After Showtime and Strikeforce jointly released to the press a statement on Strikeforce’s final show on the network, many people presumed Strikeforce was dead. There was no official statement, of course, until Dana White officially declared Strikeforce’s demise at a post-press conference media scrum for UFC 155. Right now the UFC is in a very good position: they get to poach the best fighters not in the UFC but contractually under the Zuffa umbrella to shore up the ranks of their own divisions.
It’s not that the UFC is shallow in any division outside of heavyweight, a traditionally shallow division in combat sports as a whole. From middleweight down there’s an exorbitant amount of great and diverse fighters that adding the best of Strikeforce is almost unfair. It’s almost an embarrassment of riches to be Dana White right now; the UFC will now be in the driver’s seat when they discuss how the best in the world are all under one banner.
Strikeforce may not have been deep but they were fairly stout when it came to having an elite amount of fighters.
What to do with that roster is a nice problem to have for Joe Silva, Sean Shelby and Zuffa matchmakers. There’s any number of matchups to make that will excite fight fans in the next six months alone from the sheer volume of talent being brought over. There are at least 10 matchups you could make right now that’ll make anyone salivate at the fireworks to be had inside the Octagon. The five best matchups to be made, though, are going to come from the five best fighters currently still on the Strikeforce roster.
Daniel Cormier vs. Frank Mir or Alexander Gustafsson – Will he or won’t he face Cain Velasquez for the heavyweight title of the world? That’s the question that needs to be answered. Cormier has said in the past he’ll take a shot at trying to make 205 if Cain is champion, potentially, depending on whether or not he would agree to face his teammate. That’s the dilemma right now: does he want to face Cain or take a chance and go down to light heavyweight.
Granted it nearly killed him in the Olympics when he tried to make 211, as he had to withdraw as he started to go into renal failure due to a bad weight cut, but you can’t fault a guy for trying to do it again but in a healthier way this time. That’ll be the key; if Cormier tries a test cut and winds up in the hospital he’ll be at heavyweight. If he can get down to 205 without frying his kidneys again he could make a run at 205.
It all depends on whether or not he gets an immediate title shot at either weight. Right now Jon Jones has Chael Sonnen in April and the winner of Machida/Henderson at the end of the summer on his dance card. Cain has Alistair Overeem, if he beats Bigfoot Silva in January, next on his dance card. So either Cormier can wait for six months or more for a shot at either or get a fight right away. Mir is someone he was scheduled to face and fell through. Gustafsson needs an opponent and it would make a great title eliminator as well as be a good barometer of whether or not Cormier can make 205 consistently.
That’s the thing; if Cormier is going down to 205 it won’t be for one fight; he’ll be there regularly. It’s never a good idea to try and make a new weight class, even if you six plus months to shed the weight naturally, because you never know what’ll happen in the days before. I’d like to see Cormier win a fight in the division, make 205 successfully and be able to fight there without a hiccup before he challenges Jones. If not a win over someone like Mir keeps him busy while the heavyweight picture sorts itself out.
Gilbert Melendez vs. Benson Henderson – When it comes to divisional rankings the only fighter with a legitimate claim to being in the top three in their division is “El Nino,” Strikeforce’s lightweight champion and member of the Cesar Gracie Fight Team. At worst he has to be considered the fourth best lightweight in the world behind Henderson, Frankie Edgar and a handful of fighters jockeying for 3rd position.
If he doesn’t get a title shot right away look for him against someone like the winner of Jim Miller or Jamie Varner as his debut fight; he’s going to get either a title shot or a really tough test coming in before a title shot, ala Jake Shields. The key will be the timing of his entry, the health of his shoulder and the result of Cerrone vs. Pettis in Chicago; a spectacular win by one of the former WEC champions and a bum shoulder for Melendez could cause him to get a debut fight against a contender first instead of an immediate title shot. Melendez’s first fight in the UFC will be more about timing and injury status more than anything else.
Luke Rockhold vs. the winner of Yushin Okami – Rockhold passes the eyeball test of being an elite middleweight but hasn’t quite fought his way into a title shot like Melendez or Cormier. But so far he has to be considered a Top 10 middleweight, if only on the eyeball test alone, and won’t get an immediate title shot right away. Okami is still an elite member of the division and in the same spot Rich Franklin and Chael Sonnen are: he’s not getting another title shot in the immediate future. Okami is the Jon Fitch of middleweight; he’s no worse than the 4th or 5th best guy in the division but he won’t be challenging for a title soon, either.
Hector Lombard would make for an interesting matchup for Rockhold as could Mark Munoz. Rockhold is such an exciting fighter, and one who will be in the title picture after the Anderson Silva era ends, that he’s going to be around for a while.
Nate Marquardt vs. the winner of Jon Fitch vs. Demian Maia – Marquardt was an elite middleweight who was small for the division, making 170 apparently fairly easy in his debut against Tyron Woodley. He looked great and presuming he defends his title successfully he’s in a similar spot as Rockhold; he passes the eyeball test of being a potential Top 10 fighter in the division but hasn’t shown it against the elites of the division yet. It’s the same spot Ben Askren is in right now; we know he’s good enough to hang with the best but we haven’t quite seen it yet. Right now if I were in the business of ranking fighters he’d probably rank somewhere between 7th to 9th in the division. He’ll get someone in a similar spot which is where Fitch vs. Maia comes in. The winner of that is a win or two away from Georges St. Pierre; Marquardt is a natural fit to walk in and be one or two wins away from a title shot. Marquardt can find himself in the title picture sooner than later because he’s already a known commodity, just not in the welterweight division.
Josh Thomson vs. Ross Pearson – When Josh Thomson isn’t injured he looks like one of the top three lightweights in the world in the gym. There are enough stories from enough people about a 100% Thomson hanging with Gray Maynard fairly easy for it to be true; it’s not like the stories of King Mo claiming to be choked out by James Toney. Mo was just pretending to be a carnie, which is what he’s signed up for this winter with TNA and Bellator on Spike TV. Thomson is potentially a world champion in the waiting.
The guy has all the tools to be a UFC champion at lightweight; the problem is that he’s never been healthy.
He nearly beat Gilbert Melendez with a badly banged up knee going into their trilogy fight. He doesn’t just walk into fights bruised up; he walks in with injuries many fighters wouldn’t fight with. It’s a testament to his abilities that he has managed to always look on the cusp of being elite but never quite being there. Pearson is in a similar spot, never having quite put it together despite having all the tools to be the lightweight version of Michael Bisping for UK fans. Myles Jury would make for a fun fight as well. Thomson might be in the best spot among Strikeforce lightweights; he’s not going to start out being tossed into deep waters but he won’t be facing TUF prospects that haven’t hit the point where we know their ceiling yet, either. He’ll have the chance to put together a multiple fight win streak and gradually move up the ranks, as expectations are significantly lower for him than they are for someone like Melendez.