The ageless Dan Henderson added yet another chapter to his mixed martial arts legend on Saturday night when he ascended to the Strikeforce light heavyweight throne.
By knocking out former champion Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante less than a minute into the third round, Hendo became the organization's reigning champ at 205 pounds and added to an already long list of accolades.
Which can only mean one thing, right?
It's only a matter of time before Dangerous Dan is back in the Ultimate Fighting Championship!
Sarcasm aside, in the modern world of mixed martial arts, there is the UFC and there is everything else.
Critics of the organization and its outspoken president, Dana White, don't like to hear or admit this, but it's true despite their voluminous insistence to the contrary. With all due respect to the emerging second fiddle played in concert by Scott Coker and Strikeforce, it is a UFC rival in much the same way as the Boston Red Sox are the New York Yankees' rival.
There is periodic verbal sparring and the media indulges the fantasy because it makes for good ink or bytes, but the tale of the tape is remarkably one-sided at the moment. For those uneducated in the way of the diamond, the UFC would be wearing pinstripes on this side of the analogy.
Consequently, there is a lingering air of suspicion hanging over San Jose that any fighter who makes it big in Strikeforce will eventually pull up stakes and head to the greener pastures ironically headquartered in the desert of Las Vegas.
And a closer look reveals the paranoia is not without foundation.
Look at the part of the MMA story that's already been told and you'll recognize the pattern immediately.
Time and again, you will see a fighter has passed through Strikeforce on his way to or back to the UFC. Others only show up with the San Jose promotion after their days in its Las Vegas counterpart have come to an unceremonious end.
Current UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez made his professional debut in the Strikeforce stable, pounded Jim Fujarczyk into dust and was a UFC asset less than two years later.
The UFC's current No. 1 contender at welterweight is Jake Shields, a gladiator who established himself as the Strikeforce Middleweight Champion before cashing in his combat chips for the upgrade. Jorge Santiago went a perfect two-for-two in Strikeforce before moving on and resurfacing on the card for UFC 130.
Vitor Belfort, Chris Cariaso, Nate Diaz, Brian Ebersole, Yves Edwards, Tyson Griffin, Clay Guida, Dennis Hallman, Jared Hamman, Ryan Jensen, Duane Ludwig, Nam Phan, Mike Pyle and Krzysztof Soszynski all were once shiny Strikeforce toys.
They now reside in the UFC with profiles that range from star to cannon fodder and many places in between.
On the other hand, men like Andrei Arlovski, Paul Daley, Nick Diaz, Henderson, Robbie Lawler, Renato Sobral and Fabricio Werdum all landed under Coker's influence after White and friends handed them their walking papers (or refused to retain them).
Each was either on the fade or guilty of some transgression that made them persona non grata in the UFC yet each became a crown promotional jewel for Strikeforce.
It's tough to argue you're the top dog when another man's castoffs are your linchpin stars.
So who might be the next Strikeforce big fish to risk the bluer UFC waters?
Record: 27-8 (12 KO, 2 Submissions)
Notable Wins: Carlos "The Ronin" Newton, Gilbert "The Hurricane" Yvel, Antonio "Minotauro" Rodrigo Nogueira, Renato "Babalu" Sobral (twice), Renzo Gracie, Murilo "Ninja" Rua, Ryo "Piranha" Chonan, Vitor "The Phenom" Belfort, Wanderlei "The Axe Murderer" Silva, Rich "Ace" Franklin, Michael "The Count" Bisping, Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante
Dangerous Dan has done a little bit of everything.
The man twice represented the United States at the Olympic Games in wrestling (1992, 1996), won the middleweight tournament at UFC 17 in 1998 and won the RINGS King of Kings 1999 Tournament—by beating Yvel, Minotauro and Babalu in the same day.
He emerged triumphantly from the Pride 2005 Welterweight Grand Prix, earning the welterweight belt in the process. Two years later, he won the Pride Middleweight Championship by demolishing then-champion Wanderlei Silva.
Then came a series of defeats in title bouts to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Anderson "The Spider" Silva and Jake Shields. Not a whole lot of chopped liver there.
And now he's perched atop a Strikeforce division, which means the UFC questions are bound to start popping up.
Especially if he successfully defends his new belt a few times.
Nevertheless, Hendo and Dana White seem to have a bit of a contentious relationship and you gotta figure Dan doesn't need the (presumably) fatter UFC paycheck after all these years as one of the biggest names in the industry. Consequently, it comes down to whether Dana and friends want him badly and/or whether the new Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion feels he has something to prove.
Considering the embarrassment of riches that is the UFC light heavyweight division and the gluttonous trophy case in the Henderson household, I'm going with a negative in both cases.
So don't hold your breath on this one.
Record: 14-4-1 (4 KO, 8 Submissions)
Notable Wins: Gabriel "Napao" Gonzaga (twice), Alistair "Demolition Man" Overeem, Brandon "The Truth" Vera, Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, Fedor "The Last Emperor" Emelianenko
Based on profile alone, Werdum would be much higher up the list—since parting ways with the UFC, Vai Cavalo notched a win over Bigfoot Silva and then the epic submission of Fedor that set the MMA world on its ear. Combine those victories with his win over Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Overeem plus the onset of the Heavyweight Grand Prix, and Fabrico's star has never been brighter.
However, let's feather the brakes on the hype
The Brazilian turns 34 this year and that means he'll have to make some more noise before the UFC would reel him back in (he was bounced in 2008). The jury is still out on Bigfoot and the submission game has never been the suspect facet of Vai Cavalo's arsenal so the triangle armbar of a suddenly mortal Last Emperor probably doesn't have Dana White's pulse racing.
Now, if Werdum rolls through Alistair again and then takes out the rest of the grand prix field?
We'll have to adjust accordingly.
Record: 14-2 and 1 NC (0 KO, 11 Submissions)
Notable Wins: Jason "Mayhem" Miller, Matt "The Law" Lindland, Joey "The Mexican Hitman" Villasenor, Tim "The Hero" Kennedy, "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler
Jacare doesn't have quite the profile that the rest of the list does and he just celebrated his 31st birthday so he's not quite a hard target for the UFC talent scouts, but he's gotta be a person of interest.
The Brazilian is currently on a four-fight winning streak that's seen him crowned the Strikeforce Middleweight Champion as well as his first title defense. Souza clearly needs to work on his stand-up so that he's a legitimate multi-dimensional threat, but his latest bouts against the Hero and Ruthless Robbie Lawler proved he's not totally vulnerable on his feet.
Additionally, he flashed a good variety of effective strikes and a sturdy chin (or at least the ability to recover quickly). In other words, he's got the right tools.
Given the anorexic UFC middleweight division, you'd have to believe Jacare will be a sought-after import should he continue to evolve and take down a few more big gunners.
Record: 18-4 (9 KO, 8 Submissions)
Notable Wins: Murilo "Ninja" Rua, Semmy "Hightower" Schilt, Pedro "The Rock" Rizzo, Fabricio "Vai Cavalo" Werdum, Alistair "Demolition Man" Overeem, Andrei "The Pit Bull" Arlovski
American fans got an eyeful of the Russian Mercenary when he made his Strikeforce debut against Arlovski in February. They also got a hint of what Pride veterans knew already—that Kharitonov would be a serious player in the grand prix. You can see the former paratrooper has some impressive pelts tacked to his wall so pedigree wasn't an issue.
The only reasonable question about the 30-year-old was whether ring rust would be a problem.
The first-round destruction of the Pit Bull marked only Sergei's fourth contest since 2007. Granted, it was only a month-and-a-half since his last bout, but Tatsuya Mizuno isn't exactly top-shelf competition.
Regardless, at Kharitonov's age and with his resume, his stay with Strikeforce may be an abbreviated one if he has further success in the heavyweight tournament. It'll be a little tough for him since he's on the other side of the bracket from the organization's biggest names at 265 (Emelianenko, SIlva, Overeem and Werdum), but a thorough dismantling of Josh "The Baby-Faced Assassin" Barnett (should Josh sneak by the drug tests and Brett Rogers) would definitely move the interest needle.
As would another thrashing of either Overeem or Werdum in the final.
Record: 30-3-1 (17 KO, 11 Submissions)
Notable Wins: Hector "Shango" Lombard, Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos, Denis Kang, "Marvelous" Melvin Manhoef, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, Mark "Super Samoan" Hunt, Renato "Babalu" Sobral, Rameau "The African Assassin" Theirry Sokoudjou, "Irish" Jake O'Brien
Mousasi's been caught up in the whole UFC vs. M-1 vs. common sense fiasco so his future prospects with the premier fight organization are a tad cloudy.
But that's about the only thing keeping this pound-for-pound dynamo's entrance at bay.
Where to begin with the Dreamcatcher—Gegard is only 25 which makes those 34 professional fights all the more eye-popping (he's also 8-0 as a pro kickboxer). Toss in those 17 knockouts and 11 submissions, and you get the impression of a gladiator who is as dangerously comfortable on his feet as he is on the ground.
So he's young yet seasoned and savagely versatile.
Oh, and he's been known to tussle at 185 pounds though he's currently working at 205.
Then there's the matter of his hit list.
True, there aren't any world beaters on his slate of vanquished opponents, but there are quite a few rugged customers. Lombard, Cyborg, Manhoef, Jacare, Hunt and Sokoudjou are all supremely dangerous in one fashion or another (but not several) yet all exited the arena with an L after tangling with the Dutch-Armenian.
Now that he's free of M-1's influence, look for Mousasi to pick up momentum and don't be surprised if it carries him straight to the UFC.
Record: 19-2 (11 KO, 1 Submission)
Notable Wins: Clay "The Carpenter" Guida, Tatsuya "Crusher" Kawajiri, Josh "The Punk" Thomson, Shinya "Tobikan Judan" Aoki
OK, so El Nino doesn't have a glittering list of beaten opponents like most of the brutes on this list—so what?
Such is life at 155 pounds outside of the UFC. For whatever reason, the going gets a wee bit thin at lightweight unless you're employed by the 800-pound gorilla (even then, the competition has only recently gotten compelling). That might change eventually; it might be changing right now, but it's been the case for the last handful of years and that more than anything explains Melendez' rather pedestrian (on paper) exploits.
Nevertheless, Gilbert is a bad, bad man at any weight, and certainly at 155 pounds.
A successful trip to the cage against Clay Guida is always something to take notice of and Josh Thomson isn't a pushover. Furthermore, 19 wins in 21 contests with 11 coming via the nighty-night will get anyone's attention.
And that includes Dana White.
The UFC's lightweight division is flush with valuable bodies after the official merger with the WEC, but it says here that Gilbert Melendez can bring it better than many of them. Sooner or later, I think he's gonna want to prove it like his buddy Jake Shields.
Record: 34-11 and 1 NC (14 KO, 19 Submissions)
Notable Wins: Vitor "The Phenom" Belfort (twice), Igor "Ice Cold" Vovchanchyn, Sergei "The Russian Mercenary" Kharitonov, Paul "The Headhunter" Buentello, Mark "Super Samoan" Hunt, Brett "The Grim" Rogers
I have consistently and maybe irrationally been a skeptic when it comes to Alistair Overeem.
The Dutch monster is undoubtedly one of the scariest physical specimens in all of MMA and he's a ferocious striker...when he doesn't have to fret the specter of a takedown...or get hit in retaliation. In other words, he's a hellacious kickboxer and a demon against an adversary who's severely outgunned (see: Rodgers, Brett).
However, there's a reason he's lost 11 fights, bounced from weight class to weight class and I can only list seven of his 34 wins as notable. Frankly, I'm being generous with Buentello, Hunt and the Grim given the various career stages at issue.
In other words, there's far more glitz and glamour to the Demolition Man than there is substance.
Remember, we're embarking on Year No. 4 of the new-and-improved Alistair Overeem—the one that seems to have added 70 pounds of pure, lean muscle. That guy has only lost to Kharitonov and he's only gotten beefier since then.
If the current Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion rampages his way through the field in the grand prix, said jag would produce wins over Fabricio Werdum, Bigfoot Silva and either Josh Barnett or a W in the rubbermatch with the Russian Mercenary.
In other words, it would give Overeem an excess of hypeability to bring to the UFC's greener pastures.
And I bet Dana White would have just the luxury stables to offer him.
Suspicious musculature be damned.
Record: 24-7 and 1 NC (12 KO, 8 Submissions)
Notable Wins: Chris "Lights Out" Lytle, "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler, Frank "The Legend" Shamrock, Scott "Hands of Steel" Smith, Hayato "Mach" Sakurai, K.J. Noons, Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos
Given Diaz' sugary-sweet disposition and cuddly reputation, I'm guessing his placement so high on the list will ruffle a few fan feathers. After all, Nick's previous spin with the UFC couldn't have gone any worse unless he pulled a Paul Daley.
Diaz got lit up by Karo "The Heat" Parisyan, Diego "The Nightmare Turned Dream" Sanchez, Joe "Diesel" Riggs and Sean "The Muscle Shark" Sherk. To make matters worse, he and Diesel got into a post-fight altercation at the hospital that eventually required police intervention. Finally, after a brief hiatus outside the organization, the UFC brought Nick back into the fold for two victories only to have him eschew assurances of future fights and head to Pride where he got popped for smoking weed.
The unofficial Stockton bad boy has kept it just as colorful since landing in Strikeforce.
Nick played a key instigatory role in the Shields-Mayhem Miller donnybrook at Strikeforce: Nashville and he continues to conduct some of the most smashing press conferences/interviews you'll ever witness.
Still, the 27-year-old is one of the most well-rounded scrappers in MMA today and he's experienced well beyond his years. Slowly but surely, some wisdom is wedging itself into the Diaz cranium and he's beginning to "play the game." Only time will tell if Stockton's pride can keep the restraints on long enough to get back in Dana's good graces, but recent comments from both camps suggest there is mutual interest.
And, don't forget, this is another fighter who's thick as thieves with Jake Shields.
So you know the subject is already in play.
With UFC Welterweight Champion Georges "Rush St-Pierre doing his best to clean out the welterweight division and Nick Diaz rocking the Strikeforce welterweight hardware, you can see why the interest could be mutual.
Record: 31-3 and 1 NC (8 KO, 16 Submissions)
Notable Wins: Ricardo "The Brazilian Tiger" Arona, Renato "Babalu" Sobral, Semmy "Hightower" Schilt, Heath "The Texas Crazy Horse" Herring, Antonio "Minotauro" Rodrigo Nogueira (twice), Kazuyuki "Ironhead' Fujita, Mark "The Hammer" Coleman (twice), Kevin "The Monster" Randleman, Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, Mark "Super Samoan" Hunt, Matt "The Law" Lindland, Tim "The Maine-iac" Sylvia, Andrei "The Pit Bull" Arlovski, Brett "The Grim" Rogers
C'mon, you knew he was gonna be here, didn't you?
Dana might deny it and every bit of common sense says "no way," but admit it—half of you'd pay to see Fedor tussle with any of the top UFC heavyweight contenders because you want to see him get knocked back into his Pride glory days.
The other half of you would pay to see him cut 30 pounds and butt heads at light heavyweight because that's where the Last Emperor still may be able to lounge with scepter in hand.
Both options offer promotional payloads, but since I'm in the latter circle, let's explore that one.
Imagine all the tantalizing pairings for the Russian Experiment in the UFC's 205-pound division—there's a long-anticipated matchup with Randy "The Natural" Couture or a clash of old school vs. new school against Jon "Bones" Jones, which might also be a title bout.
Or what about a reunion of Pride juggernauts with current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua? How about a study in discipline with Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida or a slugfest with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson?
The possibilities are dizzying.
What's more, Fedor's recent bout of the kryptonite flu has robbed M-1/Red Devil/the Russian crazies of their leverage. Emelianenko is no longer the undefeated, guaranteed draw that he was only two fights ago; he's still a huge ticket, but he's no longer The Face Who Could Launch 1,000 Pay-Per-Views.
And that means they might be willing to come back to the bargaining table.
Of course, Dana White and company would also have to agree, and that would probably require Emelianenko to agree to drop down to light heavyweight. Which means Fedor in the UFC is as much of a pipe dream as it's always been.
But what a nice one to entertain...