Saturday night, the long and somewhat-illustrious tenure of Strikeforce finally comes to a grinding halt.
It was never supposed to end like this. In a perfect world, Strikeforce would continue providing the UFC with competition for years to come. It would give fighters an alternative to signing with the biggest promotion in the world, and it would continue providing fans with some of the most entertaining fight cards we've ever seen.
But not every tale has a storybook ending, and so Strikeforce goes out in Oklahoma City not with a bang, but a whisper. And really, that whisper started back when Zuffa purchased the company. Dana White said that the promotion would continue to operate the way it had been since its inception, even using the now-infamous phrase "business as usual" to describe his plans for America's second-largest fight promotion.
We all knew that wasn't the case, though. It couldn't be. White tried, and he even tried his hand at signing a contract extension and partnering with Showtime.
Eventually, though, White's forceful personality didn't gel with the Showtime brass. The writing was on the wall when Showtime politely declined a few suggestions from White to improve the Strikeforce broadcasts. And now, we're finally here, with the first Strikeforce event since last August that also doubles as the final event in promotional history.
If you want an in-depth history of Strikeforce, I recommend reading parts 1 and 2 of Jonathan Snowden's excellent Strikeforce oral history. But for now, we'll take a look at five things you need to watch for on Saturday night's card.
Nate Marquardt was canned from the UFC on August 25, 2011 under a cloud of disgrace and confusion. Originally scheduled to face Rick Story in the main event of UFC on Versus 4, Marquardt was pulled from the fight and subsequently fired by Dana White for failing to have his testosterone levels fall within the required limits.
White even said that Marquardt would never be welcomed back in the UFC. The career of a very good fighter, at least on the biggest stage in the sport, was seemingly over.
And yet, here we are, with Marquardt defending his Strikeforce belt against Tarec Saffiedine in the main event of Saturday's event and preparing for a move to the UFC. What a difference a year or so makes.
We don't fully know how good Marquardt can be at welterweight; he's had just one fight, after all. But from what we saw in his title-winning effort against Tyron Woodley, it seems clear that Marquardt has all the tools to be a true contender in the UFC's welterweight division. He certainly has the tools to beat Saffiedine.
An emphatic win for Marquardt would put him in prime contention in the UFC. He wouldn't be granted an immediate title shot, but he'd likely get a top contender and the chance to fight his way into a championship fight. Marquardt knows this, and I fully expect to see a very good fighter stepping in the cage against Saffiedine.
Of all the Strikeforce fighters competing for the final time under that promotional banner on Saturday night, nobody generates the kind of excitement that Daniel Cormier does.
Cormier wasn't even included in the original Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, and yet, he ultimately ended up winning the whole thing. His blend of true world-class wrestling and powerful, yet accurate, striking has fans salivating at the idea of Cormier taking on the UFC's top heavyweights or even a light heavyweight bout with Jon Jones.
Cormier has been set up for success with Dion Staring as his Saturday opponent. Cormier is an unprecedented 20-to-1 favorite going into the bout, and he should win fairly handily. If he does, Cormier will step into the UFC as an instant contender in whatever division he eventually settles in.
He makes for a scary opponent for whomever the UFC pairs him with first. Cormier has been vocal about wanting a fight with Frank Mir at the April 20 UFC on Fox event in San Jose. After that, he'll likely go straight into a title fight with the winner of the Jon Jones/Chael Sonnen bout that takes place on April 27 in Newark.
Cormier has a very bright future, and it's a future that isn't in the distance. It's immediate, and Cormier can have it all in his grasp with a win over Staring.
Josh Barnett should be in the UFC. He's one of the best heavyweights on the planet, and he's got the grasp of the entertainment side of the sport that could lead him to being a very big star with the UFC's casual fanbase.
Unfortunately for Barnett, a move to the UFC isn't such a sure thing. His past issues with Dana White have been well-documented, and that history may prove to be an insurmountable roadblock in his path. But Barnett stands every chance of making his weigh over as long as he beats Nandor Guelmino on Saturday night.
Because just like Daniel Cormier, Barnett is being set up for success. Guelmino is entirely an unknown, even more so than Dion Staring, and Barnett should score a victory. After that, it'll be up to the lawyers to determine if Barnett and White can come to a deal. That's unfortunate, because Barnett should be a lock.
Before any of that can happen, however, Barnett must win and win emphatically on Saturday night. He needs to make a statement, one that proves he deserves his chance to return to the company he left so long ago.
I first met Ryan Couture at Xtreme Couture back in January 2011, right when he was preparing for a Strikeforce Challengers bout with Lee Higgins. At the time, he struck me as someone who was doing this whole mixed martial arts thing because his Dad was a famous fighter; his last name was Couture, and so therefore, he needed to fight.
Back then, Couture didn't look like he had much promise, at least not in the cage. He won that bout with Higgins in February 2011, but would lose his next outing to Matt Ricehouse. Couture managed Xtreme Couture for his father and trained while on the job, but I wasn't sure he took it all that seriously.
I was wrong. Couture may never be the champion or legend whom his father was, but he's no pushover, and he deserves his chance to ply his trade in the UFC. Wins over Conor Heun and Joe Duarte made that much crystal clear.
If he gets that chance, Couture will make history. He'll become the first son of a UFC fighter to compete in the Octagon. We've seen plenty of kids of famous athletes make the majors in baseball, basketball and football, but mixed martial arts just doesn't have enough history to see that kind of thing happen very often. Not yet, anyway.
But Couture could be the first. He faces a very difficult challenge in K.J. Noons, and he's the underdog going into the fight for a reason. But win or lose, Couture will likely get the chance to try his hand in at least one UFC fight. He'll get that chance because of his name, but he might just have the skills to stick around on his own merit.
Pat Healy is angry, and he has every reason to be.
Originally scheduled to face Gilbert Melendez for the lightweight title, Healy was relegated to the preliminary card when an injury forced Melendez out of the fight. Instead, he'll face the unheralded Kurt Holobaugh.
Healy feels disrespected on quite a few different fronts. He's angry that he's on the preliminary card. When Friday's weigh-ins went down, Showtime streamed the main-card fighters, as they weighed in first, then went off the air while the preliminary-card fighters stepped on the scale.
Healy wasn't happy and took to Twitter to voice his displeasure:
Healy goes into the bout with Holobaugh sporting a five-fight winning streak. Even if Holobaugh manages to pull the upset on Saturday night, Healy is virtually guaranteed a spot on the UFC lightweight roster. But Healy doesn't seem happy just winning; he's out to make a statement, and he plans on making an example out of Holobaugh.
I'd look for him to do exactly that. Healy has a bruising, smothering style, and he's a handful for even the most experienced lightweights. Against Holobaugh, Healy should shine and make his case for a prime position in the UFC.
And now, for a few small loose ends:
Gracie looks to return historic family name to UFC roster
The Gracie family's history is forever intertwined with that of the UFC. Royce Gracie is one of the legends of the sport and a crucial part of the early days of the promotion.
But since Royce left the UFC, the Gracie family name has been mostly absent from the roster. Heavyweight Rolles got his chance in the promotion, but a poor showing in a loss to Joey Beltran at UFC 109 spelled a quick end to his run.
Roger Gracie will look to restore his family's legacy to the UFC roster. He sports a 5-1 record in MMA, with his only loss coming to Muhammed Lawal in a fight where Gracie's poor striking skills were on display for the world to see.
But the world-class grappler has worked hard at shoring up that aspect of his game, and he looked great in his middleweight debut against Keith Jardine last summer.
Like Ryan Couture, Gracie will likely get a chance to show what he can do in the UFC even if he loses to Anthony Smith on Saturday, but he'd sure like to head to his new home riding a win.
Will Mousasi live up to his potential?
Back in 2010, Gegard Mousasi was a darling of the internet MMA fan community. He was once the Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, but a loss to Muhammed Lawal put a damper on the expectations that surrounded him, and a meager draw with Jardine in 2011 set him back even further.
But Mousasi rebounded admirably by beating Hiroshi Izumi and Ovince St-Preux, and he'll look to close out his Strikeforce career with a win over nemesis Mike Kyle. With a victory, Mousasi will head into the UFC as a legitimate potential contender, especially with champion Jon Jones running through contenders like a hot knife through butter.
Will he live up to the lofty expectations we all had for him a few years ago? It's hard to tell. But Mousasi still has the ability to be one of the best in his division, and a good showing on Saturday night will go a long way towards solidifying his standing.