For a time, I actually thought Strikeforce might just make it.
After the latest “They did what?” Zuffa acquisition went down in March 2011, I was originally convinced they would fold the promotion and absorb it into the UFC. Why wouldn’t they? Take a competitor off the air, get some good-to-great fighters on the roster and voila: the biggest MMA promotion in the world would get stronger.
Then, they wove through the first year and put together some good shows with some fun fights. Nick Diaz and Paul Daley had an awesome one round scrap. Dan Henderson and Fedor Emelianenko rocked Chicago with a great fight. Ronda Rousey became a sensation. Even with their big brother doing big business, Strikeforce mattered.
But this January following the 17th event under Zuffa control, the relationship will come to a merciful end. Strikeforce will be no more and its stars will be set into the UFC wild to finally get the respect, eyeballs and money they have felt they deserve.
Any chance of this relationship working really ended when UFC president Dana White washed his hands of dealing with Showtime this past March, apparently after not having his production voice be heard. (Remember the “Wait and watch what I do” speech?) Like it or not, his blessing and endorsement would have meant a lot to those that follow his every word. By turning his back, the death clock was set into motion.
The raiding of top talent like Diaz and Alistair Overeem early on didn’t help either and had to eventually be ceased with a contract. The infrequent signing of new impact talent (outside Nate Marquardt) eventually began to leave the undercards of Strikeforce events bare. The lack of bonuses and no explanation as to why they weren’t given became an awkward point of contention.
In three months time, that will be all over…finally.
Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez will have the opportunity to fight guys that people know and that aren’t named Josh Thomson. Middleweight Champion Luke Rockhold will be able to test his wares against other top young competition. Marquardt will get another opportunity to redeem himself in a top-heavy welterweight division.
And then, there is the person with the most to potentially lose: Rousey. Surprisingly enough, there are a lot of people that still haven’t seen her fight but are well aware of the armbar phenom that also has the looks to turn heads. A previously unthinkable thing is about to happen: women are about to fight in the UFC and they have a brash Olympian to thank.
But with the celebrity comes a reality: Rousey has to keep winning. The rest of the 135-pound class doesn’t have the clout or recognition to do it without her at this point and will need to give double the effort in order to get over. They can’t find themselves in a spot like the flyweights who exist but haven’t captured the mainstream MMA fan’s attention like some thought they would.
Of course, there will be casualties. It’s no secret there are fighters in both organizations that are in over their heads and simply exist in order to fill out cards. With another 100 or so new UFC faces, that means less spots which hopefully will be a good thing. It would be great to return to a time when fighting in the UFC truly meant you were among the elite, no matter where your spot on the card.
Organizations like Bellator and World Series of Fighting can also benefit from taking on the excess. If it happens like it should, it’s a win-win for the sport.
The day we all speculated about for the better part of two years has arrived, but what can White and crew do with the new class? Finally, we’re about to find out.
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