Occupy The Throne 1.16.13: Strikeforce in the UFC
Jeremy Lambert: This past Saturday was a night to reminisce about all the good times Strikeforce gave us. Now that it’s over, we can look ahead and think about the influx of talent that the UFC has acquired. With the organization running an event every week it seems, they’ve been in desperate need of talent, both high-end and depth, for at least a year now.
Fighters like Gilbert Melendez, “Jacare” Souza, Luke Rockhold, and Daniel Cormier can immediately step up and fight top contenders in their respective divisions while guys like Jason High, Pat Healy, Tim Kennedy, and others can be added to cards that would otherwise feature Ultimate Fighter washouts.
Ever since Zuffa purchased Strikeforce, fans have been clamoring for certain fighters to grace the octagon. Some came over right away and found success (and failed drug tests), but now the majority of the best fighters in the world will be under one banner, making Joe Silva’s job easy, and giving fans the best possible fights.
Samer Kadi: While the UFC has already raided some of Strikeforce’s top names, there remains valuable resources to be dug up. Arguably MMA’s weakest weight-class, the heavyweight division is in dire need of significant talent. Therefore, any worthwhile addition to the UFC heavyweight division is beyond welcome.
The likes of Velasquez, Dos Santos and the soon to be returning Overeem ensure a top heavy division, but the list grows thin as we move past the top 3. Werdum and Big Foot were notable acquisitions from the now defunct Strikeforce, and yet, the UFC can’t stop there. Dana White must put his differences with Josh Barnett aside, as for all his flaws and unreliability, he is an extremely gifted heavyweight who is good enough to walk through 90% of the division.
Of course, the crowning jewel would be Daniel Cormier, whose addition to the Ultimate Fighting Championship is all but guaranteed. Should his callout of Frank Mir come to fruition, Cormier will likely earn himself quite an impressive UFC win on his debut, as Mir presents a stylistically favorable fight for the AKA standout.
Questions surround Cormier’s heavyweight future however, as he is teammates with current UFC champion Cain Velasquez. That much is unfortunate, as Cormier is a shoe-in to make serious noise at heavyweight, whereas the task is more complicated at 205, where the mere attempt of making weight is a challenge in itself, as Cormier learned in 2008 when he experienced serious kidney problems.
Jeremy Lambert: Barnett and Cormier are the only two worthwhile heavyweights left in Strikeforce as the UFC acquired all their other talented big men prior to 2013. Barnett could be a very valuable addition as he can test younger guys but also be matched up against veterans that could bring some nostalgia to longtime MMA fans.
Cormier has all the tools to be a top four heavyweight alongside Velasquez, Dos Santos, and Overeem, but it’s up and to him, and his body, as to whether or not he decides to stay above 205 pounds.
Should he be able to safely drop to light heavyweight, he becomes an immediate title contender as he has been smart enough to build up a small rivalry with current UFC champion Jon Jones. Beyond Cormier dropping down, don’t expect a title contender to emerge from the current crop of Strikeforce light heavyweights.
Not that Gegard Mousasi, Rafael Cavalcante, and Ovince St. Preux aren’t talented fighters, but they don’t match-up particularly well against Jones. Then again, who does? Of those three, Mousasi definitely has the most potential to make some noise as he’s only 27, is already a well-rounded fighter, and, according to him, is finally taking MMA seriously. Cavalcante is a talented fighter in his own right, but his chin and recent PED suspension make him hard to trust, while OSP is a product of a weak Strikeforce talent pool.
While the UFC may not benefit too much from adding Strikeforce heavyweight and light heavyweight fighters, aside from the obvious depth, they’ll strength their middleweight division by leaps and bounds thanks to the incoming crop of fighters.
Samer Kadi: For one reason or another, the middleweight division has always been Strikeforce’s most robust, dating back to when Dan Henderson and Jake Shields squared off for the title.
Luke Rockhold could very well be one of the most overlooked additions to the UFC roster. At 28 years of age and with merely eleven fights under his belt, Rockhold’s best days are seemingly ahead of him. His well-roundedness makes him a formidable opponent for anyone, as the man is a serious athlete who has picked up every aspect of the game with remarkable ease. Unfortunately, for as talented as Rockhold is, he is just as injury prone – a fact that has haunted him throughout his career, and could potentially derail his UFC progress.
The real star acquisition will be Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu wizard Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, who in addition to being one of the most decorated grapplers in history, is one of the few BJJ aces to have excelled in other aspects of the game. Souza is a unique athlete, a feat that has allowed him to pick up the striking game quite impressively. Moreover, “Jacare” possesses the takedown ability to compliment his otherworldly grappling. As improved as it is, the middleweight division remains somewhat spotty, and a talent like Souza has all the tools to capitalize on some of the top middleweight contenders’ limitations. Stylistically, he presents a nightmare match-up for many of them, and is one of the few Strikeforce fighters with real a chance to challenge for UFC gold.
Jeremy Lambert: Along with Rockhold and Souza, both of whom could be middleweight title contenders by the end of the year given their talent level and the shallowness of the division, the UFC will be adding some depth to the division with guys like Tim Kennedy, Roger Gracie, and Lorenz Larkin.
Those four men may never be in a position to challenge for the strap, but they all bring something different to the table. Kennedy is a tireless worker who will be a tough out for anyone at middleweight and Larkin, according to Scott Coker, is the best striker on the planet earth. Then there’s Gracie, who is without a doubt the best Gracie to ever grace the octagon since Royce way back in the 90’s. Plus there’s a chance that we could see former Strikeforce title contender Keith Jardine back in the UFC at middleweight.
When your division currently boasts “guys who Anderson Silva has already destroyed” and the likes of Costa Philippou and Mark Munoz near the top, all of these Strikeforce fighters should be welcome to 185 with open arms.
While middleweight will undoubtedly benefit from the extra fighters, and those fighters will benefit from actually fighting good competition, Strikeforce welterweights are going to have a tough time surviving given how top heavy the division is.
Tarec Saffiedine could surprise people given his skills and ability to quickly learn the sport, but his takedown defense is questionable and 170 is filled with top-notch wrestlers. Other guys like Jason High, Roger Bowling, and Bobby Voelker will just be happy to get fights on a regular basis.
Samer Kadi: The fact that the UFC has little pieces to pick up from Strikeforce’s welterweight division is hardly a travesty, as the world’s best welterweights already compete in the Octagon, and the UFC’s 170 weight class has a case for being the deepest in the sport. Tarec Saffiedine, and even Nate Marquardt are worthwhile additions, but they only good additions to an already stacked division.
If any weight class gives the welterweight division a run for its money as far as being the best in MMA, it’s the lightweight division. Already boasting a host of the world’s most talented 155’ers, the lightweight division is far from being in dire need of new talent. However, it is hard not to salivate over the prospect of Gilbert Melendez fighting the likes of Ben Henderson or Anthony Pettis.
For two years people have clamored to see Melendez in the UFC, and when it is all said and done, he might prove to be their most valuable acquisition from Strikeforce.
Jeremy Lambert: Melendez will pay immediate dividends for the UFC as he’s already slotted to take on Henderson for the title on FOX in April. Even if he falls short of regaining the lightweight strap, he’ll still be near the top of the division for years to come.
Even though lightweight is already extremely rich with talent, the addition of the 155 pounders from Strikeforce will only deepen the pool. Josh Thomson, Pat Healy, Jorge Masvidal, KJ Noons, and Ryan Couture are all fighters who can hang in the middle of the lightweight pack and potentially separate themselves with a few victories. If nothing else, those fighters provide value to cards that would otherwise be filled with bottom tier fighters or newcomers taking on established guys. Wouldn’t we all much rather see Edson Barboza fight Pat Healy this weekend rather than Lucas Martins or Justin Salas?
While a lot of people feigned sadness this past Saturday during the last Strikeforce event, the majority were likely excited because now former Strikeforce fighters will have a chance to compete on the biggest stage and against the best competition, leading to many fans that fans have been wanting to see ever since Zuffa purchased them in 2011.