by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com
The Jake Shields chronicles continue… but maybe not for much longer.

Always qualifying his comments by saying that negotiations aren’t over yet, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has all but thrown in the towel on his middleweight champion.

All signs point to Shields leaving his belt behind for the brighter lights of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

“Honestly, just on a strictly business level, I think we’re gonna be throwing a tournament,” Coker told HDNet’s Ron Kruck on Friday night.

He made it sound as if all that remains to be determined are the parameters of such a tournament and who would be in it.

Coker said he would have to talk with Ken Hershman of Showtime, Strikeforce’s main television partner, to map out details. “Is this a four-man tournament, is it an eight-man tournament, or is it a 16-man tournament like K-1 used to do back in the day?

“I think that’s our strongest weight class as far as quality of opponents to put together this great tournament. I think that you guys are gonna see a tournament coming out of this.”

There is a strong cast of characters for Strikeforce to choose from at 185 pounds, including: Nick Diaz, Robbie Lawler, Scott Smith, Ronaldo “Jacare” de Souza, Jason “Mayhem” Miller, Tim Kennedy, Joey Villasenor. Sengoku fighters Kazuo Misaki and Jorge Santiago are also candidates.

Two that are notably questionable though, are two of Strikeforce’s most prominent fighters: Dan Henderson and Cung Le.

“I have not really even thought about that problem yet,” Le told MMAWeekly.com recently. He faces Scott Smith in a rematch of their fight from December; a fight that tarnished Le’s previously undefeated record.

“I haven’t even thought that far yet. That’s great that I’m in line again, but right now, this is kind of my title fight again. I fight for something that fell out of the grasp of my hand, and this is my chance to grab it back again.”

Henderson could be even more elusive for the tournament, saying on Friday night’s Inside MMA, “I don’t know if I even want to fight 185 for a while. I’d probably rather not cut weight. There’s lots of tough guys to fight at 205 right now.”

With or without Cung Le and Dan Henderson, Strikeforce can field a strong roster of middleweights, especially in a four- or eight-man format, but their omissions would surely be a gaping hole in the plans to crown a new middleweight champion.