’re inactive right now and we’d like to bring them in. We’re always looking for new talent – whether it’s established talent or newcomers like Eric Lawson – fighters like that are out there everywhere and we’d like to bring them to our show.”

With Strikeforce growing, adding new talent, and continuing to cultivate existing talent both on their main show and their Young Guns imprint, the promotion looks to build upon an explosive year in the cage and get even better in 2009.