By Artie Cooper
The Strikeforce brand of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) was born in 2006 in San Jose, Calif., 12 years after the company was founded as an ESPN kickboxing series, and the company has since become the world’s second-largest promoter of world championship MMA fights.
With live events on Showtime and CBS, Strikeforce has the television muscle behind it to continue its growth and propel the sport of MMA to unforeseen heights.
10. The Women
Strikeforce is the only American organization bold and brave enough to showcase the toughest women on the planet live on national television.
Wickedly powerful middleweight champion Cris Cyborg has been unstoppable. With devastating strikes and whip-snap fast hands, Cyborg is a one-woman wrecking machine who has given new meaning to the phrase “girl power.”
Strikeforce welterweight champion Marloes Coenen, as well as a host of contenders including Miesha Tate, Kerry Vera and newcomer Julia Budd, have proven themselves to be thrilling commodities to watch inside the cage.
9. The Voices Who Tell the Story
Showtime analysts Frank Shamrock and Pat Miletich are equipped with more MMA wisdom than any other announcers in the business.
True pioneers of the sport, Shamrock, who provides commentary for Strikeforce’s championship series, and Miletich, who does likewise for Strikeforce’s Challengers series for up-and-coming fighters, can usually predict the fighter’s next move, seconds before he or she does it.
Using the Showtime vehicle, Shamrock and Miletich are helping educate and spread MMA fever to a new fanbase that may have previously lacked enough knowledge about the highly technical, hybrid sport to appreciate it and understand the progression of a fight.
Showtime’s Mauro Ranallo is also a feast for the ears. A passion for MMA fighting is the fuel behind his witty metaphors and dramatic calls that rival the best play-by-play announcers in any sport.
Who can forget Ranallo’s words nearly a year ago when Scott Smith came from behind to knock out Cung Le: “Miracle in San Jose!!!”
By following the traditional approach whereby the TV network acts as the employer of its on-air talent, viewers get the kind of objective, unbiased commentary they deserve rather than being force-fed volumes of fluff coverage by announcers who are paid by the event’s promoter to do so.
Strikeforce parted ways with Jake Shields this summer. While the decision to let their champion go may have surprised some, it came as a relief to others who just couldn’t stand being put to sleep during a fight anymore.
Shields is, without question, a talented Jiu Jitsu player. However, he doesn’t have that magic that superstars are made of, thus limiting his value to any savvy promoter as well as his appeal to paying fans.
Inside the cage, Shields was never bashful about laying on, or “surfing,” an opponent for the duration of a fight and winning on points.
A safe, tactical, risk-free fight isn't always the most exciting fight for fans, and many have acknowledged that Shields actually did more harm than good while occupying space in the Strikeforce cage.
Now the charisma-challenged Shields can lay all over his opponents and put fans to sleep during the UFC’s over-priced pay-per-views while Strikeforce fans can enjoy more entertaining fights in the promotion’s thick middleweight division.
7. CEO Scott Coker
Never heard of Scott Coker? That’s just fine. That might be because Coker, the founder and CEO of Strikeforce, puts the fighters and the fans first, or because your knowledge of martial arts history isn’t up to par.
Unlike other promoters who insist on stealing the spotlight from their fighters, Coker mostly stays behind the scenes, making the kinds of shrewd business moves that helped him outmaneuver and outlast a handful of well-financed rival promotions a few years ago and take Strikeforce MMA from a regional outfit to a national powerhouse.
Coker has proven himself to be all class, rather than a cartoon character. You won’t see him cursing reporters on YouTube video blogs or denying them press credentials to events because he doesn’t agree with their opinions.
One probable reason for Coker’s quiet confidence is because, in addition to knowing how to manage his business, he is also a highly trained and accomplished martial artist equipped with the kind of discipline and poise necessary to succeed in the unforgiving, dog-eat-dog MMA world.
A fifth-degree black belt, Coker trained under Ernie Reyes Sr., one of the best martial artists on the planet, and was a member of Reyes’ world-renowned West Coast Demonstration Team.
Long before MMA became a mainstream phenomenon, Coker was a successful martial arts promoter and the exclusive provider of martial arts programming to ESPN.
His former production company is the first to bring Muay Thai fights from Thailand to TV sets in the United States.
In 2003, Inside Kung-Fu honored Coker with its “Man of the Year” award for his successful efforts to bring Japan’s K-1 kickboxing series to audiences in the United States.
Well-liked and thoroughly connected in the industry, Coker also has many Hollywood connections and has appeared in films such as Dragon Fight, Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon and Surf Ninjas.
Coker is all class and a much needed asset to a world that often forgets its martial roots thanks to ignorant, loud-mouth figureheads who spin the truth any way they can in order to convince the fans and the media that they are God’s gift to the sport.
6. Strikeforce Challengers Series
We have seen the future of mixed martial arts and its name is Strikeforce Challengers. The series highlights the best and brightest up-and-coming fighters looking to establish themselves as contenders in MMA.
It’s where studs like Luke Rockhold and Tyron Woodley have emerged from. It’s where heavyweight contender and gunshot victim Lavar Johnson returned from tragedy to winning glory.
It’s even a place where a veteran like “Vicious” Bobby Voelker keeps his dream of winning a Strikeforce championship alive.
Fighters who compete at Strikeforce Challengers are especially hungry and willing to leave it all in the cage for a shot at climbing the Strikeforce food chain. It’s a brilliant Showtime product and one that helps feed the growing roster of Strikeforce stars.
5. Fedor Emelianenko
When the consensus No. 1 mixed martial arts fighter of all time decided to fight in America, where did he turn? Strikeforce.
For a decade, the man known simply as Fedor thrilled fans with his knockout power and skilled submission holds. He beat the biggest and best in the sport on way to becoming the most popular and sought-after MMA athlete in the world.
Fedor, “The Last Emperor,” has a superstar aura that surrounds him. Few MMA fighters can count on the fans chanting their name in unison every time they enter the cage. Fedor is one of them.
Fedor is a humble man who went a decade without losing a fight. After a shocking, some say fluke, loss, in June, Fedor in 2011 will be looking to prove to the world again why he’s still deserves to be ranked No. 1.
4. Fighter Freedom
Strikeforce treats its fighters like professionals and respects their desire to be competitive.
With a cross-promotional agreement with Japanese MMA organization DREAM, a unique relationship that can be attributed to Coker’s days as K-1 North America head honcho, Strikeforce fighters participate in the most exciting and dynamic inter-promotional battles in all of MMA.
Strikeforce’s Gegard Mousasi, for example, just won the DREAM light heavyweight championship. In 2011, he will be looking to recapture the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship and wear gold from two organizations.
Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez, welterweight Champion Nick Diaz and middleweight contender Jason “Mayhem” Miller all took on DREAM fighters, and were successful in 2010.
3. Coolness Factor
Let’s face it. Strikeforce is just cool. UFC has become overexposed with gimmicky television shows, expensive monthly pay-per-views and an over-produced television product.
Other leagues are don’t have the TV programming and star power on their roster to maintain anyone’s attention long enough.
Strikeforce is the only promotion with consistent, live programming on premium cable and network TV.
The new EA Sports video game, which is the first MMA title offered by the world’s leading sports video game publisher, features the Strikeforce cage, Strikeforce fighters and Strikeforce production.
From graphics to game play, the game is as true to real life as possible, not to mention a fantastic tutorial for new fans seeking an education in the sport.
Fans see Strikeforce as the more exciting, thrilling, cutting-edge and alternative MMA company, without all of the promoter-driven, classless hype and drama.
It’s a throwback to the days of PRIDE, which boasted the production value of an NFL Super Bowl without forgetting the martial arts part of MMA.
2. Cung Le and a Premiere Fight Roster
The Vietnamese-American Le is a “human highlight reel,” as Ranallo once stated. He is unlike any other athlete in MMA.
His spinning back kicks, throwing techniques and reflexes are off the charts. Just ask Scott Smith, who succumbed to a vicious body kick to the gut in their summer rematch. Or ask four-time world champion Shamrock, whose arm Le broke with a right kick.
The former Strikeforce middleweight champion never lost his title inside the cage, only giving up the strap to star in Hollywood films. Le’s style is not only explosive, but extremely entertaining for the fans.
A model father, husband and family man, Le’s one of the first big crossover MMA stars. He will star as Marshall Law in the upcoming silver-screen adaptation of the video game Tekken.
If not for his busy movie schedule, Le would likely still be defending the Strikeforce middleweight championship. Now he’s focused on super-fights with top stars.
Le is but one shining star on an elite roster. Strikeforce boasts a number of other rare finds in two-time Olympic wrestler turned undefeated MMA heavyweight Daniel Cormier; newly signed Ryan Couture, son of MMA legend Randy Couture; former US Army special forces sniper turned middleweight contender Tim Kennedy; former WWE star Bobby Lashley; and fast-moving, charismatic lightweights Josh Thomson and KJ Noons.
MMA legend Dan Henderson sought out Strikeforce so he could compete before a CBS audience. Former NCAA wrestling star Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal is one of the sport’s most outspoken individuals.
Welterweight champion Nick Diaz, perhaps the sport’s greatest enigma, has been unstoppable of late, as has his training partner Gilbert Melendez, the Strikeforce lightweight champion.
Heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem could have a legitimate case for being the baddest man on the planet.
The fact is, Strikeforce is stacked from top to bottom in every division with seasoned, world-class competitors.
1. The Fans
Strikeforce knows that its fans are the lifeblood of the promotion. Fiercely loyal, deeply knowledgeable and true believers in the company, Strikeforce fans are true MMA enthusiasts.
Strikeforce started as a regional promotion in and the company grew organically, thanks to fans in California’s Bay Area, who were hungry for an alternative to the UFC.
The league has since made its way to a host of new markets including Los Angeles; Seattle; St. Louis; Houston; Nashville, Tenn.,; Portland, Ore.,; and Phoenix, Ariz.
Now fans all over the country are looking for Strikeforce to make its way to their hometowns.
Welcome to Strikeforce, where the fans come first.