Zuffa, parent company of the UFC, acquiring Strikeforce has fueled mixed martial arts fans talk of cross-promotional bouts between UFC and Strikeforce. Ninety-six percent of fans demanded it in a text poll on Showtime’s “Diaz vs. Daley” broadcast this past Saturday. While titleholders vying to determine the No. 1 fighter in the division is as compelling as it gets, the potential for excellent scraps extends all the way down their respective rosters. Who knows how the MMA landscape will continue to unfold after the momentous deal, but as it stands, here are 10 of the most intriguing non-title merger matchups now available.
1) Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante vs. Luiz Cane
There’s no shortage of Brazilian firepower in the mixed martial arts world. Rafael “Feijao” and “Bahna” Cane possess a potent 205 pounds of it respectively. When both are on their striking game, the hurt meters are maxed out. The former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion meeting “Bahna” would deliver the kind of fireworks welcomed on any card.
2) Luke Rockhold vs. Alan Belcher
Luke Rockhold is a Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu brown belt eager to showcase improved striking. Alan Belcher is a Duke Roufus-trained striker, now comfortable working his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt in the cage. Where this bright Strikeforce prospect and “The Talent” intersect in the Octagon would be a full-throttle fight wherever the bout unfolds. Belcher’s ability to go southpaw would provide veteran challenges to a southpaw fighter equally focused on finishing.
3) Paul Daley vs. Thiago Alves
The “Semtex” in Paul Daley’s hands versus the severe whip in Thiago Alves low leg kicks is a dynamic battle fans hoped for when Daley entered the UFC’s welterweight division in September 2009, before being dismissed for unsportsmanlike conduct in May 2010. The kickboxing versus Muay Thai style fight is simply a must-see clash between two of the most cutting strikers at 170 pounds.
4) K.J. Noons vs. Melvin Guillard
Pitting explosive boxer-wrestlers against each other makes for matches rife with tension. Since steady balance bolsters their takedown defense, blasting opponents with four-ounce boxing is a specialty of both K.J. Noons and Melvin Guillard. Like Guillard, the former EliteXC Lightweight Champion can be brash in his own right, ensuring a steady stream of talk in the build up versus “The Young Assassin.”
5) Josh Thomson vs. Benson Henderson
When Josh Thomson was asked about his opponent “JZ” Cavalcante’s position in the lightweight division last October, he let it be known Benson Henderson’s position in the rankings above either of them was ludicrous in the former Strikeforce Lightweight Champion’s eyes. That respect plot line between a young champ and a veteran champ is a clash of former titleholders sure to fire up two already high-octane performers.
6) Shinya Aoki vs. Takanori Gomi
A passing of the torch bout expected before PRIDE’s fall, Shinya Aoki versus Takanori Gomi, is a classic grappler versus striker match. A resounding victory from either of Japan’s top lightweight exports will prove their vitality in a scene that does not cradle their stature, as it once did. “The Tobikan Judan” was expected to face Gomi twice in PRIDE and even mentioned as late as DREAM 16 in September 2010 that he still felt the fight would occur. An emotionally charged bout between the two former champions could be a perfect launching point for UFC’s foray back into Japan.
7) Tim Kennedy vs. Michael Bisping
If Michael Bisping’s bad boy antics launched at Jorge Rivera at UFC 127 this February were not pleasing to Tim Kennedy, it’s because Kennedy belongs to the Ranger Up family that backed “El Conquistador” and helped incite the incident perpetrated by The Ultimate Fighter season three winner.
Bisping pushes his contender status in the middleweight division with his fights and his mouth, while Kennedy’s five-round unanimous decision loss to “Jacare” Souza has him focused on attaining gold he narrowly missed in Strikeforce last August. Bisping and Kennedy are perfect foils that promise entertainment leading up to a tough 185-pound contender tilt.
8) Robbie Lawler vs. Chris Leben
Few, if any, can escape Robbie Lawler’s punching onslaught and survive. Few, if any, that can stay conscious after trading with Chris Leben. Heavy hands and a guarantee someone is falling down is all that’s on deck for this one. What more does a fight fan need? In terms of bang for your buck, a Robbie Lawler-Chris Leben middleweight showdown has the highest return value.
9) Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal vs. Forrest Griffin
Muhammad Lawal is the former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion and one of the organization’s star personalities. The same is true for Forrest Griffin in the UFC, as the former 205-pound titleholder and The Ultimate Fighter season one winner. An Olympic-level wrestler, “King Mo” has a decided wrestling advantage over Griffin, who excels in bridging talent gaps with utter tenacity. Lawal would have to overcome the veteran’s experience; however, his athleticism and dedication to evolution even the playing field against one of the hardest workers in the business, shaping a stern matchup for both.
UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture’s pursuit of Fedor Emelianenko caused a 15-month hiatus from the Octagon for “The Natural” between 2007 and 2008. Couture, a former UFC Heavyweight Champion, came up short against another PRIDE Heavyweight Champion, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, in August 2009—so one more long-anticipated super-fight is an enticing proposition. Time has curtailed interest in the bout—Couture is now 47 years old and the Russian was soundly beat twice after a decade undefeated—yet seeing MMA greats on opposite sides of the cage would create a moment of the highest magnitude and leave one with an undeniable name on an already legendary ledger.
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Follow him on twitter.com/acostaislegend