Since the fall of Pride FC, the UFC has only had one true competitor in the world of mixed martial arts. That competitor was the Bay Area native promotion, Strikeforce. With Zuffa's recent acquisition of the Strikeforce brand many doors have been opened to fights that once seemed very unlikely.
I'm not here to write the typical Overeem or Fedor article. I'm not here to even write about champion vs. champion bouts. In fact, I won't be writing about any current champions at all.
The fights that interest me are the non-title fight possibilities that have now arose. Possible contenders can prove themselves against each other. Fighters hungry for a comeback will have their chance. The underrated can make a run at glory and the overrated can be exposed.
What I want to know is not which company has the better roster or champions, but which fighters have the most heart. Which fighters are worthy at a title shot in the future. Who needs improvement and who needs to step aside. Even more important, I'm thinking about good fights and who matches up well with who. These are ten fights that I think would provide some great non-title match-ups for building future contenders, seeing who is the real deal or just for seeing a good fight.
Both men are undefeated at 7-0 with wrestling backgrounds. Both men come from respected camps with Cormier coming out of AKA and Madsen representing the H.I.T. Squad. Cormier however is an Olympic wrestler, while Madsen has arguably fought tougher competition.
Another interesting factor would be some of the bad blood that might still linger between these camps. The welterweight fighters at AKA have called out Matt Hughes (founder of the H.I.T. Squad) on numerous occasions but to no avail. Perhaps the score could be settled between the two camps if these two heavyweight up and comers ever met.
There isn't much competition left in Strikeforce for Tyron Woodley outside of Nick Diaz and Paul Daley. With that being said, he has some more growing to do as a fighter before hitting the upper ranks so quickly.
I think a good starting point for him would be Johnny Hendricks. Hendricks is coming off of the first loss in his career to Rick Story, and if he wins his next fight against TJ Waldburger, could be a good test for Woodley. Both are exceptional wrestlers and fairly young. A win would be a strong boost for either and not much of a setback for the other.
It's obvious why I want to see this fight, it would be a total brawl. Both are coming out of harsh knockout losses to more technical strikers in Brian Stann and Paul Daley. Both like to stand and bang. Both have insane comeback knockouts on their records.
On paper, Leben is a better fighter. Still, it is hard to count Smith out from an all-out brawl (just ask Benji Radach). At the end of the day, one of these guys is probably going to be unconscious, both are going to be bloody and the fans will have gotten the most bang for their buck.
KJ already has a win and a loss at the expense of Nate's older brother Nick, so why not let this family affair spread the love a bit? We all know that Nick is the better of the two brothers, but let's see how well Nate deals with the last man to defeat his older brother.
There would be trash talking, brawling and after the fight actions that would make Michael Bisping blush. With a win, Noons could set himself up for the higher levels of lightweight competition or a possible rubber match with Nick Diaz at welterweight. If Nate wins he takes home bragging rights for his family and a solid reason to move to lightweight, the class he prefers.
These two fighters are more like elephants than men, as they both cut weight to meet the 265-pound mark of the heavyweight division. Both have skills on the ground, Carwin as a wrestler and Bigfoot as a BJJ black belt, as well as power in the standing game.
What makes this fight interesting is the power of Carwin against the chin of Silva. If Mike Kyle can put you on your back can you survive a punch from Shane Carwin? If Brock Lesnar can get you to the ground and submit you can you survive on the ground against a similar sized BJJ black belt? A lot of questions could be answered in this fight, and a new contender would surely arise.
Michael Bisping has been pushing for a title shot recently in the UFC. Tim Kennedy is just one fight removed from his title bout in Strikeforce and is also hungry for another run. Both men are well rounded fighters with some very impressive performances, but not enough of them against top level competition.
Losses to Wanderlei Silva and Dan Henderson keep Bisping within arms reach of a title shot, while the lack of depth in Strikeforce paired with a loss to the champion do the same for Kennedy. Bisping has an advantage when it comes to striking, but Kennedy's ground game might cancel that out. Bisping doesn't have the greatest jaw, but can somebody who was outstruck by Jacare Souza capitalize off of that?
The winner would surely push themselves up the ranks significantly and possibly find themselves in line for the title they are working towards.
What do you get when you combine the ugliest Johnny Cash tattoo of all time with a severe case of ADHD and red hair dye? You get Alan Belcher vs. Jason "Mayhem" Miller.
At this point in their careers, Belcher and Mayhem are in similar positions; each on two-fight winning streaks that saw finishes by TKO and submission. The question they'd be looking to answer would be, "Are they really top-10 material?"
Belcher brings in a strong Muay Thai background while Mayhem is more well rounded with solid standup and an underrated ground game. On the same note, Belcher is no slouch on the ground and has improved greatly in his recent fights. Both have had questionable losses in the past as well, which really leaves this fight wide open.
I think the toss up nature of this bout makes it worth while. Belcher could win by head kick or Mayhem could win by a left hook followed up with hammer fists. Mayhem could win by anaconda or Belcher could win by guillotine. There are hundreds of outcomes for how this could end, and all of them are worth watching.
Former champions collide following recent losses. I find this extremely intriguing because of the circumstances heading into it. This fight could make or break their careers. We could see if Franklin is qualified to continue fighting high level competitors or if Cavalcante's stint in the light heavyweight top 10 was a fluke.
Cavalcante was recently knocked out by Dan Henderson who had a very difficult time against Franklin in a fight many people thought Franklin won. However, Cavalcante is a powerful muay thai practitioner who trains with Anderson Silva who used his muay thai to completely dismantle Franklin in their two fights.
If Franklin lost, would he ever be anything besides a gatekeeper? If he won would that be grounds for another title run? Should he move to middleweight where Anderson Silva or GSP would be waiting for him?
If Cavalcante lost how would he rebound? Who could he beat at light heavyweight if a smaller guy like Franklin could take him out? Would a cut to middleweight be logical or does having Anderson there pose a problem?
This fight interests me because of the position both men are in right now, as well as the implications for both should they lose. There will be far more on the line than just a win. This fight would define how these two men continue with their careers.
This fight peaks my interest because of the fighters competing as well as the camps who are behind them. Mousasi as a member of Red Devil Sports Club and Golden Glory trains with the likes of Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Sergei Kharitonov and Amar Suloev. Machida as a member of Team Black House trains with the likes of the Nogueira brothers, Anderson Silva and Jacare Souza.
These camps have quite the history with each other. Fedor had an amazing trilogy against Rodrigo Nogueira. Rogerio Nogueira has bested Overeem twice. Mousasi has beaten Jacare Souza. Paulo Filho has beaten Amar Suloev. There would be a lot of pride on the line heading into this fight.
Focusing on the fighters themselves, we have Machida's counter striking up against the explosive nature of Mousasi's dutch kickboxing. If Mousasi could keep on Machida like Shogun did, he could definitely win this. However, one wrong move and Machida could knock him out coming in or take him to the ground for a submission.
After losing their titles, these men have been waiting for a fight to put them back on top. Fighting each other would definitely make that happen.
If you haven't seen the first or second Gilbert Melendez vs. Josh Thomson fight, then you need to watch the attached video. They had a fast paced, five-round war not once, but twice. In the off chance you haven't seen Ben Henderson against Anthony Pettis or his first fight with Donald Cerone, then you need to watch those as well. Like Melendez vs. Thomson, the fights were unforgettable battles for the lightweight championship.
Both of these men are coming off of losses and need a championship level opponent to get them back on track. Plus, their is a bit of bad blood coming into this one. Before fighting JZ Cavalcante, Thomson blasted MMA rankings everywhere for putting Henderson in their top 10 lists. His exact quote was:
"I think it's a joke that you guys have guys like Ben Henderson ranked above guys like JZ. You guys got to be freaking kidding me." To this, Henderson responded, "You haven’t heard of me yet? You don’t think I’m worthy? Ok sure but give me another year, give me another two years… I’m just getting started.”
Well we might not have to wait two or three years to see what will happen if these two collide. Both have excellent stand up and ground skills to boot. With both coming off unanimous decision losses to current championship contenders, they'd be looking to make a huge statement at the expense of the other. I wouldn't go so far as to choose a winner, but this fight would definitely be a likely candidate for fight of the year.
Those were my 10 picks for the best non-title fights that could come out of this merger. I had a lot of others in mind as well but at the moment, these really stuck out to me. I am very interested in hearing what you guys have to say on the matter.
Did I miss anything big or am I missing the point on a few of these? Let me know! The best is yet to come with this merger, and I'd like to know just what you think the best would be.
Have a wonderful day, and as always...MORGAN FREEMAN!