After seven years in the MMA game and almost 30 years in combat sports, Strikeforce will hold its final event in early 2013.
It didn’t take long for the Scott Coker-run organization to fold after being purchased by the UFC’s parent company Zuffa LLC, and after the final two Strikeforce events of 2012 were cancelled, it was only a matter of time before Zuffa and Showtime pulled the plug.
With one last chance to make an impression in the MMA world, the organization attempted to pull out all the stops and feature all three of their male champions, plus the winner of the biggest tournament in Strikeforce history on the card.
However, nothing ever seems to go completely right for Scott Coker and Co., and with two months to go the card has already taken a major hit by losing lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez.
Even without Melendez, this card is must see television for MMA fans with talented fighters like Luke Rockhold, Nate Marquardt and Daniel Cormier all slated to compete, and it looks like Strikeforce is making sure their last event will be their biggest.
The most recent fight added to the event may end up being the most spectacular.
Both Gegard Mousasi and Mike Kyle have a serious knack for finishing fights, and odds are that one of them is going to have the referee pull them off of their opponent before the 15 minutes are up.
Mousasi is probably the most anticipated UFC addition not currently wearing a Strikeforce belt around his waist, with an extensive number of wins over good opponents during his mostly overlooked MMA career, and it's time for him to attempt to hold his own with the best in the world.
To do that, he’s going to have to get past Kyle, a former UFC veteran in his own right that has earned the vast majority of his MMA wins by knockout.
This fight has the potential to be a barn burner, and either man could land a fight-ending punch, but Mousasi is just too well rounded to lose here, and should walk away with a stoppage win.
The son of a UFC Hall of Famer, Ryan Couture has a chance to start his own legacy heading into the UFC merger.
Couture has earned himself a 5-1 record during his pro career, with all but one of those fights taking place in Strikeforce, but he’s never had a chance to make an impact like he will against KJ Noons in January.
Noons has been a Strikeforce staple over the last few years, fighting most of the top guys in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions, and he’s one of the more exciting members on the promotion's roster at the moment.
There’s no doubt that Noons will be a welcome addition to the UFC’s lightweight roster if he wins this fight, especially due to the abundance of talented strikers already fighting inside the Octagon at 155, but he may need to get the win over Couture to see that happen.
If Couture can win this fight, he’ll make a huge statement heading into his Octagon debut, but I just don’t think he’s quite ready for a fighter at Noons’ level.
This should be a competitive bout, and expect Couture to consistently hang in there with Noons, but eventually the striker will find his range and dominate the standup en route to a decision victory.
This looks like a complete mismatch on paper, and it will likely look the same way once Daniel Cormier and Dion Staring step into the Octagon.
Cormier is probably the hottest fighter in the heavyweight division, having won the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament earlier this year after replacing Alistair Overeem in the semifinal round, and his UFC debut will be one of the most anticipated of any fighter making their way over from Strikeforce.
Cormier’s stock would take a tremendous hit if he were to lose before he ever stepped foot in the Octagon, but luckily for the UFC, it doesn’t appear that they have to worry about that.
Dion Staring isn’t a bad fighter by any means, but he isn’t exactly at the talent level that fans are looking for to fight a top-tier heavyweight like Cormier, and this fight has more of a pro wrestling “squash match” feel to it than most fans would like.
Cormier is going to win this one, probably with ease, but the least the UFC can do is throw Staring a fight in the Octagon when they start purging the Strikeforce roster.
None of the Strikeforce titles are going to matter after this card, but leaving the organization as a champion is going to seriously increase a fighter’s stock when they enter the Octagon.
For Nate Marquardt, it’s a chance at proving he was worthy of all the opportunities the UFC offered him the first time he fought for the promotion, and if he is unable to return to the UFC as the final Strikeforce champion, his days as a title contender could be behind him.
Marquardt is a former UFC title challenger and was a contender in the promotion's middleweight division for almost six years, but he got his first taste of major gold in the US when he won his Strikeforce title earlier this year.
Now if he wants to return to the UFC as a title contender, he’ll have to take out one of the top welterweights on the Strikeforce roster in Tarec Saffiedine.
Saffiedine has gone an impressive 5-1 under the Strikeforce banner, with his only loss coming to top prospect Tyron Woodley, and his current three fight win streak was enough to earn him a shot to leave Strikeforce on top.
Saffiedine is going to have a tough time against a finisher like Marquardt for an entire 25 minutes, but if he can fight smart and try to stay in control during the majority of the grappling exchanges, he can win this fight.
Unfortunately, that’s probably going to be a bit too much to ask for Saffiedine against a respectable wrestler like Marquardt, and ultimately the champion will retain his title in the co-main event of the night.
The main event of the evening has the Strikeforce middleweight title on the line.
Luke Rockhold has quickly gone from random Strikeforce middleweight to being considered one of the top 185-pound fighters in the world, and if he can successfully defend his title against Lorenz Larkin, he’ll be near the top of the middleweight division when he makes his UFC debut.
The all-around game that Rockhold has fine-tuned during his time at AKA over the last few years has made him one of the most successful fighters on the Strikeforce roster, and he will be the odds-on favorite going into the final bout in Strikeforce history.
If Larkin wants to play the spoiler here, he’s going to have to keep this fight standing. In fact, his undefeated record likely depends on it.
Rockhold has proven to be a dangerous fighter when the fight hits the floor, earning over half of his career wins by submission, and while Larkin has shown he can defend himself on the mat, it will be a bit surprising if he can fend off Rockhold for a full 25 minutes.
Honestly, this is Rockhold’s fight to lose, and he should walk into the Octagon on a lengthy winning streak next year.