MMA: 12 Strikeforce Fighters Who Could Contend for Titles in the UFC

Peter JensenContributor IIIJanuary 9, 2012

MMA: 12 Strikeforce Fighters Who Could Contend for Titles in the UFC

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    Muhammad "King Mo" Lawal, Robbie Lawler, Tyron Woodley and Luke Rockhold all recorded impressive victories in Strikeforce this past Saturday night. The next question for the four victorious fighters is, what's next?

    Will King Mo fight for the vacant Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Championship? Will Rockhold defend his middleweight belt? Or do they want something more? Maybe a step up in competition? 

    Dana White reiterated Saturday night that Zuffa wants to keep Strikeforce intact. Their actions since Zuffa's acquisition of Strikeforce has sent mixed signals as to the validity of that statement. 

    Sending Nick Diaz and Alistair Overeem to the UFC suggests that the top fighters will all eventually progress to the UFC. 

    Keeping Gilbert Melendez in Strikeforce suggests that maybe some of the top fighters will stay in Strikeforce after all. 

    Personally, I doubt that any of the top contenders will stay in Strikeforce for too long.

    Why would Zuffa want MMA fans to wonder if the best fighter in the world at a certain weight class currently fights in Strikeforce when they have the power to settle it in the cage? 

    This isn't college football. We don't have to debate about the champions. 

    I believe that Strikeforce will someday be the minor leagues of MMA. Baseball has Triple-A, basketball has the NBA D-League and I believe that soon UFC's minor leagues will be Strikeforce. 

    Two of the top Strikeforce transfers, Nick Diaz and Alistair Overeem, had successful UFC debuts in which they each defeated former UFC champions.

    Gilbert Melendez has publicly said on several occasions he wants the UFC belt. I believe that eventually Melendez and other worthy Strikeforce contenders will get their opportunities in the UFC. 

    But which current Strikeforce fighters are currently ready to make runs at UFC belts? 

    Here are 12 Strikeforce fighters who could possibly contend for UFC gold:  

Tyron Woodley

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    Weight Class: Welterweight

    MMA Record: 10-0

    Notable Win: Paul Daley.

    Brief Summary: Tyron Woodley's record thus far can't be denied. He is 10-0, with his decision victory over Paul Daley being the most impressive. Woodley didn't look overly impressive in his split-decision victory over Jordan Mein this past Saturday night, but Woodley's record remained perfect nonetheless. 

    Predictions for a Possible Future in the UFC: If Woodley keeps winning, then he will steadily climb the MMA rankings and can control his own destiny to a title shot. His athleticism makes him a dangerous contender and I think he could sooner than later be ranked as one of the top five welterweights in the world. 

    The closest I see Woodley getting to UFC gold is participating in a fight where the winner gets a shot at the title, and I don't see Woodley winning that fight. 

K.J. Noons

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    Weight Class: Lightweight/Welterweight. 

    MMA Record: 11-4

    Notable Wins: Nick Diaz. Billy Evangelista

    Brief Summary:  K.J. Noons, the former Elite XC lightweight champion, has had a successful MMA career to date in compiling an 11-4 record. He has fought at welterweight and lightweight and his résumé includes a TKO stoppage victory over Nick Diaz in 2007. Diaz avenged the loss in 2010 with a unanimous decision victory over Noons.

    Predictions for a Possible UFC Career: I believe he eventually will fight in UFC and might compile a few wins, but will never get a chance at UFC gold. 

Paul Daley

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    Weight Class: Welterweight

    MMA Record: 29-11

    Notable Wins: Scott Smith, Martin Kampmann

    Brief Summary: In one of the most bizarre and controversial incidents in MMA history, Paul Daley sucker-punched Josh Koscheck after Koscheck controlled him on the ground for three rounds. Daley said that he thought the fight was still going on. Typically fighters don't tap the other guy on the shoulder before punching them in the face, but Daley is so out there that I wouldn't be shocked if that statement were true. 

    Dana White later proclaimed that under no circumstances, even if Daley dominated every other MMA organization in the world, that he would return to the UFC. But considering Zuffa now owns Strikeforce and Daley is still employed, it appears White hasn't completely ruled out Daley returning to the UFC. 

    Daley participated in arguably the most exciting round in MMA history when Daley and Nick Diaz each knocked each other down twice in Round 1 of Diaz' Strikeforce win last April. Daley also lost to Tyron Woodley three months after his loss to Diaz and is 6-2 since leaving UFC. 

    Predictions for Possible UFC Future: Like him or not, Paul Daley's bad boy style that includes trash talking before, during and after the fight combined with his reckless style and knockout power make his fights highly entertaining. 

    I think that he will someday fight again in the UFC, but Dana White is too stubborn to completely give in and put Daley in a position to win a UFC title. 

Rafael Cavalcante

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    Weight Class: Middleweight

    MMA Record: 11-3

    Notable Wins: Muhammed Lawal, Yoel Romero Palacio

    Brief Summary: Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante had quite a successful three-year run in Elite XC and Strikeforce. He shocked the MMA community with his TKO in Round 3 over King Mo. He eventually lost the now-vacated Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Championship to Dan Henderson by a TKO in Round 3. 

    Predictions for Possible Future in the UFC: Feijao's knockout power and elite striking make for exciting fights. He has never had a fight go to decision in his MMA career and Dana White knows that makes for entertaining fights.

    If Cavalcante can win a dramatic fight or two in the UFC, I see him being placed in a fight that could put him in the title fight if he wins. But that is as close as he will get. 

Gegard Mousasi

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    Weight Class: Light Heavyweight

    MMA Record: 32-3-2

    Notable Wins: Denis Kang, Renato Sobral, Ronaldo Souza

    Brief Summary: There is no denying Gegard Mousasi's experience and impressive overall MMA record. He has held belts in Dream and Strikeforce and his style can create problems for anyone. However, in his only true test in Strikeforce, he was defeated via decision my King Mo Lawal. 

    Prediction for Possible Future in the UFC: I see him winning a few fights in the UFC and possibly fighting in a co-main event that could set up a UFC title fight. But like a few others on this list, I don't see Mousasi ever fighting for UFC gold. 

Muhammad Lawal

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    Weight Class: Light Heavyweight

    MMA Record: 9-1

    Notable Wins: Gegard Mousasi, Roger Gracie

    Brief Summary: Muhammad Lawal, better known as King Mo, is one of Strikeforce's most popular fighters due to his brash personality and exciting fighting style. His background is in wrestling, and in college he compiled a record of 103-22 and won the Division II National Championship for Central Oklahoma in 2002. 

    Although his background is wrestling, eight of King Mo's nine MMA victories have come by KO or TKO due to punches. 

    Prediction for Possible Future in the UFC: King Mo's superior wrestling and knockout power make him a dangerous opponent for anybody he faces. I believe King Mo will make the UFC and he will someday fight in a match that could set him up for a title fight if he wins. But that will probably be the pinnacle of his UFC career.

    Had King Mo entered the UFC in the pre-Jon Jones era, he could have been a champion. 

Luke Rockhold

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    Weight Class: Middleweight

    MMA Record: 9-1

    Notable Wins: Ronaldo Sauza, Keith Jardine

    Brief Summary: Luke Rockhold looked impressive in defending the Strikeforce Middleweight Championship this past Saturday night against Keith Jardine. Jardine has made a career of fighting the top light heavyweights in the world.  He didn't always win, but the "Dean of Mean" could make the UFC Hall of Fame based on strength of opponents alone. 

    As for Rockhold, he has been dominating inferior opponents for the past three years in the Strikeforce Challengers Series and now Strikeforce, and the next logical step would be to face some UFC middleweights. 

    Prediction for Possible Future in the UFC: This is a tough one to call because Rockhold has been so dominant that it is tough to say that he could never wear UFC gold, but at the same time he hasn't proven that he belongs in the same ring with the best middleweights in the world. 

    If he sticks around past Anderson Silva's departure from the middleweight division, then I believe he will someday fight for UFC gold. 

Josh Thompson

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    Weight Class: Lightweight 

    MMA Record: 18-4

    Notable Wins: Pat Healy, Gilbert Melendez, Nam Pham

    Brief Summary: Josh Thomson has had a successful MMA career and has knocked off some big-time opponents. Thomson has an impressive 10-2 career record in Strikeforce with his only losses against Clay Guida and Gilbert Melendez.

    He also defeated Melendez in June of 2008. Thomson fought in the UFC back in 2003-2004 and had a record of 2-1.

    Prediction for Possible Future in the UFC: I believe Thomson will eventually fight in the UFC again and compile a few victories.

    I believe he will fight once for the UFC lightweight title, especially if Melendez someday captures the belt, but he will fall short during that contest. 

Antonio Silva

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    Weight Class: Heavyweight

    MMA Record: 16-3

    Notable Wins: Fedor Emelianenko, Andrei Arlovski, Mike Kyle

    Brief Summary: Three months after taking out Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva lost to rising star Daniel Cormier in the next round of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Tournament. (If you still want to call it a tournament.) 

    Even with the loss, Bigfoot's resume includes 11 victories by KO and three by submission, and he is still one of the most intimidating heavyweights in the world. 

    Prediction for Possible Future in the UFC: I would not place a wager in Vegas that "Pezao" will ever win the UFC Heavyweight Championship, but he definitely has the skills and athleticism to do it.

    Not sure I would bet against Silva ever wearing UFC gold either. 

Daniel Cormier

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    Weight Class: Heavyweight

    MMA Record: 9-0

    Notable Wins: Antonio Silva, Jeff Monson

    Brief Summary: Another up-and-coming fighter who first broke into the mainstream from the Strikeforce Challengers Series. He is undefeated and was last seen knocking out one of the top 10 heavyweights in the world, Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva,  in Round 1.

    We will learn more about Cormier on March 3 when he fights Josh Barnett in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Tournament. If he has another dominating performance, then he will definitely be setting himself up to make a serious leap in the heavyweight rankings. 

    Prediction for Possible Future in the UFC: It is tough to bet against someone who has never lost a fight and passed his first true test with flying colors. It is also tough to say that he is already on the same level as Overeem and Junior Dos Santos.

    I believe that Cormier will make the UFC and someday earn a title fight. Not ready to predict yet if he will win or lose. 

Josh Barnett

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    Weight Class: Heavyweight

    MMA Record: 31-5

    Notable Wins: Dan Severn, Randy Couture, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Pedro Rizzo, Brett Rogers, Jeff Monson, Sergei Kharitonov. 

    Brief Summary. Josh Barnett is arguably the most seasoned and experienced heavyweight MMA fighter in the world. He last fought in the UFC when he defeated Randy Couture in March of 2002 to win the UFC heavyweight belt. Literally, a decade ago.

    Since then, Barnett has been nearly perfect against anybody not named Mirko Filipovic. He lost three times to Cro Cop and split two fights with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. 

    Since the dismantling of Pride Fighting Championships in 2006, Barnett has tried to fight top-notch competition in Affliction and Strikeforce. But many people will not feel Barnett's MMA heavyweight career will be complete until he once again proves himself in the UFC.

    As for right now, he has to prepare for Daniel Cormier, who could prove to be his toughest opponent in years. 

    Prediction for Possible Future in the UFC: If Barnett finally does join the UFC, he will be entering the heavyweight division at a time when it is deeper than it has ever been.

    Barnett has superior wrestling and seems to be unstoppable once he gets to the ground. I would like to watch a fight with Barnett against one of the top five heavyweights in the world before making a bold prediction on a possible UFC career.

    I will just say that I believe if given the opportunity, Barnett will be very competitive in a UFC title fight. 

Gilbert Melendez

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    Weight Class: Lightweight

    MMA Record: 20-2

    Notable Wins: Josh Thomson, Clay Guida, Jorge Masvidal

    Brief Summary: The Strikeforce lightweight champion has made it abundantly clear that he wants to fight for the UFC Lightweight Championship. Zuffa had recently purchased Strikeforce before "El Niño" defeated Tatsuya Kawari, and his first comments in the post-fight interview were, "Let's unify the titles. Don't you guys want to see me fight Frankie Edgar for the UFC belt?"

    After his good friend and former Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz got the call to transfer to the UFC, I'm sure that Melendez thought he was next. As of now he is still in Strikeforce, but I think that before New Year's Day 2013 he will be scheduled to fight in the UFC. 

    Predictions for Possible Future in the UFC: Many people believe that Gilbert Melendez is the best lightweight in the world, and I must say that I fall into that group. His skill level on his feet and on the ground is second to none in the lightweight division, and hopefully he will get an opportunity to fight some of the best lightweights in the world soon. 

    I believe Gilbert Melendez will someday be the UFC lightweight champion.