For months it’s been speculated that Strikeforce was on the brink of shutting down, and after two straight cancelled events, it appears that Zuffa and Showtime are finally pulling the plug on the promotion.
Much like Pride FC and WEC before it, Strikeforce didn’t last very long after being purchased by Zuffa before it was purged for talent by the UFC, and the loss of top stars like Nick Diaz and Alistair Overeem made the promotion feel even more like the minor leagues than it already did.
Once the UFC raided the promotion for talent, they may as well have placed Strikeforce on life support. The fighters left had little in terms of credible opponents, and the few world-class fighters left on the roster made it known that they would have rather moved to the UFC with the rest of the top talent.
Luckily for those fighters, their wait is almost over.
After two cancelled events ended 2012, it was obvious Strikeforce was running on fumes, and the promotion has now booked their final card set to take place in January.
The lineup is stacked with three title fights and the return of Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier, so while Strikeforce has struggled to put together meaningful fight cards over the last year, they are guaranteed to make headlines one final time in early 2013.
Once that event is in the books, the fighters that the UFC deem worthy enough of a roster spot will officially become UFC employees and the fans will finally get a chance to see some fights that were once thought of as impossible.
For years, Gilbert Melendez has been called the best lightweight outside of the UFC, and now we will finally get the chance to see if “El Nino” is as good as advertised.
Melendez has been the Strikeforce lightweight champion for over four full years now, and people will be calling for him to get an instant shot at UFC gold once he joins the roster.
However, Jake Shields, Dan Henderson, Nick Diaz and Alistair Overeem were all forced to fight at least one time before they entered the cage with a belt on the line, and Melendez should have to do the same.
His opponent could be anyone near the top of the heap in the lightweight division, but Gray Maynard offers the most intriguing opponent, as long as “The Bully” is able to beat down Joe Lauzon in December.
Maynard has been ranked in the top five of the lightweight division for quite some time now, but his two straight title fights against Frankie Edgar ended up pushing him to the back of the line when he was unable to win the belt.
With Edgar now fighting at featherweight, Maynard has a chance to get back into title contention, and a win over Melendez would be the quickest possible route to a fight for the belt.
Although both fighters were greatly helped by the drawing power of Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Sarah Kaufman’s respective title fights against “Rowdy” were the two most watched Strikeforce fights of the year.
It’s doubtful that fans would find a fight between Tate and Kaufman as intriguing without the current bantamweight champion, but the UFC at least has two other female fighters that casual fans will be somewhat familiar with.
Setting up a fight between the two could be the best chance the promotion has at making another main-card-worthy female fight at the moment.
Throw in the added intrigue that this is a rematch from both fighters’ Strikeforce debut back in 2009, where Kaufman won by unanimous decision, and it gives the UFC a nice little revenge angle to play for Tate.
Tate has improved considerably since that fight, but so has Kaufman, and a fight between the two would be one of the most exciting fights the UFC could throw together in the Women’s bantamweight division.
You can’t go wrong with a fight between two of the most respected fighters in the sport, and it would be surprising if a fight between Rich Franklin and Tim Kennedy were anything but exciting.
Both fighters are coming off of momentum-halting losses, with Franklin suffering a knockout loss to Cung Le this weekend and Kennedy dropping a decision to Luke Rockhold earlier this year, so this is a chance to get one of these fan favorites back on track.
Both fighters are desperately in need of a victory here, as the loser would find himself completely out of the title mix for the foreseeable future.
Barring a major upset, Daniel Cormier is going to walk into the Octagon with an undefeated record and an unbelievable amount of hype.
The Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner has probably done enough to warrant a title shot in his first UFC bout, but since his fate currently rests in the hands of teammate Cain Velasquez, it’s uncertain which division Cormier will call home inside the Octagon.
If Velasquez wins, Cormier will move down to 205 and could possibly find himself in a greatly anticipated clash with Jon Jones if the champion defeats Chael Sonnen in April.
If his teammate loses, expect Cormier to find himself stuck on the sidelines for a bit, as he waits for Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem to settle their feud before getting a crack at the winner.
Either way, the fans win in this situation, and Cormier’s debut is going to be one of the most anticipated fights of 2013.
If it weren’t for Gilbert Melendez (and a questionable judges' decision) Josh Thomson would likely go down as the greatest lightweight in the history of Strikeforce.
The long time MMA veteran has fought in both the UFC and Pride, but his best years have been spent under the Strikeforce banner, where he’s a former champion and has been in a total of six title fights.
There’s little doubt that Thomson deserves a trip back to the Octagon, and if he wants to make his presence felt immediately, he’ll need to take out a highly regarded fighter in his debut.
With the original Ultimate Fighter Diego Sanchez dropping back down to 155 pounds for his next fight, the UFC has a chance to let Thomson prove he belongs with the high-level fighters in the stacked lightweight division and allow Sanchez to get a warm up fight against a relatively well-known opponent for his return to 155.
Thomson usually puts on a decent show for the fans, and Sanchez alone almost guarantees a chance at Fight of the Night honors, so this could be a show-stealing fight if it gets assigned to the right card.
Next weekend, Georges St-Pierre and Carlos Condit will fight to unify the UFC welterweight belts, and if Nate Marquardt can defeat Tarec Saffiedine on the final Strikeforce card, he should get a chance to prove he truly is the Strikeforce welterweight champion.
Marquardt has the belt to make his claim, but the fact remains that Nick Diaz never lost the Strikeforce title he vacated when he moved to the UFC.
Playing of the built-in Strikeforce angle makes a ton of sense for the UFC, and if they want to make Diaz prove himself again before he fights for a title then a fight with Marquardt makes perfect sense.
“The Great” will instantly become a part of the UFC’s welterweight title picture when he makes his UFC return, and a win over Diaz would solidify his spot as a true contender in the welterweight division.
This would be another battle of former Strikeforce champions, and the grappling skills the two fighters have at their disposal make this a fun matchup.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza is one of the best submission specialists in MMA today, with 12 of his 16 career wins coming by tap out, but his newfound striking skills have made him a serious contender to watch when he moves over to the UFC roster.
Throwing him into the fire in his Octagon debut makes sense, so a fight with fellow jiu-jitsu ace Jake Shields would not only give him a big-name opponent to kick of his UFC career, it would give the winner of the bout a chance to fight a top-tier middleweight.
Shields has been mostly cold during his UFC career so far, with a 1-1-1 record since he saw his 15-fight win streak snapped by Georges St-Pierre in his second UFC bout, but he’s undefeated since moving back up to middleweight and could become a title contender again with a win over Souza.
Fans have been eagerly awaiting Gegard Mousasi’s UFC debut for a while now, and his inclusion in the UFC’s light heavyweight division adds another potential title challenger to a suddenly shallow pool of contenders.
The Armenian fighter has defeated a ton of high-level fighters despite never having competed inside the Octagon, and he’ll finally get his chance to prove he belongs amongst the elite at 205.
A fight against fellow striker Shogun Rua has the potential for fireworks on the feet, and it propels the winner unto the short list of opponents for UFC champ Jon Jones, regardless of whether Rua defeats Alexander Gustafsson later this year.
If Mousasi can get the job done against Shogun, he’ll immediately become a premier contender in the light heavyweight division, and since Jones has torn through everyone in his path thus far, he could find himself fighting for a title sooner than most think.
His loss to Nate Marquardt in a welterweight title fight slowed him down a bit, but Tyron Woodley is still one of the brightest prospects in MMA.
The Missouri-based fighter has been the best of the homegrown fighters on the Strikeforce roster, going 8-1 inside the promotion with wins over established veterans Paul Daley and Tarec Saffedine already on his resume.
Every fighter’s first trip inside the Octagon is a little intimidating, and it may be in the UFC’s best interest to give T-Wood a fighter sitting a bit outside of title contention before throwing him in with the elite in the welterweight division.
Rick Story is sitting on that line between gatekeeper and fringe contender at this point, so makes a lot of sense as a potential opponent for Woodley’s Octagon debut.
He’ll likely be a bit of an underdog, but if Story could pull out the win, it would be a quick way for “The Horror” to get himself back into the mix at 170.
This fight only makes sense if Alan Belcher can take out Yushin Okami in December and Rockhold can beat down Lorenz Larkin early next year, but if both fighters can emerge victorious, this could be an awesome scrap.
Both Rockhold and Belcher have fan-friendly styles and have the all-around skills to make the bout competitive no matter where the fight goes, and this would be a serious contender for Fight of the Night honors no matter which card it’s placed on.
Rockhold has been in a few tough battles over the course of his Strikeforce tenure, with title fights against Ronaldo Souza and Tim Kennedy coming to mind, but a fight with Belcher could prove to be the toughest of his young career.
Belcher possesses the striking and grappling skills needed to attempt to take out a high-level fighter like Rockhold, and if he does it, the win could lead to a title fight in the near future.
It’s rare to find two heavyweights with high-level ground games, but Frank Mir and Josh Barnett have made a living by taking guys out on the mat.
Both men are former UFC heavyweight champions and have competed against the best in the world in their weight class, so now that both men are coming off of losses in title fights, it seems logical to put this fight together.
Barnett hasn’t been fighting the same level of competition as Mir over the last few years, but he’s been finishing fights in impressive fashion during that stretch, and his finishing instinct fits well with Mir’s aggressive style.
This fight has the potential to end quickly, but it’s guaranteed to be a fun fight and will shoot one of these two back into title contention in the heavyweight division.
This is a bit out there, but if there’s one fight that could drag Gina Carano out of her apparent retirement, it’s a fight with Ronda Rousey.
Rousey has become one of the fastest rising stars in MMA, and her marketability has earned her features in huge publications like ESPN Magazine and Sports Illustrated, making her the biggest female combat sports star since Carano stepped away from the cage in 2009.
Carano has been making some waves as an action star in Hollywood, but a return to her roots would be a great way for her to gain some exposure, especially if she got a high-profile fight against Rousey on PPV.
The fact that Carano has spent her career at 145 pounds could cause a bit of a problem in making this matchup, but Rousey has fought at featherweight before and a potential super fight against the only other female fighter near her in terms of popularity could be enough to convince her to move back up in weight.