UFC

UFC vs. Strikeforce: Creating The Dream Event

Putting together a fantasy pay per view

Strikforce is eventually going to disappear; we just don’t know when.

With the massive payroll and minimal attendance from Saturday’s Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov event, it’s unconscionable to maintain the organization in its current state long-term. Maybe it gets whittled down to a developmental organization, maybe it goes away entirely; I’m not sure.

What I do know, however, is that there are a collection of Strikeforce competitors who would be solid additions to the UFC roster. While many of them are not household names with the core UFC audience, there is a way to help resolve that rather quickly—UFC 148: Invasion.

The numbering is just a shot in the dark, and the single-word naming is kind of lame, but the premise totally works: one event with 12 bouts featuring Strikeforce and UFC fighters going head-to-head.

Here’s my take on how that card would look. Check it out, then try to tell me you wouldn’t buy this pay-per-view in a heartbeat.

Jordan Mein vs. John Hathaway

Kick off the night with a clash between two welterweight up-and-comers.

Hathaway lost some of his momentum following his loss to Mike Pyle, but he’s in the same age range as Mein, has a couple good wins in the UFC under his belt, and the two would pair to start the night with an exciting fight.

Because they’re both just over the legal drinking age in the United States, the loser doesn’t lose much ground long-term. The winner, however, becomes the next young star of the welterweight ranks and put on a path similar to the one Rory MacDonald is currently riding.

Tim Kennedy

Tim Kennedy vs. Rousimar Palhares

For one thing, blending the two organizations gives the UFC’s weakest division (middleweight) an influx of at least three solid new names in Luke Rockhold, “Jacare” Souza and Kennedy.

It’s hard to shake out where the 185 pound contenders would match-up because middleweight is in such a transitional state right now in the UFC. Pairing Kennedy with Palhares gives both guys the opportunity to get a good win over a tough opponent and take a step forward into the next tier of talent.

Palhares is a fire hydrant that fights, with a tremendous ground game and improving striking; he’s a handful for anyone outside of the upper echelon right now. Conversely, Kennedy is a very good jack-of-all-trades kind of guy with strong wrestling and jiu-jitsu of his own, plus good hands as well, so he’d present a greater challenge to “Toquinho” than Dan Miller was able to muster.

Tyron Woodley vs. Martin Kampmann

Woodley has positioned himself as the best welterweight in Strikeforce right now, but that’s akin to being the best player on the Triple A team. He’s still raw and still hasn’t gone up against a well-rounded, experienced opponent who can force him out of his comfort zone and really push him.

Kampmann is that kind of guy. He’s faced some quality opposition, is pretty good everywhere, but not great anywhere, and the right kind of middle-of-the-pack welterweight to match-up with the unbeaten and somewhat unproven Woodley at this stage.

Winner moves into the top 10, loser remains a tough out in the middle of the division. And if the loser happens to be Woodley, he gets the chance to really see what he needs to work on to compete with the best of the best; a valuable lesson that every fighter must learn at some point.

Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante vs. Vladimir Matyushenko

This is the kind of match-up that sorts out where a guy like “Feijao” stands in the division. I know I said I would match Matyushenko up with “King Mo” following Saturday’s Strikeforce event, but things change.

We know “Feijao” can strike, but how can he do against a grizzled old wrestler with old man strength, solid power, and a world of experience? Also—and this part isn’t really fair to “Feijao” but such is life—he’s not as good a draw as Lawal, so a spot on the prelims in a tough-as-nails pairing is about the best he’s going to get.

Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Mark Munoz/Chris Leben Loser

Our first “one way or another” bout pits the recently disposed Strikeforce middleweight champ against whoever ends up not continuing their climb up the 185 pound ranks after UFC 138 in Birmingham, England.

Both Leben and Munoz are solid names with the skills to test Souza. They have the power to put him out if he either (1) spends too much time trying to strike or (2) can’t get a takedown. That said, neither are so far ahead of him in terms of skills that Souza winning is impossible to envision.

With the lack of depth at middleweight, the loser doesn’t lose too much ground, while the winner gets back into the short field chasing after the championship.

Gegard Mousasi vs. Alexander Gustafsson

Light heavyweight would become even more loaded if (when?) this merger goes down, with a trio of former Strikeforce champions entering the fold.

While it’s tempting to put Mousasi up against a wrestler to see if he’s learned how to stuff a takedown, you risk squandering a good talent right out of the gates with that approach. Instead, pairing him with Gustafsson still leaves the possibility of the fight going to the canvas, but also makes a kickboxing battle a definite possibility as well.

The winner moves into the Forrest Griffin/Thiago Silva range, while the loser is still very much a part of the future; they’d just need to work on whatever deficiencies came to light in this bout.

Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva vs. Brendan Schaub

A heavy-hitting heavyweight battle to headline a Prelims Live broadcast seems to make all kinds of sense.

Despite both men coming off bad knockout losses, you can never have enough heavyweights and people will always want to see two big dudes throwing bombs. That’s really all this fight comes down to; neither guy is quite ready to be a serious contender, but they’re round out the upper tier half of the heavyweight ranks nicely.

“King Mo” Lawal vs. Phil Davis

I love this hypothetical match-up, as they’re pretty similar in terms of what they bring to the cage.

I thought Davis being paired with Rashad Evans was a little too much of a jump up in class for a guy with just nine fights thus far. Lawal has the same amount of experience in the cage, so once again, the pairing just seems to work.

This is one of those match-ups that solidifies the winner as a viable contender moving forward. They’d be each other’s toughest test to date, and their shared wrestling base could force each to show how well they’ve developed their secondary weapons.

Heavyweight Grand Prix Loser vs. Brock Lesnar/Alistair Overeem Loser

There are all kinds of permutations here, but the crux of the whole thing is this: heavyweight fights are awesome, people love them, and no matter what pairing you end up with, you’ve got two top 10 big men throwing down for all to see.

The winner moves into the five-to-eight range in the divisional hierarchy, with the loser finding a home somewhere between nine and 12, depending on how bad they look. You’re left with a new heavyweight who is a win or two away from contention, and one who is still a name brand attraction capable prime to be paired with the winner of the “Bigfoot”-Brendan Schaub fight earlier in the evening.

If I had to guess right now, I’d bet this ends up being Daniel Cormier vs. Brock Lesnar, and that would be awesome.

Luke Rockhold vs. Mark Munoz/Chris Leben Winner

Since I don’t think Rockhold or the winner of the UFC 138 main event has done enough to merit a title shot at this point, why not put them together and crown the victor the next in line? And you thought matchmaking was hard…

Rockhold rolled the dice a lot with Souza, standing with him throughout and eating a couple solid punches for his trouble. That wouldn’t work against either of these dynamite-fisted opponents.

The current Strikeforce middleweight champion would need a marquee victory in a fight like this to introduce himself to the UFC audience. Rockhold is at even more of a disadvantage because he came off an 18-month hiatus to hoist the title; even people who follow Strikeforce had kind of forgotten about him.

The flip side is that a win over the best from the other organization, coupled with the other wins both Leben and Munoz bring into the bout, would be enough to put either one of them in a title fight going forward.

Heavyweight Grand Prix Winner vs. Frank Mir/Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira Winner

With the Overeem/Lesnar winner already positioned to challenge for the heavyweight title, this bout could be used to determine the next #1 contender. The Grand Prix champion will be coming in as the best heavyweight outside of the UFC, and the winner of the Mir/Nogueira rematch would be the next best option in the UFC.

You could put the loser of the Velasquez/dos Santos bout in here as well, but that leaves nowhere for the Mir/Nogueira winner to go for the time being, while there are plenty of options for the guy who ends up losing on FOX.

My gut tells me Josh Barnett is going to win the Heavyweight Grand Prix; he’s just too experienced and too well-rounded for the still developing Cormier. Pairing “The Warmaster” with either of these guys would be outstanding.

He’s already got a history with Nogueira, so this would be their rubber match, while a bout with Mir would be a solid clash of two ground specialists with solid hands. They’re both also excellent at selling fights and drawing heat, so the promotional opportunities are endless.

Gilbert Melendez

Gilbert Melendez vs. The UFC Lightweight Champion

With all due respect to Ben Henderson and Clay Guida, Melendez makes the most sense as the next challenger for the UFC lightweight title.

“El Nino” has beaten a pair of top 10 opponents while defending his Strikeforce belt—he’s actually beaten Tatsuya Kawajiri twice—and also holds an earlier win over Guida too. He’s rattled off five straight wins at this point and is universally recognized as a top 3 lightweight, something neither Guida or Henderson can boast.

Besides, Melendez is the only incumbent champion who currently matches up with their UFC counterpart; Rockhold is the only other guy with a belt right now, and he’s not facing Anderson Silva any time soon.

Champion vs. Champion to determine the undisputed #1 lightweight in the world.

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