Strikeforce Finale Still a High-Stakes Event

Duane Finley@duanefinleymmaContributor IJanuary 7, 2013

This Saturday night in Oklahoma City, the books will officially close on Strikeforce. For the past six years the San Jose-based promotion has been one of MMA's top organizations. But after experiencing numerous obstacles, diminished rosters and cancelled events, the once promising path has finally come to an end.

The writing of Strikeforce's demise has been on the wall for some time, and the final event will mark the end to a great run that founder Scott Coker and Co. can be proud of. In order to make sure it goes out in style, the promotion has stacked its final show with everything it has left.

The event will be the final showcase before the roster is merged in the UFC, and for several of Strikeforce's higher profile fighters, their performances on Saturday night could heavily influence which direction their transition into the UFC will go. 


All Eyes on D.C.

There is a lot speculation regarding the matchups fans are going to see when the crossover is official, and there are few names hotter right now than Daniel Cormier. The former Olympic wrestler locked himself firmly into the conversation of the world's best heavyweights on the strength of his performances in route to winning the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.

Originally signed on as an alternate, the AKA-trained fighter stepped in for champion Alistair Overeem to face Antonio Silva in the tournament semifinals. In the matchup with "Bigfoot," Cormier needed less than a round to make a booming statement as he battered the Brazilian at every turn and scored a first-round knockout in the process.

The victory positioned him to square off with former UFC champion Josh Barnett in the finals. Despite "The Warmaster" being one of the sport's most feared submission artists, Cormier attacked from bell to bell and scored a lopsided decision victory over the veteran. 

Winning the Grand Prix certainly raised his profile, but it also managed to slow his career down in the process. While Zuffa had transitioned Strikeforce's heavyweight division into the UFC, both Cormier and Barnett were left with one fight to fulfill on their contracts. The process of making that final bout a reality has been frustrating for the Louisiana-native as the 33-year-old has watched a collection of opponents, both rumored and factual, fall to the wayside.

Eventually Cormier locked up a fight with Frank Mir, but an injury to the former two-time UFC champion forced him to withdraw from the bout. After losing the main event on the card in addition to other high-profile bouts, Strikeforce and cable host Showtime, decided to cancel the event entirely.

The former Oklahoma State wrestling standout voiced his frustration regarding how the situation was handled, and with the Strikeforce's curtain call less than a week away, the road ahead could finally clear up for Cormier. That being said, he still has one final challenge waiting for him inside the Hexagon in Dion Staring. 

With the expectation building for Cormier's UFC debut, he can ill-afford a misstep against Staring. The Dutch fighter brings a solid amount of experience with him into the cage, and while his stateside debut will be made as a heavy underdog, the bout presents a tremendous amount of upside. The same can be said on Cormier's side of the table. Despite his name recognition far out-weighing that of his opponent, Cormier knows how much is riding on his performance in Oklahoma City. 

There are going to be a lot of options for Cormier when the next chapter of his career begins. Whether it is a run at the UFC heavyweight title or a drop down to light heavyweight to chase down Jon Jones' crown, an impressive showing this Saturday will keep the momentum building for his arrival in the UFC. 


If You Don't Know Mousasi, Now Would Be a Great Time to Start

When it comes to talk of potential Strikeforce versus UFC matchups, I will be the first to admit my excitement for Gegard Mousasi's entry into the UFC fold. The Dutch fighter became one of the highest touted prospects in mixed martial arts by wrecking shop in Japanese-based promotions. But after making his transition over to Strikeforce, the 27-year-old has experienced varying results.

Mousasi looked impressive in his promotional debut as he claimed the light heavyweight title by punishing Renato "Babalu" Sobral. He would make a successful defense of his crown against Thierry Sokoudjou, only to drop the belt in his next outing against Muhammed Lawal. In the fight with "King Mo," Mousasi's typical nonchalant demeanor translated as a lack of urgency as Lawal used his superior wrestling skills to keep the fight in his favor. The result was a lopsided tilt that served to expose a gaping hole in Mousasi's game and silence the buzz the former Dream champion was building.

With renewed focus, Mousasi bounced back and has claimed victory in four of his last five outings. The only setback during this current stretch came by way of a majority draw against UFC veteran Keith Jardine, in a fight where he was deducted a point for an illegal upkick. Aside from his tussle with "The Dean of Mean," Mousasi has been lights out since his loss to Lawal.

He will be looking to keep things rolling this weekend against Mike Kyle. The AKA-trained fighter possesses put-away power in both hands as 12 of his 19 victories have come by way of knockout. Kyle certainly has the ability to put anyone he faces to sleep, but Mousasi's striking style will present problems for the UFC veteran. Where Kyle throws heavy shots, Mousasi has a unique understanding of spacial difference. This allows him to close distance at will. With power in both his hands and feet, Mousasi's stand-up game is one of the most diverse in MMA.

The biggest question surrounding Mousasi and his transition into the UFC will come in motivation. In past interviews he has described half-hearted training camps and going into fights on the strength of talent not giving much care for preparation. If Mousasi has truly put his career as a mixed martial artist front and center, the sky is the limit. When you include his ability to compete in various weight classes, Mousasi could make quite an impact under the UFC banner. 


The Wild Cards

While Cormier and Nate Marquardt will draw the lion's share of the attention heading into this weekend's card, there are several other fighters who can make statements of their own when the cage door closes.

In an early preview of things to come, former Strikeforce middleweight champion Ronaldo Souza will mix it up with former TUF competitor Ed Herman. "Short Fuse" has experienced a resurgence as of late, winning three of his last four outings. Besting an opponent of Souza's caliber would raise his stock to new heights, and agreeing to cross over into Strikeforce waters to take the fight shows it's a challenge he's more than up for. 

The fight carries upside for Souza as well. By all indicators, "Jacare" has been a monster since entering Strikeforce, winning six of his seven outings. His only setback came against Luke Rockhold, as the AKA-trained fighter claimed a unanimous decision victory and took hold of the championship. Following the loss to Rockhold, Souza came surging back strong as he submitted recent TUF cast member Bristol Marunde in the third round of their contest in Columbus. He complemented that impressive performance by scoring a brutal first-round knockout over Derek Brunson in his next showing.

A victory over a scrappy opponent like Herman will set the tone for the next chapter of his career, where a loss could potentially drop him into the lower end of the divisional picture. 

Another middleweight looking to shake things up in the UFC will be Tim Kennedy. The Army Ranger turned mixed martial artist has been one of the top 185-pound competitors under the Strikeforce banner for years. Even with this being the case, Kennedy has flown somewhat under the radar in the bigger middleweight picture.

None of this matters to the 33-year-old war veteran. It is a simple love for the fight which pushes him forward and he'll be looking to bring the ruckus when he throws down with Trevor Smith in OKC. With the difference in name recognition between the two competitors, Kennedy will most likely need an impressive win to draw one of the bigger names in his UFC debut. Again, these are matters Kennedy has no concern for and his hard-nosed style has the potential to present problems for anyone he faces.