The first fight of UFC 155's main card is more of an occasion than many realize.
Sure, it features the return of former TUF1 competitor, fan-favorite middleweight and chronic drug abuser (both of the performance-enchancing and “of abuse” nature) Chris Leben. The bigger deal, though, was the UFC debut of Derek Brunson, the first true Strikeforce import.
Coming off two losses to Kendall Grove and Ronaldo Souza, most regarded Brunson as a tune-up fight for Leben's return. While Brunson wowed very few with his display, he did just enough to get the decision over the UFC veteran.
With that in mind, what did we learn about these two fighters, and about the relationship between Strikeforce and the UFC?
Both Fighters Need to Work on Cardio
Contrary to what Joe Rogan and Jon Anik were saying, Chris Leben was no more spry after the first round than Derek Brunson. After Brunson dominated Leben on the ground, both fighters had their hands sink below their shoulders, and labored to throw punches.
For Brunson, this ruined his ability to follow through on takedown attempts. For Leben, this slowed down his punches and made his leg kicks completely ineffective.
This resulted in two ugly, sloppy rounds from both fighters as they coasted to a decision. Most certainly not a great way to kick off the PPV portion of the card.
Derek Brunson Still Did a Solid Job
Even though Brunson looked downright terrible, this was still a solid performance. As stated, Brunson was pretty much chosen to be a stepping stool for Leben to stand on to announce his return to the UFC.
Brunson ruined that, though, by dominating Leben on the ground in the first, and wheezing just a little bit less after that. Again, definitely not an especially excellent performance, but Brunson has to be happy getting the win.
While Chris Weidman, Hector Lombard and Vitor Belfort are most certainly not intimidated, this is a guy that was fighting for his job. Now, Brunson will be getting at least one more fight in the UFC.
We Can Look Forward to More Strikeforce Fighters Coming Over
Most of the great fighters in Strikeforce are on the Marquardt vs. Saffiedine card in January, there are still a few noteworthy fighters that could trickle into the UFC before then.
Brunson is not exactly a top-tier Strikeforce fighter, but noteworthy names not included on the card (at least, not anymore) are Jorge Masvidal, Pat Healy, Luke Rockhold and Lorenz Larkin. While the names most people want to see on a UFC card would be Gilbert Melendez, Daniel Cormier and Luke Rockhold, they are by no means the only fighters deserving a shot in the Octagon.
Watch for these folks to step into events like UFC 157, UFC on Fox 7 and so forth.
A Good Start For Strikeforce Fighters
Remember back in 2010? When people were saying that WEC lightweights just weren't really good enough to hack it in the UFC? With Ben Henderson as champion, Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis sitting in the top 10, and Jamie Varner cementing himself in the UFC, it's almost laughable now.
A while back, I said the true measuring stick that will determine how good Strikeforce fighters are in comparison to their UFC counterparts will be when the middle-of-the-pack fighters from the welterweight, middleweight and light heavyweight divisions start coming in. So far, they are 1-0 with Brunson getting this win.
Granted, it comes with a bit of an asterisk. Still, this is a mid-tier Strikeforce fighter beating a mid-tier UFC fighter.
I'm not one of “those guys” that always look outside the UFC for somebody to put on a pedestal. That said, there are talented folks in Strikeforce. UFC fans just got their first taste of that.