Nate “The Great” Marquardt will headline the last Strikeforce event. | Esther Lin/Showtime
When the “Smartest Guy at the Bar” series started dropping knowledge with the hope that the information would win somebody free drinks at their local watering hole, Strikeforce events seemed like inevitable additions to the usual pay-per-view experience.
Sometimes things do not go according to plan in MMA, as it appears Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena will host Strikeforce’s 63rd and final show on Saturday, the promotion following the International Fight League, Pride Fighting Championships, Affliction and the white buffalo into extinction. Ironically, the final Strikeforce broadcast falls in line with Showtime’s free preview weekend, giving viewers a chance to sample a fight promotion they can never watch again. Somewhere, Strikeforce founder Scott Coker is shuddering on the back nine. The man has had a lot of time on his hands lately.
How We Got Here: The promotion’s swan song was supposed to deliver a fight card worthy of Fourth of July fireworks, but injuries turned this celebration into little more than snakes and sparklers on your driveway. Originally dubbed Strikeforce “Champions,” the show was to feature four title fights on the main card. In the end, only Nate Marquardt’s welterweight strap will be up for grabs, as he takes on Team Quest’s Tarec Saffiedine. Journeyman-turned-contender Pat Healy was finally going to get his due in a title bout against 155-pound champion Gilbert Melendez, until “El Nino” was bitten by the injury bug. Luke Rockhold was set to defend his middleweight championship against Lorenz Larkin, but the oft-injured American Kickboxing Academy standout was forced to bow out yet again. Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix finalists Daniel Cormier and Josh Barnett will get, well, let’s just call them opponents.
Say What: Injuries have become a polarizing topic with some of those on the current Strikeforce roster. With the Ultimate Fighting Championship set to absorb Strikeforce the way Google engulfs startup tech companies, many fighters chose to sit on their hands, rather than glove them up. Waiting for a call from the UFC, it seems, is a far better option than sticking around on a sinking ship. Tim Kennedy, who will lock horns with Trevor Smith at the event, does not share those sentiments and called into question the legitimacy of some of the injuries. “Well, I don’t know. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. It’s pathetic and convenient for every single marquee fighter in all of Strikeforce -- that we all know to be going over to the UFC -- are pulling out of their fights two weeks before the final card. It’s like, ‘Are you guys fighters or are you just a bunch of little vaginas?’” Kennedy told BloodyElbow.com.
Magic Number: 147: the number of days between Strikeforce events. The last time the six-sided cage made an appearance was Aug. 18 in San Diego.
After Ronda Rousey got “Rowdy” with Sarah Kaufman’s arm, the San Jose, Calif.-based promotion found itself on a roller coaster bound for nowhere. Twice Strikeforce attempted to put on another show in 2012 and twice it failed, first on Sept. 29 and again on Nov. 3.
We Got There Eventually: The Strikeforce roster became a sort of purgatory for fighters dropped by the UFC for one reason or another -- a place to earn a paycheck and maybe, just maybe, the opportunity to rejoin UFC again. Perhaps no fighter has stood on the outside looking in based solely on the wrath of UFC President Dana White longer than Barnett, who last fought in the Octagon more than a decade ago at UFC 36. The catch wrestling specialist has done just fine without the UFC for the last 10 years, but the MMA landscape is quite different now. Even though he lost every round to Cormier on two judges’ scorecards in May, the UFC needs talented heavyweights. Good big men are hard to come by ... Marquardt will likely become a beneficiary of luck, timing and the fact that Zuffa’s working relationship with Showtime simply could not be salvaged. “The Great” was cut in wake of UFC on Versus 4, where he was supposed to face Rick Story in the headliner. Due to elevated testosterone levels, Marquardt did not meet the necessary medical qualifications at the 11th hour and was pulled from the card and dropped from the promotion.
Hell hath no fury like White when he has a main event dropout on his hands. Luckily for the former middleweight King of Pancrase, the UFC boss seems to be in a forgiving mood. Win or lose against Saffiedine, Marquardt will likely get to hear Bruce Buffer call his name again inside the Octagon.
Useless Fact: Ed Herman will become the first and last active UFC fighter to compete in the Strikeforce cage when he battles former Strikeforce middleweight champion Ronaldo Souza. The UFC flirted with the idea of bringing over choice pieces of its roster for Strikeforce champions unable to get homegrown competition. Melendez has been twiddling his thumbs waiting for a noteworthy challenger, while Zuffa had designs on bringing over Frank Mir to face Cormier before a knee injury forced him to withdraw from a scheduled Nov. 3 bout. In the end, the UFC was asking its fighters to compete inside a smaller promotion in front of fewer fans with no pay-per-view cut in a fight that would not advance their run at UFC gold. Not difficult to turn down such a request.
Not All Doom and Gloom: History will be made in Oklahoma City, as one of MMA’s most successful promotions turns its final page. Every fighter on the card should take some level of pride for his role in the process. The demise of Strikeforce was a forgone conclusion the moment Zuffa purchased the company. That does not erase the memories The Little Promotion That Could delivered for us. It provided fighters like Nick Diaz, Jason Miller and Dan Henderson an avenue through which to revitalize their careers. One of the sport’s fiercest rivalries played out between Melendez and Josh Thomson in a Strikeforce-exclusive trilogy. The promotion also brought about the end of Fedor Emelianenko’s storied career and gave us tournaments, in-cage brawls and Frank Shamrock’s braces. In short, Strikeforce’s role in the development of modern MMA cannot be ignored. Now comes the fun part. Strikeforce’s best and brightest will make their way into the UFC’s Octagon, much like their World Extreme Cagefighting counterparts before them, and deliver the crossover matchups about which fans have dreamed. Is Melendez the best lightweight in the world? Can Rockhold compete with top-tier middleweights? In what weight class will Cormier ply his trade? The answers are forthcoming.