As of this past weekend, the “Strikeforce era” in MMA came to an end.
It didn’t implode suddenly, like a submarine at crush depth, the way the Affliction MMA promotion did. It didn’t go out in a blaze of ridiculousness the way Elite XC (and the Kimbo Slice experiment) did. It didn’t thumb its nose at the rules of good taste and common sense the way the YAMMA “Pit Fighting” promotion did so briefly.
Instead, the Scott Coker-led promotion went out like Frank Sinatra – their way. And “their way” usually means some exciting fights as well as some strangeness, featuring an even mix of talented up-and-comers and UFC castoffs.
And thankfully, no Mauro Renallo to over-enthuse the viewer into a diabetic coma.
Now that Strikeforce is done, and the top stars are headed for the bright lights of the UFC, it’s time to bust out my Joe Silva hat (what, joe Silva doesn’t have a hat?) and play a round of fantasy matchmaker. What mouth-watering fights await us in the Strikeforce/UFC merger? Time to find out – and as always with these things, it’s best to start with a fight that’s already guaranteed to happen.
Ben Henderson vs. Gilbert Melendez
According to MMA Fighting, the UFC is looking to make Ben Henderson vs. Gilbert Melendez the main event of the next UFC on FOX event. The fight isn’t a done deal yet, but by all indications it’s the direction the UFC is looking to go. It’s also the end of every dream Gilbert Melendez has had for the past two years.
Seriously, what a boon this could be for “El Nino”. Since he retook the Strikeforce lightweight world championship in 2009, Melendez has been fighting for recognition and respect on the grand stage. And for the most part, he’s earned it. He’s undefeated in that time, and is currently riding a seven-fight winning streak. He was (and is) many people’s choice for #2 lightweight in the world – which was cold comfort when he was fighting lesser competition (for less money) in Strikeforce instead of the UFC.
Those days are over, and Gil is about to get the big money fight he’s always deserved. And let’s not forget Bendo in all of this. This fight – his second main event on FOX – shows the UFC is committed to making Henderson (and the lightweight title) a marquee belt in MMA.
Tarec Saffiedine vs. Thiago Alves
One of the provisos of Strikeforce’s final card was that the winners in every fight would be getting a guaranteed ride into the UFC. So what better place to start hypothesizing about potential fights than the man who won the final main event in Strikeforce history?
Tarec Saffiedine looked fantastic against the always-dangerous Nate Marquardt on Saturday night. His assault on Nate’s leg, in particular, was brutal to watch. I’m thinking he sent Marquardt’s leg to the same support group that Jose Aldo sent Urijah Faber’s, and “Shogun” Rua sent Lyoto Machida’s. it was that bad.
The welterweight division of the UFC is currently hurting for “striking first” style fighters. So why not match up Saffiedine with another hard-hitting, well-rounded striker with a penchant for hobbling legs himself? Why not put him up against Thiago Alves.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I like this fight. Alves has been real inconsistent as of late, although he is still a big name with some undeniable skills in the stand-up game. I would love to see him welcome the equally hard-hitting Saffiedine to the Octagon.
Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones
Whoa whoa whoa. Have I lost my mind here? How do I go from a safe, reasonable welterweight fight to a champion vs. champion super-fight – across weight divisions, no less?
It’s not as crazy as you think.
For one, there’s been whispering of this fight happening since well before Strikeforce shuttered it’s doors. We’ve heard both Jones and Cormier speculate about this fight being a possibility. We’ve also heard the man himself, Dana White, entertain the idea of having this fight. So we know it’s at least a possibility.
Then consider that Cormier’s teammate Cain Velasquez just re-took the UFC heavyweight championship, and all of a sudden Dan’s road to the UFC just became less clear. Does he enter the heavyweight division and become the gatekeeper for his teammate, taking smaller fights with no chance of upwards career movement until Cain loses the belt?
Or does he move to light-heavyweight, as he had discussed doing in the past, and get a gigantic super-fight against one of the most dominant champions in MMA?
Of course, talking about a weight-cut is one thing. Doing it is another. And that’s a lesson that’s not lost on Cormier, who once suffered kidney failure while attempting to cut weight whil trying to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. He would have to be sure about a cut to 205 before he ever decided to take that risk again.
There’s always the possibility that this fight happens at a catch-weight, which would probably work out fine for all parties involved. Jon Jones is coming off a title defense against a natural middleweight, and will next defend his belt against…a natural middleweight. Fighting someone a little larger than him would probably be an enticing prospect for both him and Dana White.
And a win over “Bones”, no matter what weight the fight happens at, would be a boon for Cormier’s career.
“Jacare” Souza/Roger Gracie vs. Demian Maia/Rousimar Palhares
Yes, that’s FOUR names I’ve included in this fight. No, I don’t think this should be some crazy, WWE-style four-way match. Although don’t think that idea hasn’t occurred to a desperate MMA promoter at some point.
Basically, what I’m going for here is a Super Bowl of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. And if you’re a fan of the fine art of sweaty man-grappling, the Strikeforce closure has been a gold-mine of potential BJJ super-fights. Listed above are four of the most accomplished jiu-jitsu practitioners on planet Earth. All have won accolades outside of MMA, all have transitioned with success to the mixed game, and all of them fight at 185 pounds.
So for the love of Helio Gracie, get some combination of these four men into the cage together.
Grappling is often viewed as the “boring” part of MMA. It’s the part that the TapouT wearing, Coors Light-drinking, ultra-macho MMA fan loves to hate on. But seeing these four guys square off would go a long way towards changing that reputation. Indeed, it’s with these four guys (and very few others) that I could see a fight where no punches are thrown still winning “Fight of the Night”.
Am I enthusing too much (say, to Mauro Renallo-levels)? Yes, yes I am. But there’s a very real chance that any combination of the above four men could result in an all-time grappling classic. Surely, that’s worth the risk of what sometimes happens when two elite BJJ players meet: a bad kickboxing match for the ages!
Luke Rockhold vs. Alan Belcher
We’ll wrap up this trip down hypothetical lane with another reasonable, “less insane” potential bout. While Gilbert Melendez (and possibly Daniel Cormier) are getting UFC title shots upon entering the Octagon (and Ronda Rousey is getting a UFC title, period), I don’t see Strikeforce middleweight champ Luke Rockhold getting an immediate shot.
That’s because the UFC middleweight champion is Anderson Silva – so not only is there a long line of challengers, but at this point fans will only believe the challenger to Silva has a shot if he gets a suit of armor, a baseball bat, and a tag-team partner. It’s that bad.
So Luke needs to prove himself in the UFC first. What better opponent could he draw for his first out than another well-rounded, game middleweight who’s also looking to prove he belongs in the division’s upper echelons.
Alan Belcher had built up a serious head of steam, and looked to be a surefire title contender, until his most recent (and decisive) loss to Yushin Okami. Now Belcher once again finds himself on the outside looking in, but he’s still an extremely versatile, exciting fighter who could very well make another run at the title.
He’s the perfect man to welcome Rockhold to the UFC. This is a fight that would test Rockhold’s overall MMA game, his tenacity, his cardio, and his ability to perform in “the big show”. It also has a more than good chance of being a fantastic fight, which is really the most important factor in determining fantasy fights.