The 411 MMA Top 10 02.11.12 Strikeforce’s Top Twenty Fights: 10-1
What’s up everybody, I am Alex Rella and this is the MMA Top Ten. This week finishes up looking at Strikeforce’s top twenty fights. Some of the lower-mid level Strikeforce guys took care of business at UFC 156 and I’m really looking forward to UFC on Fox 7 with three UFC vs SF fights on the main card. It may take a few years for most to realize, but I believe Strikeforce will have a lasting effect on MMA. Anyway, go back and read last week’s list if you haven’t (just click my name and you’ll see older columns). This week’s list is based mostly on fight quality, then the positive significance of the fight in relation to Strikeforce’s history, and lastly some of my personal opinion.
Cung Le became Strikeforce’s top fighter in the company after he defeated Frank Shamrock for the middleweight title in March 2008. Unfortunately for Strikeforce, Le would vacate his title to pursue acting full time. Le returned to the main event at Strikeforce: Evolution to take on Scott Smith. Smith was a solid fighter until this point, but he had never been able to get past any real top fighters. The first thirteen minutes of the fight was a Cung Le highlight reel as almost every fancy striking maneuver was connecting and knocking Smith down. Then out of nowhere Smith connected with a beautiful striking combination that knocked Le down. Le stood back up only to get knocked down again as Smith would finish it. Smith became the first man to defeat Cung Le, but unfortunately for him this would also be the last win of his career. Cung Le would win their rematch in June 2010 in his final fight in Strikeforce
It’s almost a shame this fight didn’t happen sooner. At this point Dan Henderson was the Strikeforce light heavyweight champion and Fedor had lost his last two fights. This was a rare appearance at heavyweight for Henderson and he only weighed in at 207 pounds. Fedor also came in a little light at 223 pounds. Both guys came out swinging immediately. It slowed down a bit with some clinch work, but then they went right back to throwing bombs at each other. Fedor knocked down Henderson and it looked like he was going to pull out the victory, but Henderson swung out from underneath him and took full mount. Henderson then knocked him out with the H-bomb. This would be both men’s final fight in Strikeforce as Henderson went back to the UFC and Fedor finished his career in M-1.
The eight-man Strikeforce World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament started in February 2011. The tournament was stacked with Fedor, Overeem, Bigfoot Silva, Werdum, Arlovski, Kharitonov, Bret Rogers, and Barnett. Barnett would reach the finals by submitting Rogers and Kharitonov via arm triangle. Daniel Cormier was selected to replace Overeem after he was released by Zuffa due their disagreements with Golden Glory. Cormier took on Silva in the semis who had just defeated Fedor in a huge upset. Cormier knocked out Silva to reach the finals but broke his hand in the process so the fight would get delayed until May 2012. This fight was a big deal as Daniel Cormier was a former Olympic wrestler and had been a rising prospect for years. Barnett on the other hand was the former UFC heavyweight champion who hadn’t lost since 2006. Most heavyweight fights that end up going to the judges are slow crapfests but this was a star making performance for Cormier. He won the bloody brawl by unanimous decision. The highlight of the fight was when he picked up the Warmaster and slammed him down to the mat in the third round. But unfortunately he broke his hand again so he didn’t fight for the rest of 2012.
This was the armbar that changed women’s MMA forever. This was one of the best feuds of the year and it looks like it has the potential to continue in the UFC. Ronda Rousey had wrecked everybody on her way to a title shot using her finishing maneuver. Some say Sarah Kaufman deserved this title shot and was unfairly passed over, but I disagree as Strikeforce made the right decision to go with Rousey even if she ended up losing. Tate came to fight and really brought it to her. And to Tate’s credit she was able to escape the first armbar and last longer than anyone else has. Rousey dislocated her elbow in the second armbar causing her to lose her title and later her mind if you’ve listened to her recent interviews. This was one of the most exciting one round fights ever.
This was an historic night for Strikeforce. This was the first time a women’s fight headlined a show for a major promotion. Gina Carano took on Cristiane Santos to determine Strikeforce’s inaugural women’s featherweight champion. This was a stacked card with two other title fights as well, but this was blew them all away. The long anticipated fight set ratings records for Showtime. Cyborg would win by TKO with a second left in the round and Carano would never return to the cage. I would like to see a rematch between the two if Carano were to ever return to MMA.
A few weeks ago the MMA staff did a Strikeforce memorial roundtable. I originally picked this as the best fight in the history of the company, but I’ve changed my mind as I’ve been watching all of these fights over again. This isn’t a knock on this fight, at this point all the fights are very close in their levels of awesome and the fights above this one just have an edge. Strikeforce tried to get the two men to have their third fight several times since their last fight in 2009, but Thomson kept getting hurt over the years. While Thomson only fought a handful of times, Melendez became one of the best lightweights in the world. This wasn’t as fast paced as their previous encounters, but it was a different, much closer, and almost more strategic kind of fight. Melendez won by split decision, I thought Thomson won and there were even those like Pat Miletich who thought it was a draw. I would like to see a fourth fight and a win for Thomson over Nate Diaz would be a huge step in that direction. It was fitting that these two would be each other’s final opponents in the company as they were key to Strikeforce’s legacy.
This fight was just awesome. The first round was brutal with both fighters standing up and throwing powerful shots at each other. The highlight of the round was Kedzie rocking Tate with a sidekick. Tate battled back in the second round to even it up. Cupcake would then get dropped to the ground again in the third round by Kedzie but was able to get her legs around her to limit the damage. Then Tate used her great mat skills to pull out the armbar in a really patient and methodical way. The armbar was almost like a work of art. I think this fight also played a big part in changing Dana White’s mind on women’s MMA. And somehow this was on the preliminary card of the event. I and many others felt that this was the best fight of 2012.
This was a huge fight for Strikeforce. Frank Shamrock helped build the company and was the middleweight champion after defeating Phil Baroni. Cung Le was undefeated in both kickboxing and MMA at this point and had also been with the company since its inaugural event. This was a very close fight with both fighters splitting the first two rounds. The third round was a tie in my opinion. The Legend came close to finishing Le in the middle of the round, but Le recovered and ended the round with a flurry of offense. This included a kick that broke Shamrock’s right arm. Shamrock would be unable to continue between rounds as he lost the final title of his career.
This was one of the best heel vs heel fights ever. This was Nick Diaz’ third title defense and final fight in the company before it was purchased by Zuffa. This was Paul Daley’s second fight in Strikeforce since he got kicked out of the UFC for being a tool and hitting Josh Koscheck after their fight was over. We got two of the best trash talkers and strikers in the history of the welterweight division. It seemed as though Daley would win the fight a few times as he cracked Diaz’ iron chin, but Diaz showed what he was made of and came back. Most fighters would have just covered their heads and hope for the fight to be over, but Diaz scrambled and got to his feet. Diaz would finish Daley by strikes with only three seconds left in the round. A nice end to his great run in Strikeforce.
This rematch took place on the promotion’s best overall show and was Strikeforce’s best fight. Josh Thomson won their first meeting (see last week’s list) in June 2008. But The Punk never defended his title as he broke his ankle while training. During this time Melendez would win and defend the interim lightweight title. After being rescheduled a few times, the two finally met at Strikeforce: Evolution. This was five rounds of pure awesome. Melendez was clearly the better fighter this night as he negated almost all of Thomson’s wrestling and came out on top of nearly every striking exchange, and there were a lot of fast striking exchanges. Sports Illustrated named Round 5 the round of the year. This was one of the best rounds ever. It had more ridiculous striking exchanges and when Melendez finally dropped Thomson, he popped right back up to score a takedown. Melendez would win by unanimous decision and would never lose the title.
• So let me know how you guys would rank them or maybe I left a fight out that you thought should be in the top 10.
• As always, let me know if there are any topics or fighters you would like to see ranked in the future.
• Next week I’ll rank ten potential trilogies that should be completed.
Try not to die til next week.