It’s time to let the best fighters fight each other
In the wake of Saturday’s Strikeforce event in San Diego, the time has come for Zuffa to align all their elite talents under one roof. “Business as usual” may have been the battle cry at the outset of this merger, but the truth of the matter is that axiom left town the minute Strikeforce became a Zuffa property.
Maintaining that line and keeping the rosters as they are today would result in more forced matchmaking and cyclical competition in the Strikeforce ranks, and rob the current and emerging stars of the recently acquired brand the opportunity to prove they belong amongst the sport’s elite.
The influx of new talent into the UFC ranks would create a bevy of new possibilities throughout the organization’s five original divisions, creating time and opportunity to identify and build new stars in the process instead of pushing out not quite compelling match-ups on the top of the marquee.
With Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker announcing that there are no contractual impediments to such a shift happening, there is no reason for the UFC to keep the status quo.
There is only one division under the Strikeforce banner that has not already exhausted all their title bout capabilities. Only the heavyweights boast compelling and original options, thanks largely to the mishandling of Fedor Emelianenko during his first three fights within the organization.
Outside of the big boys, two divisions have been cleaned out by thoroughly dominant champions, while the remaining two are caught in a vicious cycle where there are only four or five competitors who can possibly be matched together in meaningful competition.
Both Gilbert Melendez and Nick Diaz have beaten everyone Strikeforce could potentially offer them within their respective weight classes. With all due respect to Tyron Woodley, the former Missouri wrestling standout hasn’t shown enough over his last two fights to (1) merit a title shot and (2) convince anyone that he can beat Diaz.
As for Melendez, the lightweight champion has not only dispatched the few contenders that exist under the Strikeforce banner, he’s done away with two top 10 competitors who have ventured to the United States in hopes of bringing his belt back to Japan. Josh Thomson remains the only fighter within the organization would could potentially challenge Melendez, and a trilogy fight between the two would be understandable, although unconvincing.
Thomson lost to Tatsuya Kawajiri on New Year’s Eve, while Melendez just crushed “The Crusher” on Saturday night. Pair that with his unanimous decision win over Thomson to unify the lightweight crown and there is really no one left for Melendez to face inside the Strikeforce cage.
The situation is equally frustrating in the middleweight and light heavyweight ranks, where a core group of competitors stands out above the crowd, but no one is really in a position to fight for a title.
Robbie Lawler was awarded a title shot after knocking out a washed-up Matt Lindland, but was easily handled by Ronaldo Souza in the subsequent fight. Tim Kennedy got the better of Melvin Manhoef, but the Green Beret is still just one fight removed from losing to Souza for the vacant belt, and no one is clamouring to see that rematch right now.
Jason “Mayhem” Miller remains in the conversation, but at this point it’s only because he’s a high profile name; Miller’s Strikeforce win came a year ago against Tim Stout prior to his kicking off the Nashville brawl. While he’s got a win over Kazushi Sakuraba since then, neither really justify jumping to the head of the line for a third bout with “Jacare.”
Light heavyweight is no better, as the belt has been passed around like a hot potato over the last three years. Since Renato “Babalu” Sobral earned the strap from Bobby Southworth in November 2008, five men have worn the belt and they’ve managed a combined zero title defences in that time.
Gegard Mousasi, Muhammed Lawal, Rafael Feijao and Dan Henderson have each held the title, beating the man before them in the list to earn the belt. Though they’re a solid quartet of contenders, the mathematics don’t work out in terms of establishing a pecking order for challenging Henderson.
Lawal hasn’t competed since losing to Feijao, and though Mousasi has earned three wins since being upset by “King Mo” last April, he still hasn’t shown the takedown defence necessary to prevent Henderson from grinding him out over 25 minutes. A bout between Mousasi and Feijao might make sense, but a win for Feijao would leave both in no man’s land to be honest.
Keeping things the way they are now only serves to produce events that stall the growth of the current crop of stars competing in Strikeforce. A win for Diaz over Woodley doesn’t increase his stock at all, and a loss would send him plummeting; the same goes for anyone who stands opposite Melendez at this point as well.
In terms of the UFC, the inclusion of the five trikeforce champions and few quality challengers from each division would clear up the question of who the top contender in the lightweight division should be, and give the remaining ranks an infusion of new entertaining options.