Strikeforce: Memories, Legacies, Final Preview & Predictions
Ariel Shnerer / January 11, 2013 - 4:00pm
Since its inception, Strikeforce has been a breeding ground for quality fighters, providing rising prospects with the platform to hone their skills, while featuring many legends and stars along the way.
With roots as a mixed combat organization founded by kickboxing promoter Scott Coker, a 5th degree taekwondo black belt, Strikeforce would develop into one of the most successful mixed martial arts promotions in the world.
Strikeforce was truly born when it staged a historic fight card in March 2006 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, a venue that served as the promotion's home base throughout its run. The headliner featured Frank Shamrock's 21-second knockout of Cesar Gracie, topping a well-received fight card that put Strikeforce on the radar, complimented by the mixed martial arts debut of Cung Le, a dynamic Vietnamese-American kickboxer who would become a longtime poster boy for the company.
Among the most memorable shows in Strikeforce history was a co-promotion with the now-defunct Elite Xtreme Combat in June 2007, pitting Shamrock against Phil Baroni in the headliner for the middleweight title, while Le, Murilo "Ninja" Rua, Paul Daley and Josh Thomson prevailed in other main card attractions.
Some of the UFC's most popular fighters were once Strikeforce competitors. The list includes UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, the Diaz brothers, Alistair Overeem, Vitor Belfort and Clay Guida.
Strikeforce created stars, including the aforementioned Sanshou specialist Le, the first-ever UFC female champion Ronda Rousey and heavyweight grand prix winner Daniel Cormier. Strikeforce legitimized international prospects, such as Gilbert Melendez, Jake Shields, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and Gegard Mousasi. And Strikeforce gave talented veterans like Josh Barnett, Andrei Arlovski, Nate Marquardt and Dan Henderson a place to call home.
However, Strikeforce's most important move was signing former Pride heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko in August 2009. The acquisition legitimized the promotion as a viable competitor to the Ultimate Fighting Championship and its stacked cards showcased more world-class talent than ever. The buzz was there, but it died out fast.
After falling to 1-3 under the Strikeforce banner, Emelianenko's career had come to a roadblock and the promotion's heavily advertised heavyweight grand prix tournament was falling apart due to injuries.
Inevitably, the UFC's parent company Zuffa, LLC. purchased Strikeforce in March 2011. One small move at a time, the Strikeforce roster was wearing thin. Top stars such as Le, Fabricio Werdum and Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva were signing UFC contracts and the absorption of the Strikeforce heavyweight division was a telling sign of the future.
UFC president Dana White never had the best relationship with Showtime and it became abundantly clear he was fed up with the whole deal. Meanwhile, two cancelled fight cards in late 2012 pretty much served as the nail in the coffin, bringing us to where we are today.
Strikeforce wraps up its seven-year run on Saturday night as the organization stages its last event at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
There are both positives and negatives surrounding Strikeforce's demise. We'll finally see some intriguing fights, including Gilbert Melendez against Benson Henderson, while the UFC roster deepens its talent pool. With more of the world's premier fighters all under the same roof, we'll see better fights, and that's a fact.
On the other hand, Strikeforce was an entertaining alternative to the UFC with a unique production value and a mind of its own. A place where a hardened veteran like Robbie Lawler could earn $94,940 in a losing effort against Lorenz Larkin on the first fight of a Showtime broadcast.
With one competitor out of the way, another one will rise. Such is the story in mixed martial arts. But this tale always has the same ending, with the UFC continuing to dominate the sport's landscape as it prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary this November.
Before the history books are closed on Strikeforce, however, a number of the California-based promotion's top stars will be in action for a final hurrah on Saturday night.
Airing live on Showtime, Strikeforce's swan song is headlined by a welterweight title fight pitting longtime UFC veteran Nate Marquardt against durable Belgian contender Tarec Saffiedine, in addition to a pair of heavyweight bouts showcasing grand prix finalists Cormier and Josh Barnett.
-Nate Marquardt (32-10-2) vs. Tarec Saffiedine (13-3) - welterweight title
Headlining a card initially billed as Strikeforce: Champions, the lone title fight features the 33-year-old Marquardt against the 26-year-old Saffiedine for the welterweight championship.
After competing all over the world since his debut in April 1999, Marquardt is no stranger to longtime fans, having won several King of Pancrase titles in Japan before joining the UFC in 2005.
Marquardt earned key wins over Joe Doerksen, Martin Kampmann, Demian Maia, Rousimar Palhares and Dan Miller, while coming up short against middleweight ruler Anderson Silva, as well as top contenders Chael Sonnen and Yushin Okami.
Suddenly, Marquardt was released from the UFC in June 2011 after failing a pre-fight medical exam for elevated levels of testosterone. Marquardt admitted to using testosterone replacement therapy before his planned welterweight debut against Rick Story, though he claims those days are over.
Marquardt turned in a spectacular performance against Tyron Woodley, finishing the previously undefeated standout wrestler by fourth-round knockout to claim the vacant Strikeforce welterweight belt this past July.
Seeking one successful title defense before returning to the UFC, Marquardt can't afford to underestimate his unheralded adversary.
The Belgian import Saffiedine trains at Team Quest alongside Dan Henderson in California. After dropping a competitive decision to Woodley in January 2011, Saffiedine has earned a trifecta of victories over Scott Smith, Tyler Stinson and Roger Bowling.
Despite an immense gap in experience, having made his debut in 2007, Saffiedine earned his nickname "Sponge" from coaches because of how quickly he adapted to the sport.
Saffiedine is surrounded by quality wrestlers in camp, but he also possesses a dangerous striking game.
However, Marquardt showed no signs of ring rust after returning to action following a long layoff. In fact, the 2nd degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt put on one of his finest performances.
Fed up with criticisms surrounding his departure from the UFC, Marquardt will be looking to make a statement as he mixes up his dynamic offensive onslaught, thwarting takedown attempts and dissecting Saffiedine with a high volume of combinations to come out on top after five rounds.
Verdict: Marquardt via decision
-Daniel Cormier (10-0) vs. Dion Staring (28-7)
Since victories over Josh Barnett and Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva to win the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, Cormier has been regarded as one of the best heavyweights in the world.
Before his highly anticipated UFC debut, the 33-year-old former Olympic wrestler must face a relatively unknown 34-year-old Dutch southpaw.
Cormier's wrestling accolades are arguably the most impressive in the history of the sport with a strong NCAA Division I and freestyle wrestling background. After kidney failure prevented Cormier from competing after being named team captain on the 2008 U.S. Olympic wrestling team, Cormier made the transition to mixed martial arts.
Still undefeated after 10 professional bouts, Cormier has evolved as a fighter at San Jose's American Kickboxing Academy, training alongside Cain Velasquez and Jon Fitch.
Staring, a product of Holland's Golden Glory camp, has spent time training closely with former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem.
Although many casual fans are likely unfamiliar with Staring, his career actually dates back to 1999. With 35 professional bouts under his belt, he'll benefit from the significant career experience against the relative novice Cormier.
Staring has been mostly inconsistent throughout his career, but he's riding a six-fight winning streak as he embarks on his first and last fight for Strikeforce.
Although Cormier's powerful fists of fury could end the fight in an instant, Staring must absolutely keep the fight standing. The task will prove nearly impossible against a seasoned wrestler the caliber of Cormier, who will bully Staring at will, overwhelming him with relentless pressure before ending the beatdown with heavy punches on the mat.
Verdict: Cormier via TKO, Round 1
-Josh Barnett (31-6) vs. Nandor Guelmino (11-3-1)
The 35-year-old Barnett must turn in an outstanding effort against the relatively unknown 37-year-old Guelmino if he hopes to get another shot in the UFC.
A pioneer in the sport, Barnett made his debut in 1997. The catch wrestling specialist finished Randy Couture in 2002 to claim the UFC heavyweight title, but his belt was stripped shortly thereafter because he tested positive for three banned substances.
Barnett competed for Pride and Affliction, beating the likes of Aleksander Emelianenko, Mark Hunt, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Pedro Rizzo and Gilbert Yvel.
Much of the blame surrounding the cancellation of Affliction's third event was placed on Barnett after he once again got caught for doping.
Strikeforce gave the charismatic Washington native one last chance to prove his worth, offering him a spot in the heavyweight grand prix. Barnett cruised to submission wins over Brett Rogers and Sergei Kharitonov to earn his spot in the final, where he dropped a unanimous decision to Daniel Cormier.
A polarizing figure who tends to cut professional wrestling promos inside the cage, Barnett remains one of the most battle-tested and crafty competitors in the sport.
Guelmino has only a fraction of Barnett's experience, but he's put together a seven-fight winning streak heading into his North American debut.
But some of the competition Guelmino has beaten borders on tomato can territory, while Barnett has proven himself against a wide array of opponents.
Barnett should have little trouble putting Guelmino on his back, where he'll easily outposition his Austrian foe before unloading with a steady stream of ground-and-pound, forcing the referee to intervene shortly thereafter.
Verdict: Barnett via TKO, Round 1
-Mike Kyle (19-8-1) vs. Gegard Mousasi (32-3-2)
In a solid light heavyweight tussle, the 32-year-old Kyle clashes with the 27-year-old Mousasi.
Anchored at San Jose's American Kickboxing Academy, Kyle has steadily improved since his 2004 UFC tenure. A training camp that coincided with Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez is also a major confidence boost.
The Idaho native boasts wins over Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante, Abongo Humphrey and Marcos Rogerio de Lima. Kyle also accepted several heavyweight fights on short notice, dropping gutsy efforts against Fabricio Werdum and Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva.
A heavy power puncher at 205 pounds, Kyle will look to seize his opportunity to derail one of the most promising fighters transitioning to the UFC.
The Iranian-born Armenian kickboxing specialist Mousasi was riding an impressive 15-fight winning streak between 2005 and 2009 with many critics predicting Mousasi would become the future of the light heavyweight division.
The judo black belt defeated Hector Lombard, Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos, Denis Kang, Melvin Manhoef, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, Mark Hunt, Renato "Babalu" Sobral and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou before his luck ran out against Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal in an April 2010 Strikeforce title bout.
Mousasi lost the belt in a one-sided decision, unable to stop the American's strong takedowns over 25 minutes.
Although he's since rebounded with wins over Jake O'Brien, Tatsuya Mizuno, Hiroshi Izumi and Ovince St. Preux, Mousasi is no longer the menacing force he was in 2009.
With forgettable performances against Keith Jardine and St. Preux under the Strikeforce banner, Mousasi will need to return to top form if he hopes to send a message to the UFC's stacked 205-pound roster.
Although Mousasi is a well-rounded fighter with dangerous submission skills, his striking poses the biggest threat. In fact, Mousasi is undefeated in kickboxing bouts, including a pair of notable wins over Japanese K-1 greats Musashi and Kyotaro.
Kyle, who once challenged for the WEC heavyweight title, is as durable as they come. Mousasi's superlative technique should be the difference maker, however, as he scores with some critical combinations en route to a triumphant decision.
Verdict: Mousasi via decision
-Ed Herman (20-8) vs. Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (16-3)
Rounding out an exciting lineup is a history making bout, signalling the first time ever that a UFC fighter will fill the void on a Strikeforce broadcast.
The UFC had planned to send over Frank Mir to challenge Daniel Cormier this past November, but an injury led to the show being scrapped altogether.
The 32-year-old Herman, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, has been a consistent fighter for the UFC since June 2006.
A strong grappler with a grinding offensive style, Herman has amassed wins over the likes of Scott Smith, Joe Doerksen, David Loiseau, Tim Credeur, Kyle Noke and Clifford Starks.
Most recently, Herman dropped a decision to Jake Shields in August, but the result has since been overturned to a no contest after Shields failed his post-fight drug test.
The 33-year-old "Jacare," a member of Black House Gym, has put his Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo black belts to good use in the Strikeforce cage, defeating Matt Lindland, Joey Villasenor, Tim Kennedy, Robbie Lawler and Bristol Marunde.
Widely acknowledged as one of the sport's most effective submission grapplers, the two-time ADCC Submission Wrestling gold medalist has stellar BJJ credentials and effective takedowns, but his improving hand speed and power were on display this past August, as the Brazilian knocked out recent UFC signee Derek Brunson in just 41 seconds.
With constantly evolving striking and a major advantage in the grappling realm, "Jacare" should have his way with Herman, dominating key positions and landing heavy strikes to earn himself, and essentially the Strikeforce brand, an emphatic victory.
Verdict: Souza via decision